Rodney Carmichael

Vince Staples is impossible to categorize. A Southern Cali MC who prides himself on his Long Beach bona fides while eschewing the prototypical gangsta rap tag with which he's often mis-labled, he's a natural at bucking the status quo. Yet he also sees clear divisions between art and commerce that lead him to question how institutions choose to define — or fail to distinguish — the two.

Considering all the unique monikers MCs have concocted throughout the history of rap, Aminé — Adam Daniel's middle name by birth — isn't all that strange. But that hasn't kept him from becoming the hip-hop artist with the hardest-to-pronounce name of the moment. He's been called everything from anime (as in Japanese animation) to amino (as in the acid).

"We're here right now because no one ever really dies."

Coming from anyone other than the superproducer Pharrell Williams, that might've sounded like the opening incantation of some esoteric religious experience. But on Saturday night, Williams' pulpit was ComplexCon, where his genre-bending band N.E.R.D. made a surprise reveal.

Big K.R.I.T. is well-versed in the dual nature of man. His entire discography is packed with lyrics that split the difference between the carnal and the spiritual. Balanced between strip club rituals and Sunday morning salvation, the man born Justin Scott carved a space for himself among Southern rap royalty. Three years after his last proper studio release, it only makes sense that his latest effort, 4eva Is A Mighty Long Time, comes as a 22-track double album in which he thoroughly mines his personal, and artistic, dichotomy.

"... Only the exalted come in and rock with us."

With those words, spoken in the opening moments of Shabazz Palaces' Tiny Desk performance, Palaceer Lazaro (aka Ishmael Butler, also of Digable Planets fame) lays the ground rules for all present to enter the group's metaphysical headspace.

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