Frannie Kelley

Frannie Kelley is an Editor for NPR Music.

In this position, Kelley is responsible for editing, producing and reporting NPR Music's coverage of hip-hop, R&B and the ways the music industry affects the music we hear, on the radio and online. She is co-editor of NPR's music news blog, The Record, and co-host of NPR's rap interviews podcast, Microphone Check, with Ali Shaheed Muhammad.

Since joining NPR in September of 2007, Kelley has worked on a variety of projects including running a series on hip-hop in 1993 and overseeing a project on women musicians. She also ran another series on the end of the decade in music and web-produced the Arts Desk's series on vocalists, called 50 Great Voices. Most recently, her piece on Why You Should Listen to Odd Future was selected to be a part of the Best Music Writing 2012 Anthology.

Prior to joining NPR, Kelley worked in book publishing at Grove/Atlantic in a variety of positions from 2004 to 2007. She has a B.A. in Music Criticism from New York University.

The Essence Festival, in New Orleans this weekend for its 20th edition, calls itself "the party with a purpose," for cause. The goal of the three nights of performances at the Superdome and three days of panels and talks at the Convention Center is to brand and supplement Essence Magazine — but what actually goes down every Fourth of July weekend in New Orleans begins in airports all over the country.

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 one listen to the album, the three of them had a conversation about Ab's high expectations of his audience and what he's trying to make for them.

In the middle of our live interview with Mannie Fresh at NPR's headquarters in D.C., Ali asked Mannie how he approaches DJing — does he play what he wants to hear? Or does he feed the crowd? "When I want you to understand something, I remix it," Mannie said. "If it's Earth Wind and Fire, and you not getting it, I'ma make you get it."

This summer Nas is traveling the world performing his debut album, Illmatic, in full. The crowds coming out to see him — in Texas, Germany and California — are turning up because the 20-year-old record is an acknowledged classic.

In the early '90s hip-hop was just beginning its takeover of popular music. It was landing on the charts, but more often than not, the songs there were novelties (see: MC Hammer, Vanilla Ice).

For the people who took hip-hop seriously, and especially the fans in rap's hometown of New York City, this was a problem.

Within Black Hippy, the Los Angeles-based crew consisting of Kendrick Lamar, Jay Rock and Ab-Soul, ScHoolboy Q is the fun-loving middle child who taunts you with a straight face but can't always help cracking a smile. He's a wildcard who put out two highly-regarded independent albums and has become a reliable source for bracing guest spots. Sometimes he's incisive, sometimes he's callous. He's always charismatic and perceptive and forthright.

During the reporting of our story about the legacy of Comin' Out Hard in Memphis rap, we spent time in the city with MJG, Young Dolph and Drumma Boy. We met Yo Gotti in New York and got Eightball in a studio in Atlanta. We didn't have enough time to talk to everybody who's made Memphis rap what it is, like Gangsta Boo, or DJ Paul, Juicy J, Project Pat, or even Gangsta Pat.



All this week, we're looking back at the year in music with our friends at NPR Music as our guides. Every year, they round up their favorite 50 albums, some mainstream, some more obscure and some completely unavoidable, like "Yeezus" from Kanye West.


BRENDA LEE: Uh-huh, honey.

KANYE WEST: (Rapping) What you doing in the club on a Thursday? You said you only here for a girl birthday. They ordered champagne but still look thirsty. Rock Forever 21 but just turned 30.

For about five years, we at NPR Music have been listening to G-Side, a rap duo from Huntsville, Ala., and the group's in-house production pair the Block Beattaz. Some of us rocked 2008's Starshipz & Rocketz until the tape popped, reveling in the sequined sound and mostly level-headed lyrics that alternate between the gruff and drawled deliveries favored by Clova and ST 2 Lettaz, respectively.

Eight Million Stories: Hip-Hop In 1993

Nov 11, 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 Hotel in New York City and tell stories about that productive and creative year. At the audio link you can hear an edited version of the evening.

Our guests were:

What does the concert-ticket buyer want? If we're accepting that the market for albums — physical and digital — won't ever rebound, that digital singles will never make up for the loss in revenue and that streaming can't be profitable under current licensing laws, professional musicians (and the labels that love them) need to figure this out. Rap music, with its younger audience, has been more flexible in this regard than other genres: Rap acts now run the multi-genre summer festival gamut after infiltrating smaller cities' club circuits long ago.

Session musician Stephen Bruner has played bass in other people's bands for more than a decade. He can play metal, R&B, hip-hop, jazz. And he's been folding all that into his own music, which he puts out under the name Thundercat.

Now, with his second album, he's stepping to the front of the stage.