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Preview: Essence Music Festival 

A few of the acts to catch at the 2015 Essence Fest

click to enlarge Esperanza Spalding performs Saturday at the Essence Festival.

Photo by Johann Sauty

Esperanza Spalding performs Saturday at the Essence Festival.

Friday, July 3

Slick Rick and Doug E. Fresh
7:05 p.m. and 8:35 p.m., Art of Hip-Hop Superlounge
The influential "ruler" emcee of hip-hop's "golden era" made a late-career comeback with the Soul Rebels Brass Band in 2012 and at a recent show in New York. Soul Rebels won't join Rick at Essence, but the smooth-flow storyteller rapper kicks off a double-header with hip-hop icon and beatboxing pioneer Doug E. Fresh.

7:30 p.m., Now Playing Superlounge
On her 2014 album Strong as Glass, below-radar R&B and neo-soul singer Goapele balances minimal, Sade-inspired ballads with throwback dance-floor funk — the single "Hey Boy" brings out her breathy purr over slap bass, Chic guitar stabs and clap-heavy beats.

8:20 p.m., Main Stage
The four-time Grammy Award-winning neo-soul singer recently joined Stevie Wonder on his Songs in the Key of Life tour, which stopped in New Orleans in March. The duo improvised a song about New Orleans before launching into the set.

Saturday, July 4

7:30 p.m., Art of Hip-Hop Superlounge
Mark Ronson's secret weapon on 2015's UpTown Special was the one-two punch of Bruno Mars and his seemingly polar opposite: fire-tongued, whip-smart and unpredictable rapper Mystikal. His verses on Ronson's "Feel Right" show no sign the rapper is slowing down — and his long-awaited studio album, his first since 2001's Tarantula, is due this year.

7:35 p.m., Main Stage
Last year's Nobody's Smiling was Common's return to the studio after a few years away from the mic. He came back swinging and as relevant as ever, looking deeply at the violence in his hometown of Chicago. He followed that album with an Academy Award win with John Legend for Best Original Song for Selma's "Glory."

Erykah Badu
8:35 p.m., Main Stage
While reportedly still working on her long-awaited sixth studio LP, R&B artist Erykah Badu returns to New Orleans and Essence after her January appearance to close out the massive ExhibitBE installation, a five-story graffiti-inspired piece developed by artist Brandan Odums at the shuttered DeGaulle Manor apartments.

Kool Moe Dee
8:45 p.m., Art of Hip-Hop Superlounge
Kool Moe Dee is among the old-school hip-hop titans performing at this year's Essence, though millennial crowds might recognize him best alongside Will Smith on the unthinkably successful "Wild Wild West."

Esperanza Spalding
9:20 p.m., Hot Right Now Superlounge
Jazz bassist and vocalist Esperanza Spalding's latest project is Emily's D+Evolution, a tour inspired by surrealist theater and experimental cabaret — a slight departure from her pop- and R&B-centric jazz arrangements from her breakout, double Grammy Award-winning 2012 album Radio Music Society.

Missy Elliott
9:55 p.m., Main Stage
Missy Elliott easily outshone 2015 Super Bowl headliner Katy Perry when the rapper surprise guest-performed a rapid-fire medley of hits, dropping her explosive wordplay into millions of homes. Her return to the stage hinted at her return to music — she hasn't released an album since 2005, but she announced she is back working with super-producers Timbaland and Pharrell Williams. Her headlining Essence performance is her only show scheduled this year.

Sunday, July 5

Andra Day
7:05 p.m., Hot Right Now Superlounge
Taking cues from big band star singers, doo-wop and rockabilly, Andra Day's decidedly retro-styled R&B — think Rihanna channeling Billie Holiday — shines on her recent release on "Forever Mine." Its slow-drip, molasses-thick beat and stripped-down arrangement highlight her unique voice.

8 p.m., Hot Right Now Superlounge
The first woman on Top Dawg Entertainment (Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q), SZA teased her album with two EPs — 2013's S followed by 2014's Z, with A due sometime this year. Z is her first release on the label and bumps with psychedelic neo-soul and futuristic R&B, chilled-out trip-hop and synth-pop dream waves.

Lianne La Havas
8:55 p.m., Hot Right Now Superlounge
On Blood (Nonesuch Records), the 25-year-old singer, songwriter and guitarist leads with equal parts dancehall and Stax, with a voice that reaches Alicia Keys highs and Sade's softer, rounder jazz.

Robert Glasper
9:30 p.m., Now Playing Superlounge
As a solo performer and with his namesake Trio and Experiment, jazz pianist Robert Glasper keeps his fingers in energetic jazz as well as hip-hop and rock, having interpreted Nirvana ("Smells Like Teen Spirit") and David Bowie ("Letter to Hermione") on his Grammy Award-winning 2012 breakthrough Black Radio.

Kendrick Lamar
10:55 p.m., Main Stage
For Kendrick Lamar's 2015 follow up to his Grammy-nominated Compton, California diary Good Kid, M.A.D.D. City, which sealed Lamar's status as the next king of West Coast hip-hop, To Pimp a Butterfly tapped into Los Angeles' experimental jazz scene and evaded mainstream appeal in favor of the kind of hard-lined criticism of pop music at-large, the politics and realities of race and black life, and, above all, himself.

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