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.