Jason King

Legendary R&B singers often have their own iconic signatures — those nifty vocal tricks and embellishments that help distinguish them from the pack. Think of James Brown's high-pitched scream, Ron Isley's tempered "well, well, well," or Luther Vandross' fluttering riff, ascending the musical scale.

Over the weekend we asked Ann Powers and Jason King to wrestle with Frank Ocean's long-awaited follow-up to 2012's Channel Orange. They did so across many time zones and man hours; what emerged is a conversation that stays fair-minded and grounded and ends in questioning both the artist and his audience.

Something tells me that 300 or maybe even 3,000 years from now — if we still have breathable air and if we haven't relocated to Mars, and if super-intelligent robots haven't colonized us Matrix-style — we'll still be trying our best to dissect and parse out the überfunky, hyper-synaptic, wildly eccentric, crazy-magical boho black genius of Prince Rogers Nelson. The Minneapolis maestro died at age 57 on Thursday from causes that have yet to be clarified at this time.

All that is solid melts in the presence of funk. Maurice White — the prolific songwriter, singer, producer, arranger, bandleader, organizer and conceptualist at the helm of multi-platinum act Earth, Wind & Fire who transitioned on Thursday at 74 after a 25-year struggle with Parkinson's Disease — gifted us with years of optimistic, exuberant music that could instantly evaporate your frown into thin air.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The singer Natalie Cole, the daughter of Nat King Cole, has died. Her family said in a statement today, our beloved mother and sister will be greatly missed and remain unforgettable in our hearts forever.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OUR LOVE IS HERE TO STAY")

Might as well get right to it. Yes, T-Pain can sing. He always could sing. He is, in my opinion, a very good singer. I would even encourage you to consider T-Pain an excellent singer. Your reasons for thinking he might not be an excellent singer, however, would not necessarily be unreasonable.

We were all here before. Rising up out of the subway onto 125th Street, it strikes me that I should come uptown to Harlem more often. The Popeye's on 125th and St. Nicholas Avenue is still there, offering the same crispy bird parts and sodium-heavy buttermilk biscuits; it's still the same bustling, up-til-3-a.m. refuge it always was. Vendors still hawk street literature, pamphlets and incense sticks on fold-up tables that line the sidewalks. It could just as easily be 1995. That's when I was restless and unsettled.