For each week leading up to the 2016 ESSENCE Festival, taking place in New Orleans June 30-July 3, music critic Chuck Arnold will get you pumped with a mix of tunes from this year’s artist lineup.
The Brand New Heavies, “Never Stop.” With American soul sister N’Dea Davenport on lead vocals, the U.K. acid-jazz collective hit their funkiest stride on this unstoppable groove that still hasn’t given up 25 years later.
Digable Planets, “Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat).” Rhyming atop that upright bass line with the greatest of ease, Butterfly, Doodlebug and Ladybug Mecca are the very definition of cool on this Grammy-winning hit.
Jeremih, “Don’t Tell ‘Em.” Lifting a riff from Snap!’s 1982 hit “Rhythm Is a Dancer,” this electro-R&B thumper featuring rapper YG is designed for getting down—and maybe a little dirty—on the dance floor.
Kendrick Lamar, “Poetic Justice.” Hip-hop slow jams don’t get any sexier than this 2013 hit sampling Janet Jackson’s booty-call classic “Any Time, Any Place.” And with Drake spitting a verse, this is a meeting of the two hottest MCs in the game.
Ciara, “Promise.” On this Princely bump-and-grinder from her second album, Ciara: The Evolution, the young diva proved that she had matured beyond “Goodies and “1, 2 Step,” exuding a silky sensuality made for grown folks.
V. Bozeman, “What Is Love.” Singing for her life with a gospel-powered performance of this haunting, Timbaland-produced track, this R&B songstress ushered in the Empire era as the very first voice heard on the show.
Mali Music, “Contradiction.” On this highlight of the Chi-Raq soundtrack, the Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter conjures up some chill, lilting reggae vibes, making a smooth twosome with Jhené Aiko.
Maxwell, “This Woman’s Work” (live). One of the all-time best covers, Maxwell’s exquisite rendering of this Kate Bush ballad may just be his finest falsetto moment ever. And the live version from MTV Unplugged is even better than the studio one on Now.
Estelle, “Something Good.” Taking you back to the heyday of CeCe Peniston and Crystal Waters, the “American Boy” singer gives you ’90s house realness on this pumping anthem from her latest album, True Romance.
Mariah Carey, “Anytime You Need a Friend” (C&C Club Version). MC has always been known for her fierce remixes, and on this epic overhaul of her Music Box ballad she takes it from the church to the club.