Jason King

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.

All rhythm & blues is protest music — at least, that's one way of looking at it. The blues was the haunting soundtrack of newly-freed post-civil-war African-Americans trekking into big cities for work, while putrid Jim Crow laws served as a slap-in-the-face reminder that America was far from the land of the free. And the hammer-like rhythms of R&B were, by the mid-1940s, an erotic, underground revolt against the stifling sterility and monochromatic conformism of overground post WWII life.

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.

The inimitable Rick James' birthday was Feb. 1. To ride out his month we brought back our temporary takeover of "I'll Take You There," the 24/7 R&B and soul channel from NPR Music. Curated and hosted by Jason King of the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at New York University, the playlist runs the gamut from the genre's origins in the 1940s to today's slow jam stunners — except when we're wall to wall Rick James.