NPR logo Upholding Soul Music's Mandates, Magnificently

Upholding Soul Music's Mandates, Magnificently

Tell It Like It Is

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Stephanie McKay belts out harrowing scenes of teen pregnancy and black-on-black gun violence. hide caption

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Wednesday's Pick

  • Song: "Tell It Like It Is"
  • Artist: Stephanie McKay
  • CD: Stephanie McKay EP
  • Genre: R&B

Poetic loftiness, ambitious arrangements or vocal histrionics often obscure the emotional immediacy of a soul song. But from-the-hip realness is what enables the genre to remain a populist art form, regardless of its worldwide appeal.

Stephanie McKay's "Tell It Like It Is" upholds the mandates of soul music, magnificently. The song's sparkly veneer and computerized rhythmic bleeps suggest electronica-laden 21st-century R&B, but it's still archetypal in nature, both structurally and thematically. Basically a blues lament, it admirably juxtaposes the personal and political with lyrics that sound at once ripped from the headlines and scribbled in a diary.

As McKay belts out harrowing scenes of teen pregnancy and black-on-black gun violence, she sounds like a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Yet as incendiary and forceful as her gripping voice remains, her wails and cries never overheat into a melismatic mess. Her storefront-preacher approach to the material makes it clear that she just wants the listener to hear what she's saying, regardless of how she sings it.

Listen to yesterday's 'Song of the Day.'

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Stephanie McKay EP
Stephanie McKay

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