KTEP - El Paso, Texas

Mina Tavakoli

At a North Carolina nightclub in late May, a woman named Shaneera presided onstage, coyly flicking fake, nut-colored hair over her shoulders. Her eyes, super-sized by drag makeup, were visible from the back of the club as she chanted short spells in Arabic, while her music — all pandemonium and pummel — rattled the venue like a weak earthquake. Despite the diabolical display, when Shaneera looked out into the crowd, her gaze felt unexpectedly tender. At the end of her set, credits rolling behind her, she bowed, removed her wig and laughed herself offstage.

Part of the thrill of Kelela's work, I suspect, has always been her ability to cast erotica against any form.

When Cut 4 Me, a 2013 mixtape in collaboration with UK bass corps Fade to Mind, showed us what spiked, proggish grime against the silk of her voice could possibly do, the impact was surprisingly sumptuous, if not flat-out hot.

First, know that Yiyun Li is not exactly a comforting author. Those who have read her fiction may recognize her tone: calm, but not soothing, matter-of-fact, yet dreamlike; a voice dedicated to seeing the world clearly and without sentimentality. Across two collections of short stories and two novels, this voice is both chilly and elegant, like a 19th-century Russian novelist, or a snowfall. Paired with Li's legion of characters — often near-biblically afflicted with a deep powerlessness — the overall effect can leave you with a mix of wonder, awe, and pain.

Like any good pair of twins, Run the Jewels have a freaky sort of unspoken fraternity. When El-P and Killer Mike strode in with their usual uniforms — Mike in a gold chain as thick as a garter snake, El in a fitted Yankees cap and pair of blue-mirrored sunglasses — the two didn't have to do as much as nod to one another before upending three tracks from their latest LP, RTJ3, in strange and perfect symbiosis.

Look, the debut collection of poetry from Solmaz Sharif, opens with all the grace of an unpinned grenade: "It matters what you call a thing." But this comes as less a warning than a war cry.