Oliver Wang

Oliver Wang is a music writer, scholar, and DJ based in California. Since 1994, he's written on popular music, culture, race, and America for outlets such as NPR, Vibe, Wax Poetics, Scratch, The Village Voice, SF Bay Guardian, and LA Weekly.

Wang begins work as an assistant professor in sociology at Long Beach State this fall; He also hosts the renowned audioblog soul-sides.com. For more information, visit o-dub.com.

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.

A Queen Among Kings

Nov 21, 2016

The first time I ever saw Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings perform was circa 2002 at the Elbo Room, a tiny venue in San Francisco's Mission District. If you've ever been there, you know the Elbo Room doesn't need many bodies to pack the floor, and with the Dap-Kings crowding the diminutive stage, the full intensity of their act filled the space from practically the first note. I was already familiar with the group through its early records, but hadn't fully appreciated how much power Jones could pack into her stout, 5-foot frame as she sang, sweated, stamped, strutted, slayed.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Not to open on a down note, but the arrival of The Frightnrs' debut album, Nothing More To Say, is a bittersweet affair. The group's lead singer, Dan Klein, died from ALS earlier this summer, and much of the album was recorded after he was diagnosed last fall. His piercing, wailing tone feels all the more plaintive as a result, but even if Nothing More To Say marks a career cruelly curtailed, the album's release also represents a dream fulfilled.

In 2013, Nicole Wray and Terri Walker teamed up to form Lady, a pair of new-school R&B singers kicking a decidedly old-school soul flavor. Since then, Walker's peeled off — leaving behind Lady Wray, who cheekily nods to her new solo act with the title of her forthcoming album Queen Alone.

Over the last 10 years, 1970s funk icon Betty Davis has enjoyed a renaissance of rediscovery. Her music has been lavishly reissued and anthologized, but for years the holy grail was a collection of songs she recorded for Columbia Records in the late '60s, several of which her then-husband, Miles Davis, helped to produce. For decades, no one could hear those songs — until now. The Columbia Years 1968-1969 captures an artist beginning to assert her own voice.

The names James Brown and Apollo Theater have practically become synonymous; it's hard to think of one without the other. Beginning in 1963, Brown released three albums recorded there. But there was a fourth — recordings from Sept. 13 and 14, 1972 — that has been buried ever since. Now, Get Down with James Brown: Live At The Apollo Vol. 4 is finally out on vinyl, with a CD to follow this summer.

I'm not sure there's ever been a record release as confounding as the one for Kanye West's The Life Of Pablo. He's changed its title and track listing several times in as many weeks, and even up until the very moment I'm writing this, it's not 100 percent certain what will be on that final album, whenever and wherever it comes out.

When Kendrick Lamar released his major label debut in 2012, he vaulted onto pop's leaderboard as one of the best rappers of his generation. He wasn't just a skilled lyricist, but a vivid storyteller able to create scenes with vivid detail and intrigue.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

In title and concept, the new tribute album Dionne Dionne is a great gimmick. But if you've followed the career of Dionne Farris, having her record an entire album of Dionne Warwick covers isn't an obvious move, names aside. It's an idea that took root some 20 years ago: Farris met guitarist Charlie Hunter while the two were on tour as members of hip-hop groups, she with Arrested Development and he with The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy.

Under most circumstances, the release of a new Mobb Deep album would be notable in and of itself. This veteran rap duo from Queens had a short-lived but very public falling out in 2012, casting any future collaborations into question; as it is, their new The Infamous Mobb Deep is the group's first joint project in eight years which, in rap years, might as well be eighteen years.

About 10 years ago, a disgruntled pianist in Los Angeles named John Wood began a popular bumper sticker campaign with the slogan, "Drum Machines Have No Soul." Not everyone was convinced, including producer Eric Sadler.

"Drum machines don't run themselves," Sadler says. "It's the people who put into the drum machines that give the drum machines soul, to me. I've definitely given some drum machines some soul."

This isn't the first time Shuggie Otis' masterpiece, Inspiration Information, has been reissued — but that's OK. It's an album that absolutely deserves to be rediscovered every decade or so.

Pages