Oliver Wang

Oliver Wang is an culture writer, scholar, and DJ based in Los Angeles. He's the author of Legions of Boom: Filipino American Mobile DJ Crews of the San Francisco Bay Area and a professor of sociology at CSU-Long Beach. He's the creator of the audioblog soul-sides.com and co-host of the album appreciation podcast, Heat Rocks.

In the liner notes to John Coltrane's 1964 album Live At Birdland, Amiri Baraka (then writing as Le Roi Jones) contemplated the gift the saxophonist and his band offered with this music inspired by the horrific deaths of four Black girls in a Birmingham church bombing inspired by white supremacist hatred. "Listen," Baraka wrote. "What we're given is a slow delicate introspective sadness, almost hopelessness, except for Elvin [Jones], rising in the background like something out of nature... a fattening thunder, storm clouds or jungle war clouds.

In 1966, Betty Wright dropped by the offices of Deep City, a Miami label located in the back of Johnny's Records in her home neighborhood of Liberty City. She had been recently discovered by artist, songwriter and producer Clarence Reid, who wanted Deep City co-founder Willie Clarke to take a listen to Wright's singing chops. As recounted in journalist John Capouya's book, Florida Soul, Clarke was rehearsing with a band when he heard Wright singing over Billy Stewart's "Summertime" in another room: "The record was down low but she had overpowered his lead voice.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

As a public figure, Kanye West sometimes seems to change course every other day. But where his musical output is concerned, his most consequential turning point came 10 years ago, by way of two very different albums.

From 1978 to 1984, Patrice Rushen recorded a series of hits for Elektra Records that helped define the sound of late-era disco and R&B.

In 1972, Marvin Gaye began recording a follow-up to his megahit album, What's Going On. He eventually laid down over a dozen new tracks, but personal and professional conflicts derailed the project. Most of the songs were never released except as bonus material on later anthologies. Now they've been assembled into one album called You're the Man, out Friday.

When The Internet first debuted in 2011, the common joke was that the musicians had picked an unfortunate name for fans who wanted to find anything about them on, you know, the Internet. But those cheap snickers quickly faded as the group's sly, slick funk sensibility took hold, even for search engines. Seriously, Google them.

When rapper Kool Keith and producer Dan the Automator recorded the original Dr. Octagon album in 1996, it felt like they invented a sub-genre of "weird rap." Keith already had a (poppa) large reputation as a wizard of non-sensical rhymes dating back to this days with New York's Ultramagnetic MCs.

The first thing you notice about almost any song by The Shacks is that voice. Singer Shannon Wise wields a mesmerizing wisp, silky and lambent, like curls of smoke swirling into a moonlight sky.

Sharon Jones went public with her battle with pancreatic cancer several years ago. Her travails became a central part of the 2015 documentary, Miss Sharon Jones, which followed her attempts to attend to her treatment while also touring and recording with the Dap-Kings. On the one-year anniversary of her death, those efforts come to life in the form of one final album: Soul of a Woman.

Spoiler alert: DAMN. opens with Kendrick Lamar narrating his own shooting death at the hands of a blind assailant. This seems to be a tradition amongst Los Angeles rappers: Lamar's most obvious predecessor, Ice Cube, rapped about dying at least three times on his first two albums. The shared message from both artists is that violent ends can arrive unexpectedly, especially if you're young, black and male.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.