Heat Rocks

Hosted by Oliver Wang and Morgan Rhodes, every episode of Heat Rocks invites a special guest to talk about a heat rock - a hot album, a scorching record. These are in-depth conversations about the albums that shape our lives.

Our guests include musicians, writers, and scholars and though we don't exclusively focus on any one genre, expect to hear about albums from the worlds of soul, hip-hop, funk, jazz, Latin and more.

New episodes every Thursday on Apple Podcasts or whatever you get your podcasts.

Subscribe to our website updates for exclusive bonus content (including extra interview segments, mini-episodes, etc.)

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EP88: Guy Branum on Ani DiFranco's "Plastic Little Castle" (1998)

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Show: 
Heat Rocks
Guests: 
Guy Branum

The Album: Ani DiFranco: Little Plastic Castle (1998)
Ani DiFranco has never been a pop star by conventional measure but Little Plastic Castle was her dealing with the costs of stardom within her niche of alternative pop/rock world. The result is what's considered one of her best albums ever — it ended up being her best-selling at the very least — one where she tries to work through what happens when public scrutiny and fan indignity begin to feel invasive and you wonder what it's all for. For DiFranco though, she reminds us: she's got better things to do than survive.  
Little Plastic Castle was the pick of our guest, comedian Guy Branum who, until very recently, was the host of the Maximum Fun pop culture panel podcast Pop Rocket (alas, recently cancelled, RIP!). Pre-Heat Rocks, Oliver was on Pop Rocket for two years and got to see, first hand, Guy's pop polymath skills in action. Taped earlier in the spring, live in front of an audience as part of the Voyager Institute series, the three of us discussed DiFranco's album within the context of Lilith Fair-era female artists, the politics of queer authenticity and how her invocation of cherry bombs probably doesn't refer to firecrackers.  
More on Guy Branum

More on Little Plastic Castle

Show Tracklisting (all songs from Little Plastic Castle unless indicated otherwise):

  • Little Plastic Castle
  • Swan Dive
  • Ani DiFranco: 32 Flavors
  • Two Little Girls
  • Glass House
  • Fuel
  • Swan Dive
  • Gravel
  • Independence Day
  • Dizraeli: Bomb Tesco
  • Pulse

Here is the Spotify playlist of as many songs as we can find there
If you're not already subscribed to Heat Rocks in Apple Podcasts, do it here!

EP87: Vikki Tobak and Joseph Patel on Gang Starr's "Hard to Earn" (1994)

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Show: 
Heat Rocks
Guests: 
Vikkie Tobak
Guests: 
Joseph Patel

The Album: Gang Starr: Hard to Earn (1994)
Gang Starr's Hard to Earn dropped in the pivotal year of 1994, arguably the height of the Golden Era as it came alongside everything from Biggie's Ready to Die to Nas's Illmatic to OutKast's Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik. Unlike those other debut albums, this was Gang Starr's fourth LP and by '94, they had established themselves as the (no pun intended) premier rap duo, avatars of a boom bap/braggadocio style that would help define an entire era. For DJ Premier, Hard to Earn marked the beginning of his imperial era, where the telltale sound of a Primo scratch was a mark of quality. Meanwhile, G.U.R.U.'s lyrical craft stepped up another notch (even if it was still "mostly tha voice" that got folks up). Fans will debate whether this was Gang Starr's best album but for Morgan and Oliver, it happened to be their favorite by the group. Aight? Chill.
Hard to Earn was the pick of a dynamic duo of guests. First up: Vikki Tobak, author of the astounding new book, Contact High: A Visual History of Hip-Hop, quite possibly the best rap photography book ever created. She was in town as part of the new Contact High exhibit at the Annenberg Space for Photography (which is up through August, come catch it!). As part of the exhibit, there's a wonderful documentary video that accompanies, assembled by other other guest: Joseph "Jazzbo" Patel. He and Oliver go back to the '90s when both were young writers at URB Magazine and by the '00s, Patel had moved into video content, becoming one of the most influential behind-the-scenes talents at places like Vice TV, MTV, The Fader and Vevo. (He and Vikki are now working on a docu-series based on Contact High). In tackling this album, the four of us discussed everything from the highs and lows of the jazz-hip-hop era of the early '90s to why we need to bring back answering machine/voicemail skits to how to properly pronounce "DWYCK."
More on Vikki Tobak and Joseph Patel

More on Hard to Earn

Show Tracklisting (all songs from Hard to Earn unless indicated otherwise):

  • The Planet
  • Gang Starr: Manifest
  • Speak Ya Clout
  • Intro (The First Step)
  • Gang Starr: Jazz Thing
  • Guru: Loungin'
  • Code of the Streets
  • Mass Appeal
  • DWYCK
  • Aiight Chill
  • Tonz 'O' Gunz
  • Coming for Datazz
  • Speak Ya Clout
  • Crooklyn Dodgers: Return of the Crooklyn Dodgers
  • Suckas Need Bodyguards
  • Gang Starr: The ? Remainz
  • The Planet
  • Tonz 'O' Gunz
  • The Planet
  • Mass Appeal

Here is the Spotify playlist of as many songs as we can find there.
If you're not already subscribed to Heat Rocks in Apple Podcasts, do it here!

EP86: DJ Rashida on OutKast's Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik (1994)

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Show: 
Heat Rocks
Guests: 
DJ Rashida

The Album: OutKast Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik (1994)

Antwan (Big Boi) Patton and Andre (Dre) Benjamin began collaborating in 1992 and paired their genuis presenting it for the world to see on their debut project SouthernPlayalisticadillacmuzik which released on LaFace records in the spring of 1994.

LA’s own DJ Rashida sat with us to talk southern charm, the musicality of this album, black consciousness through the lyrics, what made the interludes so compelling and why this album stands the real test of time.

More on DJ Rashida

More on Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik

Show Tracklisting (all songs from Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik unless indicated otherwise):

  • Hootie Hoo
  • Arrested Development: Tennessee
  • Call of da Wild
  • True Dat (Interlude)
  • Welcome to Atlanta (Interlude)
  • Ain't No Thang
  • Funky Ride
  • Ain't No Thang
  • Claimin' True
  • Crumblin' Erb
  • Myintrotoletuknow
  • Flim Flam
  • Git Up, Git Out
  • Player's Ball
  • Player's Ball (Reprise)
  • The Roots: Proceed
  • Society of Soul: E.M.B.R.A.C.E.

Here is the Spotify playlist of as many songs as we can find there.

If you're not already subscribed to Heat Rocks in Apple Podcasts, do it here!

EP85: Moby on Joy Division's "Closer" (1980)

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Show: 
Heat Rocks
Guests: 
Moby

The Album: Joy Division Closer (1980)

Moby has been in the game for over three decades, making punk, electronic, alt-rock, dance, and everything in between. When we heard he was coming on Heat Rocks, we had no idea what album he'd pick, but we knew it was going to be some absolute fire.

Joy Division were pioneers, blending genres and helping create and popularize the sound that would become post-punk. Unfortunately, Closer would be Joy Division's final album. On May 18th 1980, just weeks before Joy Division's first tour in America, lead singer Ian Curtis took his own life. Factory Records released the album a few months later, and the remaining members would go on to form New Order.

We sat down with Moby to talk about post-punk, the wildly varied music scene on the East coast in the 80s, and the shift from Joy Division to New Order. We chat about Ian's deteriorating mental wellness and Moby's own experiences playing with New Order and covering Joy Division songs. Grab a chair, this conversation goes deep.

Moby's new book, "Then It Fell Apart" is out now. Cop it at your local bookstore.

More on Moby

More on Closer

Show Tracklisting (all songs from Closer unless indicated otherwise):

  • Twenty Four Hours
  • Moby: Natural Blues
  • Heart and Soul
  • Joy Division: Wilderness
  • Decades
  • Atrocity Exhibition
  • Nolan Porter: Keep On Keepin' On
  • Joy Division: Interzone
  • The Eternal
  • Moby: New Dawn Fades
  • Atrocity Exhibition
  • Twenty Four Hours
  • Isolation
  • Atrocity Exhibition
  • The Nonce: Mix Tapes
  • Elliott Smith: No Name No. 5

Here is the Spotify playlist of as many songs as we can find on there.

If you're not already subscribed to Heat Rocks in Apple Podcasts, do it here!

EP84: RJ Smith on James Blood Ulmer's "Odyssey" (1984)

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Show: 
Heat Rocks
Guests: 
RJ Smith

The Album: James Blood Ulmer: Odyssey  (1984) 
“Electric guitar” and “free jazz” may not be terms that folks normally pair together but when James Blood Ulmer first began collaborating with jazz giant Ornette Coleman in the mid 1970s, Ulmer found an instant kinship is the heady, improvisational style of Coleman’s harmolodics theory. The influence would shape the beginnings of Ulmer’s solo career later in the decade, culminating, for many, in Odyssey, recorded in 1983 with just Ulmer, drummer Warren Benbow and violinist Charles Burnham. Since then, the album is considered one of Ulmer’s greatest achievements, what longtime New York music critic, Robert Christgau lauded as a “ur-American synthesis that takes in jazz, rock, Delta blues and even country music…you’d be hard-pressed to pin just one style on any of this painfully beautiful stuff.”
Odyssey came to us via music historian and author RJ Smith. He's already written  books on everything from the Los Angeles post-war jazz scene to photographer Robert Frank to an R&B artist named James Brown. He's currently working on a new biography, this one about Chuck Berry. For RJ, Ulmer's masterpiece represented a distillation of musical movements all colliding together in early 1980s New York City and where Odyssey's opening song felt like an invitation to prayer and mediation. 
More on RJ Smith

More on Odyssey

  • Robert  Christgau's review of Odyssey (and other Ulmer albums of the era)
  • 1998 interview between Ulmer and Jason Gross (Furious.com)

Show Tracklisting (all songs from Odyssey unless indicated otherwise):

  • Love Dance
  • Church
  • Smothered Soul
  • Ornette Coleman Quartet: Live in Roma
  • Swing and Things
  • Wynton Marsalis: When It's Sleepytime Down South
  • Swing and Things
  • Church
  • Please Tell Her
  • Little Red House
  • Are You Glad To Be In America

Here is the Spotify playlist of as many songs as we can find there.

If you're not already subscribed to Heat Rocks in Apple Podcasts, do it here!

EP83: Karen Tongson on The Carpenters' "A Song For You" (1972)

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Show: 
Heat Rocks
Guests: 
Karen Tongson

The Album: The Carpenters' A Song For You (1972)

dulcet (adjective) used to describe a sound that is soothing and soft, like the dulcet harmonies in a 70s pop song or the dulcet tones of a harp.

It seems like Karen Carpenter invented dulcet tones. Her velvet buttery vocals floated and soared on songs like "We've Only Just Begun", "Top Of The World", "Close To You". Alongside her brother Richard, she created a signature sound built around layered arrangements and harmonies.

Our guest, Pop Rocket's own Karen Tongson, sat with us on Heat Rocks to deep dive into the Carpenters seminal, Close To You, their second studio album released on August 19th, 1970. We talked about what made Karen Carpenter's voice inimitable and extraordinary, how the Carpenters invented the power ballad, Karen's enunciation and lower register, and listened to acapellas that made us all swoon.

Karen's book "Why Karen Carpenter" makes its debut on June 1st and will cover all the ground we didn't in this episode, sans music, but Heat Rocks recommends that you listen to music of The Carpenters in prep!

More on Karen Tongson

More on A Song For You

Show Tracklisting (all songs from A Song For You unless indicated otherwise):

  • Hurting Each Other
  • Goodbye to Love
  • The Carpenters: We've Only Just Begun
  • Donny Hathaway: A Song For You
  • A Song For You
  • Piano Picker
  • Crystal Lullaby
  • I Won't Last A Day Without You
  • Diana Ross: I Won't Last A Day Without You
  • I Won't Last A Day Without You
  • Intermission
  • The Carpenters: Rainy Days and Mondays (isolated vocals)
  • Goodbye to Love
  • Road Ode
  • I Won't Last A Day Without You
  • Top of the World

If you're not already subscribed to Heat Rocks in Apple Podcasts, do it here!

EP82: Sy Smith on Meshell Ndgeocello's Plantation Lullabies (1993)

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Show: 
Heat Rocks
Guests: 
Sy Smith

The Album: Meshell Ndgeocello Plantation Lullabies (1993)

When Plantation Lullabies first hit the scene back in 1993, there wasn't anything really like it. Meshell Ndgeocello was a bald, badass, and bold woman with bars talking about sexuality, racism, and gender relations while paving the way for neo-soul music and artists.
Plantation Lullabies gave us many, many things, and Sy Smith (who has played alongside Meshell for years) came by the studio to talk to us about it. We discuss the impact it had on neo-soul, the shades of funk and go-go throughout the record, and the freedom it offered to black America.
Settle in, because this episode and this album are essential to any Heat Rocker.

More on Sy Smith

More on Plantation Lullabies

Show Tracklisting (all songs from Plantation Lullabies unless indicated otherwise):

  • Soul On Ice
  • Sy Smith: Sometimes A Rose Will Grow In Concrete
  • Dred Loc
  • If That's Your Boyfriend (He Wasn't Last Night)
  • Picture Show
  • Shoot'n Up and Gett'n High
  • If That's Your Boyfriend (He Wasn't Last Night)
  • Plantation Lullabies
  • I'm Diggin' You - Like An Old Soul Record
  • Dred Loc
  • Call Me
  • Untitled
  • Meshell Ndegeocello: Nocturnal Sunshine
  • Meshell Ndegeocello: Rush Over
  • If That's Your Boyfriend (He Wasn't Last Night)
  • Soul On Ice

Here is the Spotify playlist of as many songs as we can find on there

If you're not already subscribed to Heat Rocks in Apple Podcasts, do it here!

Heat Rocks EP81: Bhi Bhiman on Sly and the Family Stone's "Stand!" (1969)

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Show: 
Heat Rocks
Guests: 
Bhi Bhiman

The Album: Sly and the Family Stone: Stand! (1969)
When San Francisco’s Sylvester Stewart and his Family Stone released Stand! in the spring of the 1969, it further cemented the group’s reputation as the definitive pop act of the era, whose multiracial makeup mirrored the band’s multi-musical fluency in rock, pop, soul and funk. They captured the post-summer of love optimism of the times in songs like “Everyday People” and “You Can Make It If You Try” and though those good times wouldn’t last in the years to follow, for that brief, shining moment, Stand! thrust Sly and the Family Stone into the spotlight as avatars for a national feeling of possibility and positivity. Can it be it was all so simple then? 
Stand! was the pick of guest Bhi Bhiman, the singer/songwriter from Los Angeles (by way of St. Louis). Armed with an eclectic set of influences, Bhiman's dabbled in everything from songwriting with The Coup's Boots Riley to collaborating with comedian Keegan-Michael Key to releasing his most recent album, 2019's Peace of Mind, as a podcast. Together, we discuss how Stand! reflected the soon-to-be-dashed optimism of its time, how the Family Stone doesn't get enough credit for Sly's sound and ponder how Ike and Tina Turner managed to rip off "Sing a Simple Song" without catching heat. 
More on Bhi Bhiman

More on Stand!

Show Tracklisting (all songs from Stand! unless indicated otherwise):

  • Soul Clappin' II
  • Jimi Hendrix: We Gotta Live Together
  • Sing A Simple Song
  • Stand!
  • Tremaine Hawkins: Change
  • Stand!
  • Sex Machine
  • Don't Call Me N****, Whitey
  • Sing A Simple Song
  • You Can Make It If You Try
  • Bold Soul Sister
  • Everyday People
  • I Want To Take You Higher

If you're not already subscribed to Heat Rocks in Apple Podcasts, do it here!

Heat Rocks EP80: The Art of Sampling #1, James Brown's "In the Jungle Groove" (1984)

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Show: 
Heat Rocks

The Album: James Brown: In the Jungle Groove (1986)
This is the first of what will eventually be four episodes, released quarterly, that focus on the art of sampling. As Morgan explains in this episode, sampling isn't simply a key aesthetic within pop music styles, especially hip-hop, it's also an important way through which the past becomes present, allowing us to rediscover artists of yore. No artist in the 1980s benefitted more from this than James Brown.
By the end of the decade, Brown's long funk discography had seemingly been mined thousands of ways over but if you had to trace things back to a ground zero, you'd find In the Jungle Groove, the 1986 compilation from Polydor that practically felt designed for sampling, especially by highlighting some of Brown's fiercest and funkiest tracks, complete with new edits and remixes, none more far-reaching than "Funky Drummer," a former 45-only jam that the comp not only released in its full form but also took Clyde Stubblefield's iconic breakbeat and looped it into its own standalone track. 
For our inaugural Art of Sampling episode, we revisit In the Jungle Groove and talk about both our favorite songs off the comp as well as our favorite uses of those various tracks. Listen to how we give it up and turn it loose.  
More on In the Jungle Groove

Show Tracklisting (all songs from In the Jungle Groove unless indicated otherwise):

  • Funky Drummer
  • Digable Planets: Where I'm From
  • N.W.A.: Fuck Tha Police
  • Public Enemy: Fight the Power
  • Funky Drummer
  • Nas: Get Down
  • The Incredible Bongo Band: Apache
  • Nas: Made You Look
  • Masta Ace Incorporated: Boom Bashin'
  • George Michael: Waiting For That Day
  • Skull Snaps: It's A New Day
  • The Winstons: Amen Brother
  • Public Enemy: Bring the Noise
  • Funky Drummer
  • Give It Up Or Turnit A Loose
  • Talkin' Loud And Sayin' Nothing
  • Keek and Qagee: Don't Say It, Sing It
  • Give It Up Or Turnit A Loose
  • Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved
  • Gang Starr: Gotch U
  • CeCe Peniston: Finally (Remix)
  • Full Force: Ain't My Type of Hype
  • Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved
  • Hot Pants
  • I Got To Move
  • Showbiz and AG: Diggin' In The Crates
  • Cypress Hill: How I Can Just Kill A Man (Blunted Remix)
  • Funky Drummer

Here is the Spotify playlist of as many songs as we can find on there.
If you're not already subscribed to Heat Rocks in Apple Podcasts, do it here!

Heat Rocks EP79: Joey Dosik on Bill Withers's "+Justments" (1974)

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Show: 
Heat Rocks
Guests: 
Joey Dosik

The Album: Bill Withers: +Justments (1974)
Despite the massive success of Withers's first two albums, Just As I Am and Still Bill, label problems prevented +Justments (his fourth LP) from being released on CD until 2010. As such, it's been a sleeper of an album despite how good it is. Withers was never the most confessional of artists but this album, which came about during the dissolution of Withers's marriage to Denise Nicholas (amidst accusations of abuse), is about as close to he gets to talking about his personal life via song. Meanwhile, scoring all this were former members of the Watts 103rd St. Rhythm Band, as good a rhythm section that any artist in L.A. could hope to be hooked up with. 
+Justments was the pick by L.A. soulster Joey Dosik, who's recorded extensively with Vulfpeck but has recently branched into his solo career with his debut album from last year, Inside Voice, which includes a cover of "Stories" from Withers's album. Amongst other things, we discussed how Dosik discovered this slept-on album in his ex-girlfriend's crates, how he learned his own singing voice by studying Withers's, and how drumming great James Gadson is supernaturally clean in the pocket. 
Note: the first half of our episode was taped in the MaxFun kitchen on a remote rig because the power had gone out in our building. We were able to get back into the studio properly for the second half but we apologize for the uneven sound quality of the first half. 
More on Joey Dosik

More on +Justments

Show Tracklisting (all songs from +Justments unless indicated otherwise):

  • Ruby Lee
  • Joey Dosik: Game Winner
  • Stories
  • Bill Withers: Ain't No Sunshine
  • Can We Pretend
  • Heartbreak Road
  • Can We Pretend
  • Heartbreak Road
  • Stories
  • Joey Dosik: Stories (Live)
  • Joey Dosik: Stories
  • Railroad Man
  • You
  • Green Grass
  • Shuggie Otis: Inspiration Information
  • Stevie Wonder: Visions

Here is the Spotify playlist of as many songs as we can find there
If you're not already subscribed to Heat Rocks in Apple Podcasts, do it here!