Sunday, March 22, 2015

Final Grade: A+

First of all, I want to point out that I don't think I've ever given an A+ on this blog.  A few A's, but not an A+.  Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly was more than deserving of it!  It's hard to follow up a classic with another classic, but Kendrick did just that, and it may be better than the first.  I've listened to good kid, m.A.A.d city probably over 100 times, so it's difficult to say, but I really think that overall, his sophomore effort is better.  I can't remember the last time I heard a record that was so honest, so heartfelt, raw, emotional, gritty, and all executed so flawlessly - and that is just from a lyrical standpoint.  And particularly in hip-hop.  In a day in age where the majority of rap is about flaunting how much money you have, or how many bitches you got, Kendrick came with something that was real (something that I loved about his first record), he has an actual story to tell the people.  I don't give a fuck if you have millions of dollars, because that is not something that I can relate to!  Being depressed, not knowing where your life is going, feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders - that (while on a much lesser scale) is some shit that not only I can relate to, but many other people in the world as well.  And in particular the black and brown youth of this country.  Kendrick is reaching out to a demographic that, for the most part in the public eye, is made to feel less than, unless he is a rapper making money and fucking bitches.  Well, Kendrick is a rapper, and he's still feeling all of the same feelings that everyday people do, because he is just that - a person!  This record, particularly for the conflicts that are occurring currently in our society, is for all of those who feel less then because they are told to feel as such by society.  Kendrick is not just a rapper, he is a poet, he is a songwriter, he is a PREACHER!  I'm not a religious person, but this album is the closest thing I've had to going to church in a hot fucking minute.  And not only is he spitting bars like no one else in the game, but musically this is one of the most advanced albums to be released in popular music in YEARS.  I mean, even the 64 year old, white, jazz pianist I'm on tour with right now says so, and he doesn't like the majority of popular music he hears!  He brought on George Clinton and Ronald Isley!  I bet that there are a large number of people my age who don't even know who those cats are (which is a fucking shame)!  The dude is rapping over funk, over jazz, over rock - this record seeps versatility from top to bottom!  I was hoping that I wasn't going to be disappointed by Kendrick's follow up, but I wasn't expecting to be blown out of the fucking water!  He just schooled every rapper out there on flow, lyricism, musicality, the whole damn thing, and I could not be more ecstatic!  I haven't been this excited about a record, well...since his last one, and this one has me even more out of my skin!  It's beautiful, it's poetic, it's happy, it's sad, it's angry, it's frustratred, it is absolutely everything you want out of an album, and not just a hip hop or rap album, but any album.  It is perfection in every sense of the word, and I could not have dreamed of a better way to close out this album-reviewing journey.  Thank you, Kendrick Lamar, thank you.

The Blacker the Berry

You Ain't Gotta Lie (Momma Said)


Mortal Man

Songs of the Day

Final four tracks up for review today: "The Blacker the Berry," "You Ain't Gotta Lie (Momma Said)," "i," and "Mortal Man."
I actually didn't fully hear the second single off this record, "The Blacker the Berry," until the album dropped.  When I went to listen to it the first time, something was wrong with my headphones, and I just spaced on getting back to it.  I like that this is another one of the grittier tracks on the record ("u" being the first in that style), with Kendrick's angr and frustration coming across clearly in his flow.  This, coupled by the rock feel to the beat, really makes the listener pay attention to Kendrick's struggle.  Kendrick is taking such pride in his dark skin, and this song is pretty much a "fuck you" to anyone who doesn't like it (in particular the police).  "I mean it's evident that I'm irrelevant to society/that's what you're tellin me/penitentary would only hire me" - I mean, damn Kendrick, preach on it!  But he also speaks towards the conflict and internal struggle of being black, while being a participant of black-on-black crime, referring to himself as "the biggest hypocrite of 2015."  He's speaking on what so many black males (in particular) are feeling in today's society, that they are only worthy of becoming part of the prison system.  And how can that not feel that way when 1 in 5 black men will be locked up at some point in their life by the time they're 30?  It's a systematic problem, and Kendrick is speaking, or better yet preaching, on the matter on a major platform.  Gotta love the man for that, and for this song.  
"You Ain't Gonna Lie (Momma Said)" is another track with a dope old school feel to it.  It reminds me of some of The Roots older stuff, which is obviously a major compliment.  This is the second track on the album credited to LoveDragon on the production (the first being "How Much a Dolla Cost"), and since both are amazing, I'm definitely gonna have to check out more of his stuff.  This track is for all the suck ups, which I'm sure Kendrick has had his fair share of since his rise to fame.  You just gotta keep it real, talkin about shit you don't actually know about/can relate to, "you ain't gotta lie."  I also wouldn't be surprised if this is a low key diss track to a rapper... This is one of the more mellow tracks, both in terms of groove and lyrics, which is a nice release.  Simple, honest, dope.
I was all about "i" off the bat when it was released for the simple reason that he sampled one of my favorite tunes, "That Lady" by The Isley Brothers.  Such a funky track.  I feel like this song is contextually everything that Kanye tries to say, but unfortunately he just comes across as the ultimate dick when he says it.  Probably because Ye always comes off as though he's fighting people when he's defending his cockiness, whereas when Kendrick preaches it, he's coming across as honest and genuine.  A very distinct difference.  Because this isn't Kendrick being like "I'm the shit, you guys suck," he's honestly just saying that he loves himself and recognizes his value as a human and not just as a rapper (although he does plenty of that as well, but again in an honest, relateable manner).  I love the groove switch into the a cappella breakdown at the end with Kendrick going off about the use of "niggas," or in this case "N-E-G-U-S, description: royalty, king royaly."  Talking about how the white man used this word to divide us, but we can use it to unite us.  Love yourselves, black men, you are royalty!
"Mortal Man" certainly has the making of a final track, both lyrically and groove-wise.  The groove is one of the more relaxed tracks on the record, a little more dream-like than the others, which is a nice way to take things out.  "When shit hit the fan, is you still a fan" asks Kendrick in the hook, which is such a real sentiment for not only those who rise to fame, but for anyone.  It's the final question in an album long essay about the struggles of rising to fame, how to cope with it, and how to keep your own identity all the same.  He continuously refers to himself as Nelson Mandela, he wants to be that great leader that people look up to, but that leadership has a price.  He has obviously had to deal with this struggle, as he has an album-worth (and I'm sure more) of material talking about the difficulties the fam comes with.  The ongoing poem ends with on this track, the full version going as follows:
I remember you wasconflicted, misusing your influence
sometimes I did the same
abusing my power, full of resentment
resentment that turned into a deep depression
found myself screaming in the hotel room
I didnt wanna self destruct 
the evils of lucy was all around me
so I went running for answers
until I came home 
but that didn't stop survivor's guilt
going back and forth, trying to convince myself the stripes I earned
or maybe how a-1 my foundation was
but while my loved ones was fighting the continuous war back in the city
I was entering a new one
a war that was based on apartheid and discrimination
made me wanna go back to the city and tell the homies what I learned
the word was respect
just because you wore a different gang color than mines
doesn't mean I can't respect you as a black man
forgetting all the pain and hurt we caused each other in these streets
if I respect you, we unify and stop the enemy from killing us
but I don't know, I'm no mortal man
maybe I'm just anotha nigga

SO FUCKING POWERFUL, KENDRICK!  Even more powerful is the fact that this track ends with him interviewing the motherfucking ghost of Tupac!  Kendrick used parts of a 1994 interview for P3 Sould Broadcasting to make his own, and it's moving, creepy, inspirational, and an absolutely stunning way to end the record.  I only say that it's "creepy" because you really feel as though Kendrick is interviewing Pac in the flesh. Pac says "my word is my bond," and I feel like that is the basis of what Kendrick has been saying this entire record.  He is the preacher for this new generation, and he has to be that much more careful with his words because he knows that to be true.  And it certainly is.  Bra-fucking-vo, Kendrick, you did it.

Friday, March 20, 2015


Hood Politics

How Much a Dolla Cost (ft James Fauntleroy & Ronald Isley)

Complexion (A Zulu Love) [ft Rapsody]

Songs of the Day

Four more tracks up for review today: "Momma," "Hood Politics," "How Much a Dolla Cost (ft James Fauntleroy & Ronald Isley)," and "Complexion (A Zulu Love) [ft Rapsody]."
Off the bat it's hard not to love the old school feel "Momma" has going on.  The groove has this relaxed feeling to it that makes you want to lay back and dream.  I love that on this track, Kendrick goes on about all of the things that he knows, that kind of cockiness that comes along with fame and being rewarded, simply to admit at the end of the second verse that he "doesn't know shit."  Takes a lot to admit when you're wrong, which I don't feel like is something many in hip hop are willing to admit these days.  Kendrick makes it so apparent that he's struggling between the life of famous Kendrick, and the at-home Kendrick, which I'm sure is something most in the public eye experience.  The pick up/groove switch at the end is dope, adds a new flavor to what was laid back.  Dig that it fades out at the end as well, not anything abrupt.  Diggin it, yes indeed.
"Hood Politics" starts out with a similar kind of chill groove "Momma" had (with a very distinct Thundercat on the bass), and then switches to a groove that has a bit more of a groove to it.  I love that Kendrick is able to switch up his flow depending on whatever the groove calls for, it shows such versatility and he kills it every time.  This track is probably the most similar to the feel on good kid, as it is so clearly about what the title says, "hood politics."  Going back to the hood and realizing that while so many things change, the core stays the same.  This track ends with a continuation of the line that's been weaving throughout the album, adding "but that didn't stop survivor's guilt/going back and forth trying to convince myself the stripes I earned/maybe how unstable my foundation was/but while my loved ones were fighting a continuous war in the city, I was entering a new one." Solid all the way around.
My friend Charley described "How Much a Dolla Cost" as having Radiohead chords, and that is so true, which is part of why this track is so dope.  It's got that dark/eerie/melancholy feel that so much of rap avoids.  Discussing financial troubles, the difficulty of coming up and having money and grappling with what that means for those that don't, this is another track where you can really hear the confliction in Kendrick's voice.  "My selfishness is what got me here" is such a real sentiment for those of us who are trying to come up - you have to have that kind of ego to get where you want to go, and for many it comes off as selfish, but how do you balance that?  Gotta love that Ronald Isley (lead singer and founding member of the Isley Brothers) is on this track, especially considering that Kendrick sampled them on the first single off the record, "i." So real, relatable, and dope.
Another clear Thundercat contribution to the record, "Complexion (A Zulu Love)" has his stamp all over it.  Gotta love Kendrick showin all the brown skin girls love, not enough songs about us multishade women.  The hook says "complexion don't mean a thing," while he acknowledges that there's beauty all around us. Also great to hear a female MC on the track, and Rapsody kills it.  Love her like "bein light don't make you smart, bein dark don't make you stupid," a mentality too many are infected by.  Embrace your beautiful colors, ladies, Kendrick certainly does!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

These Walls (ft Bilal, Anna Wise & Thundercat)


it's not on the interwebs :(


unfortunately, it's been pitched a little higher than on the record

For Sale (Interlude)

Songs of the Day

Today, we've got tracks 5-8 up for review today: "These Walls (ft Bilal, Anna Wise & Thundercat)," "u," "Alright," and "For Sale (Interlude)"
Another solid day of songs starts out with "These Walls." I love the ongoing line of "I remember you was conflicted, misusing your influence" as it contiues to build throughout the album.  It's such a self-reflection, you can really understand that this is a personal statement to and by Kendrick.  The groove on this track is one of the more mellow thus far, but still has that backbeat that keeps your head moving.  Anna Wise's voice adds such a smoothness to the hook, as does Bilal's (they blend so well together).  While it's not oh so subtle in its sexual content, it's not so brazen and in your face as so much rap these days - it's respectful and has deeper (no pun intended) meaning behind it.  Because, what if these walls could talk?  What stories would your inner workings tell you?  Sex can be so beautiful, but it can also have consequences, and that seems to be the battle that Kendrick seems to be envoking in this track.  I dig how the groove slows down towards the end with the sax, it's quite relaxing.  Such a solid number.
"u" is certainly one of these heavier hitters on this album, both in feel and context.  You can hear the struggle off the bat in the way Kendrick says "lovin you is complicated" (10 times, each time different).  A track about the conflicting feelings that come along with rising to fame/success, Kendrick really makes you feel it.  The feeling is made that much more prominent when the groove switches and Kendrick continues to rap in a pseudo wailing/crying tone.  The pain is so real, so difficult to ignore - how does one balance being the person from home and the person that fame has turned you into?  I mean, the guy is talking about being depressed, how many rappers are willing to be that vulnerable?? Turning to the bottle because you can't handle it, that's some real shit.  So heartfelt, it's hard not to connect to this song.
When it comes to bangers, "Alright" probably takes the cake on the record.  This track's been on repeat since day one for multiple reasons.  First of all, the beat is so fucking dope with the vocal (albeit tracked) samples, and the hook "nigga we gon' be alright" is just so damn catchy.  Also gotta love that sax in the background.  And Kendrick's flow, talking about self doubt but knowing you're gonna be alright, he's straight killin it.  "And we hate popo/when they kill us dead in the street fasho," a line that is far to prevelant in today's society.  I love that the line "what you want, you a house, you a car, forty acres and a mule" comes up frequently throughout the album - it hits home for so many, and it helps tie the whole thing together.  I have stank face through this whole damn song, it's too damn catchy!  Love love love love love.  It ends with the ongoing "I remember you was conflicted, misusing your influence/sometimes I did the same/abusing my power, full of resentment/resentment that turned into a deep depression/found myself screaming in a hotel room/I didn't want to self-destruct/the evils of Lucy were all around me, so I went running for answers" - so fucking heavy, Kendrick.
"For Sale (Interlude)" can certainly be considered a song in its own right.  I love the "what's wrong nigga, I thought you were keepin it gaaangsta" in the beginning, I'm sure that's something Kendrick has been conflicted with.  The beat has a trippy, underwater kind of thing going on that I dig.  He's going on about Lucy, which I can't tell is an actual female, or LSD.  I'm assuming the latter in the manner that he refers to her, particularly the "paper on top of paper" line.  Regardless, you can tell it's a confliction about whether or not he should go down a certain path, both a female and/or drugs could be applicable.  Kind of sounds like he's falling down the rabbit hole at the end, with the same recurring line with the addition of "so I went home" at the end.  Solid, oh so solid.

Wesley's Theory (ft George Clinton & Thundercat)

For Free (Interlude)

King Kunta

Institutionalized (ft Bilal, Anna Wise, & Snoop Dogg)

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Songs of the Day

First four tracks up for review today: "Wesley's Theory (ft George Clinton & Thundercat)," "For Free (Interlude)," "King Kunta," "Institutionalized (ft Bilal, Anna Wise & Snoop Dogg)."
"Wesley's Theory" is the definition of a solid opener.  The gradual fade in on the "every nigga is a star" (praise) intro sets everything up perfectly.  The groove that drops for the track is all kinds of funky, and how appropriate when you have the master of funk himself, George Clinton, on the track! How dope is that though, how many rappers are having George Clinton on their song, versus just sampling him??  Love it.  Thundercat is straight killin on the bass (surprise, surprise), really bringing the funk alive on this.  Kendrick comes out swinging on this, I can't wait to give this record a listen while looking at the lyrics.  I get distracted by how sick his flow is that it takes a couple of listens for me to really absorb the lyrics.  So, so solid.
Ok, so first we got a good taste a funk, and now this dude drops some straight JAZZ on us with "For Free (Interlude)!"  I love the spoken word element to this track, it solidifies that Kendrick is more than just a rapper, he's a poet.  Love how he says "this dick ain't freeeee," such great emphasis on the pimping of artists for their artistry.  Not to mention the players are going in in the back, making Kendrick's words that much more prominent.  Yes, Kendrick, yaaaaaaaas!
Keeping the funk alive with "King Kunta," and I'm lovin it.  This whole album keeps your head boppin the entire time, and it's such a great feeling.  This groove has that I'm-walking-down-the-street-and-I-know-I'm-the-shit kinda feel to it, that good stankiness! "Bitch, where were you when I was walkin? Now I run the game, got the whole world talkin" - tell em, Kendrick!  He really is running the game though, and rightfully so when he's putting out bangers like this!  I want the funk, Kendrick, I want it.
Kendrick keeps the flow going right along with "Institutionalized," there's no stopping it.  It's a little bit of a more relaxed groove, but it still gets your head moving.  And what a great cast of features on this one!  Bilal, Anna Wise (hey girrrrrl), AND Snoop - hell yes!  "Shit don't change until you get up and wash yo ass, nigga," you better sing it, Bilal!  There's so much musicality to this track, and it makes you pay attention.  That and how obviously concious Kendrick is make for a really great track.  "Remember stealin from the rich and givin back to the poor? Well that's me at these awards."  You certainly do, Kendrick, you certainly do.

Album Factoids

To Pimp a Butterfly

Released: March 16, 2015
Genre: Rap, Hip-Hop
Label: Top Dawg, Interscope
Producers: Dr. Dre, Anthony "Top Dawg" Tiffith, Flying Lotus, Pharrell Williams, Thundercat, Boi-1da, Dave Free, Itzik Bensoli, KOZ, Knxwledge, Larrance Dopson, LoveDragon, Rahki, Ronald "Flippa" Colson, Sounwave, Tae Beast, Taz Arnold, Terrace Martin, Tommy Black, Willie B, Whoarei

*again, can't post a Kendrick picture on my ipad :(


So, after week 99 (Beck), I was waiting to choose the perfect final album, and boom, Kendrick drops his 2nd studio record just in time!  I wish it hadn't been leaked and subsequently released early, becuase now I have to blog on the road, but whatever, he's worth it.  good kid, m.A.A.d city is not only one of my favorite rap/hip-hop albums, but it's one of my favorite albums PERIOD, so I have been anticipating the follow up like crazy since then.  Normally, I don't listen to the records before I review them, but I definitely had to break the rules for this one (also, there was no social media in Shanghai, so I couldn't blog about it anyway).  Couldn't have asked for a better way to end this blog.

*also, I usually post the "this week's album..." first, but I'm on my ipad and this format won't let me upload the album cover.  womp womp.