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.

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.

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.

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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.

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

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.