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Microphone Check

Microphone Check

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Welcome to Microphone Check, a voice for hip-hop culture hosted by Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Frannie Kelley.

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We're Back — Only On Spotify

02:05 | Feb 24th, 2018

Microphone Check — the place where artists can talk about whatever concerns and interests they have, where they feel free to sound off and fan out on Ali Shaheed Muhammad and tell stories they’ve never told in public before — is back. February 27, on...Show More

Ill Camille

1:15:49 | Jul 18th, 2017

Ill Camille was born and raised and still resides in Los Angeles, for the moment, and in March she released an album called Heirloom that we really love. We spoke to her about all her various jobs in the music industry, a path that eventually led her...Show More

Z-Ro

1:03:01 | Jun 19th, 2017

We taped this interview before we had any idea Z-Ro would later announce his retirement from music – he's said the album he's releasing on June 30th, No Love Boulevard, will be his last. It's our loss, especially because you can tell here (back then...Show More

kris ex, Part 2

1:11:22 | Jun 12th, 2017

To situate you in this episode, we left off last week when kris asked Ali how it would feel for his work today to be criticized and Ali’s response began with him saying he’s not worried about it because he’s right with himself, brought it back to Ken...Show More

kris ex, Part 1

1:38:41 | Jun 5th, 2017

This first episode of the rest of our podcast’s life isn’t a straight ahead interview with a musician. Instead we asked music writer kris ex to come in and talk about the value of music journalism, especially its usefulness to musicians, and we kind ...Show More

Doc McKinney: 'There's Enough Bad Music Out There'

1:35:45 | Oct 24th, 2016

Doc McKinney, the Minneapolis-born, Toronto-living producer and manager who's worked with Lucy Pearl, The Weeknd, Drake, Young Buck, Esthero and thestand4rd spoke with us about brands and music — he had a reluctant hand in the Hamburger Helper mixtap...Show More

Warren G: 'It's A Cold Game'

1:14:25 | Jul 8th, 2016

Last summer we linked with Warren G for the last interview we tried to do bicoastal. And it's fitting that one of the main instigators of G-funk music was the one who convinced us to move operations to LA. We're airing it now, because despite some di...Show More

Rap Dads, Daughters And Sons: The Father's Day Episode

37:50 | Jun 17th, 2016

Our producer, David Luke, father of David Luke III, put together this special edition of Microphone Check, a compliation of times when the musicians we've sat with over the past couple years spoke about fatherhood. When we interviewed these guests —...Show More

Sophia Chang: 'Don't Ever Be Afraid Of Your Passion'

1:28:52 | Jun 6th, 2016

The music industry veteran, former manager of the RZA, the GZA and ODB, as well as D'Angelo, Raphael Saadiq and A Tribe Called Quest, met up with Microphone Check in LA, where she told us what Wu-Tang taught her and how she thinks of her role: "I'm a...Show More

Gizzle: 'I Mean For It To Matter'

1:06:01 | May 10th, 2016

Gizzle is the one behind the curtain. Quiet as it's kept, she's written many of the biggest and best-loved rap and R&B songs of the recent past, in the course of working with everybody from Puffy to Nicki to Teddy Riley to Pharrell, Snoop, Chris Brow...Show More

OG Maco: 'I Want To Give The World A Fighting Chance'

1:10:01 | Apr 13th, 2016

The Atlanta rapper spoke with us in March, between the first and second of the three tours he's booked this year. We got into perspective, influence and frustration, but the point we kept returning to was agency. "I don't want anybody to do exactly w...Show More

Terrace Martin: 'I Believe You Should Be Yourself'

1:39:46 | Apr 8th, 2016

Terrace Martin takes his job very seriously. Here's just a taste of what he sees as at stake when he goes to work: "You got the Marines. You got the Army. We are the only people that soothe them. The art community are the only people that soothe the ...Show More

Dean Blunt: 'Every Day Is A Lifetime'

56:47 | Apr 1st, 2016

Hip-hop music and culture informs most things, including works of art and creative expression that don't sound anything like an MC over a break beat. Though not everybody would file Dean Blunt's output as music that falls under the purview of Microph...Show More

Saul Williams: 'Let's Go Further And Further Out'

1:20:32 | Feb 18th, 2016

The artist and thinker, who just released a new album that's only one part of a larger multimedia conception, takes us from the drummers of Burundi to Adam Ant, Octavia Butler to David Bowie, Rakim to Young Thug. We also hit on ageism in rap, artistr...Show More

Mr. MFN eXquire: 'I Evolved As A Man'

1:05:43 | Feb 5th, 2016

Crown Heights came to North Hollywood so we could talk about crossed signals on the highways between artist and industry. We also got into rap performance, being superstitious about writing, being not great about networking and this feeling: "I felt ...Show More

Freddie Gibbs: 'I'm Not Just Living For Myself'

1:14:52 | Jan 12th, 2016

New father Freddie Gibbs spoke with Microphone Check about his inspirations, including the memoirs of Rick James and George Clinton, his business acumen, what the war in the streets is really about and, of course, Gucci.

Pusha T: 'This Is What I Like To Make'

1:15:21 | Dec 22nd, 2015

The Virginia Beach denizen spoke to Microphone Check about the reverse troll he laid on Def Jam with Darkest Before Dawn, what it's like to go back and forth with Puffy, the fallacies of textbooks, the perils of ignoring the youth and where he's goin...Show More

Logic: 'Do Something For Yourself'

54:21 | Nov 12th, 2015

The rapper, who hails from Maryland but now resides in the Los Angeles area, came through to talk about the road to his second album, The Incredible True Story, fending off critics and the language he uses to to remind himself of his blessings and hi...Show More

Mac Miller: 'It's OK To Feel Yourself'

1:04:20 | Sep 29th, 2015

Mac Miller met us in LA, which he had recently left. Ali and Mac have known each other for some time, so this interview was a chance for them to reconnect on the other side of some months of internal turmoil and growth the Pittsburgh rapper had to ge...Show More

Masta Ace: 'I'm Still Trying To Prove Myself'Npr X Masta Ace

1:40:46 | Sep 2nd, 2015

Masta Ace had his first drink at a Cold Chillin' Christmas party. This was after he graduated from the University of Rhode Island. The national popularity of "Born to Roll" in the mid-'90s — and an amount of drama related to tensions between the coas...Show More

Large Professor, Part 2: 'I Really Live Through This Music'

1:06:11 | Aug 20th, 2015

This is the second half of Microphone Check's interview last year with producer and rapper Large Professor. You can listen to and read part one here http://www.npr.org/sections/microphonecheck/2015/07/29/424717271/large-professor-part-1-were-living-i...Show More

Large Professor, Part 1: 'We're Living In The World of Hip-Hop'

48:10 | Jul 29th, 2015

Last spring, way back in 2014, we sat down with Large Professor, partly on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of Illmatic but mostly because he's the reason for much of the New York rap we both love so much.

Vince Staples: 'My Job Is To Keep My Sanity'

1:25:49 | Jul 1st, 2015

Vince Staples made his debut album, Summertime '06, so that people who hear it will know how he felt then, as a young teenager in Long Beach, Calif. "That's when we understood the power we had in fear," he says. "Because it's either they're scared of...Show More

Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Part 2: 'We Still Have The Forgotten People'

1:05:45 | Jun 24th, 2015

This is the second special edition of Microphone Check, the back half of an interview that put one of our hosts in the hot seat. You can listen to and read part one here (https://soundcloud.com/npr-microphone-check/ali-shaheed-muhammad). Part two alt...Show More

Microphone Check Live: Father

16:55 | Jun 8th, 2015

We spoke to Father, the rapper, producer and head of Awful Records, the breeding ground for iLoveMakonnen and Archibald SLIM and Slug Christ and Ethereal and Richposlim, while we were in Atlanta in May. Our onstage conversation was brief — Father was...Show More

Microphone Check Live: Organized Noize

1:47:56 | Jun 3rd, 2015

On May 18th Microphone Check went to Atlanta to interview the three-man production team behind some of the greatest songs ever: every one on Outkast's Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, every one on Goodie Mob's Soul Food, TLC's "Waterfalls," En Vogue'...Show More

Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Part 1: 'I Walk A Different Walk'

47:54 | May 27th, 2015

We put our legendary co-host in the hot seat and he spoke on how he evaluates music, how his faith influences his work ethic and how much he cares about getting credit. And that's just the first half.

Industry Rules No. 1-4079: A Conversation With Lawyer Julian Petty

52:01 | May 12th, 2015

The following should not be construed as legal advice — just good advice. We asked Julian Petty, who represents Ali, Earl Sweatshirt, Vince Staples and the estate of Biggie Smalls — and at one time worked with Michael Jackson, Prince and Stevie Wonde...Show More

Iamsu: 'I Heard That Beat Totally Different'

1:09:46 | May 5th, 2015

When we sat down with Iamsu, the Bay Area rapper had just as many questions for Ali as we had for him. The three of us spoke about not putting anybody on a pedestal and what would happen if more people in hip-hop brought their moms to the situation.

Amber London: 'I'ma Show You How It's Done'

48:47 | Apr 27th, 2015

Amber London made the trip from Houston to Austin to perform her first official shows at SXSW, which provided the perfect occasion for an interview long in the making. We tried to not get stuck on the topic of life as a female rapper, but London's ex...Show More

OverDoz: 'It Just Showed Us How Much Power We Had'

47:57 | Apr 20th, 2015

If you thought OverDoz was all about weed and women then you’re mistaken. Sure, the four-man crew comprised of Creamie, Kent, Joon, and P likes to party but -- as evidenced by the video for “Rich White Friends” and this interview -- the group’s membe...Show More

Hank Shocklee: 'We Had Something to Prove'

1:07:09 | Apr 15th, 2015

People often refer to the multi-layered, cacophonous style of Public Enemy's production team the Bomb Squad as a "wall of noise"— similar to Phil Spector's 'Wall of Sound" — but to let Squad member Hank Shocklee tell it, their sample-heavy approach w...Show More

Heems: 'If Someone's Got To Do It, It Should Be Me'

1:13:42 | Apr 13th, 2015

The Queens rapper spoke with Microphone Check about Partition, assimilation and how the Patriot Act is used. We also talked about what success does to -- and sometimes for -- your family: "J. Cole's got a record out where's he talking about running ...Show More

Malcolm Spellman: "The Real, You Just Can't Beat It"

47:19 | Apr 6th, 2015

While Microphone Check was at SXSW right after the season one finale of Empire, we spoke to Malcolm Spellman, who's one of the writers and now also a producer on the show. We talked about the show's effect on the hip-hop culture market, what it demon...Show More

Jean Grae: 'It's Not Just For Me. It's For You Guys.'

1:13:33 | Mar 29th, 2015

Jean Grae is a rapper, a singer, a writer, a comedian and an actress. She doesn't run out of ideas. Her most recent album is called That's Not How You Do That: An Instructional Album For Adults. She spoke to Microphone Check about her campaign to hel...Show More

Earl Sweatshirt: 'I'm Grown'

59:47 | Mar 24th, 2015

The 21-year-old spoke with Microphone Check in Austin, Texas, during SXSW a couple days before the release of his second major label album. He says he feels like I Don't Like S---, I Don't Go Outside is really his first album, though. "This is the fi...Show More

ASAP Ferg: 'I Want This Moment To Last Forever'

1:08:16 | Mar 18th, 2015

Microphone Check sat down with ASAP Ferg in February, just before he released the video for "Doe-Active," a song off his November mixtape, Ferg Forever. The pillar of New York's ASAP Mob spoke about his aesthetic choices, the way he imagines our far ...Show More

Leila Steinberg: 'With Earl, It's A Journey'

59:09 | Mar 9th, 2015

When Leila Steinberg was 25 years old, she met a 17-year-old named Tupac. She became involved in his career in a managerial role, which she had stepped away from by about 1993. The next time Steinberg agreed to a management relationship with a musici...Show More

Big Sean: 'I Stuck With My Gut'

1:17:32 | Mar 2nd, 2015

The week Big Sean released his third studio album he stopped by NPR's Los Angeles bureau for a talk with Microphone Check. The Detroit rapper recorded Dark Sky Paradise almost entirely at his own house, in a studio he spent all his money building. "I...Show More

Microphone Check Live: 'The Spook Who Sat By The Door' Screening

59:45 | Feb 28th, 2015

This week, in honor of Black History Month, we went down to NPR's headquarters in Washington, D.C., to screen Sam Greenlee's 1973 film The Spook Who Sat by the Door and host a conversation about its resonance. In case you're not familiar with the cu...Show More

Terrace Martin: 'Everything Got A Little Bit Of Funk In It'

46:18 | Feb 11th, 2015

Last year you heard Terrace Martin's work on YG's album, Ninth Wonder's compilation, Big K.R.I.T.'s Cadillactica and, just this week, a new song by Kendrick Lamar, called "The Blacker The Berry." In the space of less than six months in 2014, the LA-b...Show More

DJ Quik: 'Flamboyant? Every Now And Then'

1:35:18 | Jan 28th, 2015

After 24 years in the music business, the producer and rapper from Compton, Calif., knows what's going on. He told Microphone Check studio secrets, a Rick James story, and all about the funk. "You gotta get funky to make records that give people the...Show More

AraabMuzik: 'I Have So Much Music, It Doesn't Make Sense'

58:12 | Jan 14th, 2015

The Rhode Island-born producer and DJ — the MVP of the MPC — tells Microphone Check hosts Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Frannie Kelley the story of the father/son talk he once had with Cam'ron, delineates EDM and hip-hop (one is more like private school t...Show More

Black Milk: 'It's Not Really A Cakewalk'

1:22:06 | Jan 7th, 2015

Back in October, Detroit's Black Milk released his sixth solo album, called If There's A Hell Below. He came to New York and spoke with Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Frannie Kelley about trying to impress J Dilla, transforming his music for live shows and...Show More

J. Cole: 'It Ain't Enough Of Us Trying'

1:12:15 | Dec 12th, 2014

The day after his third album, 2014 Forest Hills Drive, was released, J. Cole spoke to Microphone Check hosts Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Frannie Kelley. It was the morning before he performed "Be Free," the song he made about Michael Brown, on Letterma...Show More

Rick Ross: 'It Was Just So Powerful To Me'

1:03:03 | Dec 10th, 2014

On the day before Thanksgiving, Microphone Check hosts Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Frannie Kelley sat down in Los Angeles with Rick Ross. First things first, they talked about food, but quickly got into the Miami musician's early rap fandom, the importa...Show More

Run The Jewels: 'I'm Taking This Life'

1:09:16 | Nov 11th, 2014

Killer Mike and El-P, underground kings from Atlanta and New York respectively, met four years ago, made an album together, and then joined forces under the name Run the Jewels, something far beyond the sum of its parts. "We're a group comprised of t...Show More

Dante Ross: 'We Wanted Our Own Universe'

1:11:23 | Nov 4th, 2014

Dante Ross, A&R man extraordinaire, keeper of stories about everyone from ODB to De La Soul to Cypress Hill, the Beastie Boys, Queen Latifah and Pete Rock, sat down with Microphone Check to remember the old days and stare down the present.

T.I.: 'We Make Music That Come From The Heart'

1:22:04 | Oct 20th, 2014

"I want to be here because the people put me here," says the Atlanta rapper, actor and businessman. T.I. spoke to Microphone Check about being mentored by Andrew Young, taking Biggie to Atlanta and Outkast to NYC, using songwriting to talk to himself...Show More

Killer Mike, Greg Street And DJ Drama On OutKast And Atlanta

20:09 | Oct 3rd, 2014

While Frannie Kelley was in Atlanta reporting about OutKast weekend, she spoke to Killer Mike in the waxing room at his barber shop, V103 DJ Greg Street in a gold Impala parked behind the gas station at the West End Mall and to DJ Drama while they we...Show More

Andre 3000: 'You Can Do Anything From Atlanta'

29:44 | Sep 25th, 2014

Andre 3000 — née André Benjamin, sometimes Three Stacks and always one half of the mighty OutKast — sat down with Microphone Check hosts Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Frannie Kelley before a screening of the just-released Jimi Hendrix biopic in which he s...Show More

Microphone Check Live: The Stories Of The Notorious B.I.G.

1:57:44 | Sep 18th, 2014

On Sunday, Sept. 14, 20 years and one day after Biggie Small's debut album Ready to Die was released, Microphone Check gathered four of the musician's friends in Brooklyn to recall the man they knew. We called the event If You Don't Know, Now You Kno...Show More

Joell Oritz: 'I Refuse To Compromise Me'

1:26:14 | Sep 18th, 2014

The Brooklyn rapper spoke to Microphone Check about the music business, the old neighborhood, staying in the studio, the appeal of supergroups, the kids and a theoretical campaign to be Mayor of New York City.

The Underachievers: 'We're Still Young'

1:05:59 | Aug 19th, 2014

A rap duo from New York City is being talked about as a continuation of the golden era of hip-hop — a time in the late '80s and early '90s when groups made songs that noted police brutality, elevated conversation and filled dance floors. Issa and AK ...Show More

Cormega: 'I Just Want To Be A Soldier For My Culture'

1:17:23 | Jul 31st, 2014

20 years ago, Nas mentioned his friend Cormega on a song called "One Love," which was composed as a letter to someone in prison: "Night time is more trife than ever / What up with Cormega? Did you see him? Are y'all together? / If so then hold the fo...Show More

YG: 'I Gave Y'All What I Seen'

59:11 | Jul 24th, 2014

The Los Angeles rapper spoke to Microphone Check co-hosts Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Frannie Kelley about his early days playing house parties all over the county, DJ Mustard's start, his friendship with ScHoolboy Q and how his mother yelling at him en...Show More

Pete Rock: 'Real Could Be Another Word For Original'

1:24:22 | Jul 1st, 2014

The renowned producer attributes his creativity to another legend: "I was musically charged, man. I had some adrenaline going on then. I'm serious, ever since I — I think after I met James Brown as a kid. I was seven years old," says Pete Rock. "I wa...Show More

Ab-Soul: 'It's A Lot'

1:05:20 | Jun 20th, 2014

Ab-Soul, the most philosophical member of the by now vaunted Top Dawg Entertainment, met Microphone Check hosts Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Frannie Kelley in Los Angeles two weeks before the release of his latest album, called These Days ... After only ...Show More

Mannie Fresh Live: 'Real Talk'

2:00:37 | May 29th, 2014

Mannie Fresh, the legendary New Orleans producer and DJ, was our guest for the first live episode of Microphone Check. We taped at NPR's headquarters in Washington, D.C. at the end of May, and the conversation was predictably warm, sharp and funny. M...Show More

Mannie Fresh DJ Set: 'We Bounced Everything'

24:13 | May 29th, 2014

In the middle of our live interview with Mannie Fresh at NPR's headquarters in D.C. (http://www.npr.org/event/music/316698148/mannie-fresh-live-real-talk), Ali asked Mannie how he approaches DJing — does he play what he wants to hear? Or does he feed...Show More

Inside The XXL Freshmen Issue

52:36 | May 10th, 2014

Since 2008 XXL Magazine has put out an annual issue highlighting new acts that the editors predict will go on to impact hip-hop — the music and the industry. In the beginning, the 10 musicians chosen for the cover of that issue were called the Leader...Show More

Freddie Gibbs: 'I Think I'm The Best Rapper'

46:33 | May 7th, 2014

Freddie Gibbs moved away from his hometown of Gary, Indiana, more than 10 years ago. He went to L.A., where he became friends with Madlib, the producer revered for his work in The Lootpack, as a solo artist under the name Quasimoto, for that time Blu...Show More

Future: 'You Gotta Step Outside That Box To Reach The People'

40:17 | Apr 29th, 2014

The rise of the rapper, singer and songwriter given the name Future when he was a teenager being fostered by the legendary Dungeon Family looks meteoric from the outside. In reality, the musician has reinvented himself a couple times, pored over his ...Show More

Nas: 'I'm Still Charged' 20 Years After 'Illmatic'

1:14:43 | Apr 23rd, 2014

On April 19, 1994, Columbia Records released the debut album of a 20-year-old from Queensbridge Houses in New York City. It was deft, wise, deadly serious and matched the babyface with unparalleled promise to beats made by the era's preeminent produc...Show More

E-40: 'I'm On The West Coast, Eating'

1:03:47 | Apr 9th, 2014

E-40, from Northern California, is widely known for creating slang, flouting the rules and knowing everybody from everywhere. 40 spoke with Microphone Check hosts Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Frannie Kelley about Lil Jon, T-Pain, Tupac and Too Short. The...Show More

ScHoolboy Q: 'I Call Myself All-American'

59:18 | Feb 26th, 2014

The Los Angeles rapper has lived a lot of life in his 27 years. "I call myself All-American," he says. "I done been an athlete, a gang member, drug dealer. I done been a kid that was kind of living on the fortunate side when my mama was starting to d...Show More

Solange Knowles On Nas, Juvenile And Dance Moves

1:05:27 | Feb 12th, 2014

This week, NPR Music is launching an R&B channel called "I'll Take You There," hosted by Jason King, a professor, writer and musician. It's a lot like the 24/7 stream of hip-hop that Ali and I host. So for this episode of Microphone Check, we're addi...Show More

'Putting The Pill In The Pudding': An Interview With Danny Brown

41:07 | Jan 29th, 2014

Four or five years ago Microphone Check co-host Ali Shaheed Muhammad told Danny Brown that he's the hip-hop Richard Pryor. "And I got it, too: making things funny that don't supposed to be funny," says Brown. "It's like putting the pill in the puddin...Show More

Starlito And Don Trip: Writers First, Rappers Second

59:00 | Jan 15th, 2014

Back in 2011 two rappers from Tennessee, Starlito and Don Trip, made a mixtape called Step Brothers. They were rhyming over original production and had sprinkled clips from the Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly movie of the same name throughout the tap...Show More

What We Talked About When We Talked About Hip-Hop In 2013

46:54 | Dec 6th, 2013

We all listen to music differently. What we hear is shaded by our history, our knowledge, our equipment, our mood, our taste. But every year there are moments when everybody who lives and breathes hip-hop is talking about the same thing. In June, wh...Show More

Bun B On Janis Joplin, UGK's Label Struggles And His Voice

50:56 | Nov 25th, 2013

This month Bun B, one half of the Underground Kingz, of Port Arthur, Texas, released his fourth solo project and celebrated the 21st anniversary of his group's first album, Too Hard To Swallow. The road Bun has walked over those years hasn't always b...Show More

Earl Sweatshirt On RZA Day, His Purpose And Paul McCartney

57:36 | Nov 20th, 2013

The rapper and producer Earl Sweatshirt put out his first major label album, called Doris, this summer. Earl came up with the free-wheeling, button-pushing rap group Odd Future, then disappeared, sent by his mother to boarding school in Samoa. His fr...Show More

Eight Million Stories: Hip-Hop In 1993

51:15 | Nov 11th, 2013

All year Morning Edition and NPR Music have been running radio pieces about rap albums released 20 years ago, in 1993. For a special episode of Microphone Check we invited a group of people who were working in hip-hop back then to meet us at the Ace ...Show More

Microphone Check: Pusha T Part 2

38:04 | Oct 16th, 2013

In the second part of an interview with Pusha T, Microphone Check co-host Ali Shaheed Muhammad is dragged into a public battle over which A Tribe Called Quest album is better — Low End Theory or Midnight Marauders. Pusha details his frustrations with...Show More

Microphone Check: Pusha T Part 1

36:41 | Oct 11th, 2013

This week rapper Pusha T released his first solo album after years of writing and performing as a duo, with his brother Malice in the Clipse. But he's not all on his own. Pusha is part of Kanye West's conglomerate — the two of them made Yeezus and My...Show More

Microphone Check: Marley Marl

42:45 | Sep 12th, 2013

Marley Marl is one of the most important people in hip-hop history. He's the one who figured out how to sample — how to get pieces of songs off vinyl records and into a drum machine. More than 30 years later, and 25 years after his first album, 1988'...Show More