Intoxicated Enlightenment: An Album Review

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Release Date: August 13 2015

Rating: 8.5/10

Favorite Tracks: Chaser, Intoxicated Enlightenment, Gilligan’s Island, Nothing to Change, Live a little, King Author, Sweetest Thing Ever, Happy Hour.

 

 

 

 

Introduction:

 

Released early to a demanding request from his fans on social media, Harlem native Mike Mitch supplies the world with, without any doubt, his best work to date. In the two year hiatus since his last solo project, Acts of an Upperclassmen, Mitch has mostly taken the role of engineer and mixed many artists’ singles and projects. Most importantly, however, he has taken that time off for his craft, as improvements in all fronts are clearly evident in this album. Like his last solo project, Intoxicated Enlightenment mirrors a well-thought-out concept album meant to sustain its message lingering in the listener’s head. Mitch displays correlations between “intoxicants” and “enlightenment”, this multi-layered concept being the driving theme of the project. Having the heavy synth-based sounds complimenting this concept most of the time, Mitch spits over these turn-up styled instrumentals. Although the sounds are mostly up-beat, Mitch supplies a conscious undertone, hidden within his lyrics, meant to carry weight for the entire project.


Concept and lyricism:

 

The album kicks off with the song Chaser. The song lives up to its name as the chorus states “And I don’t really care for a chaser. Henny, straight shots, no chaser”, making you think the song has one purpose and one purpose only …

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The song, however, forces us to tap into a different mindstate (enlightenment), as Mitch speaks on troublesome topics plaguing his urban community and his life, while cleverly stating “If the money ain’t the motive don’t chase it. If the chick ain’t a dime don’t chase her”. Basically stating if something in life isn’t worth it, don’t chase it (no chaser).Chaser‘s message could be broken down in two ways: 1. (the literal message) Mitch drinks to think differently about the same cold world that he is trying to escape from. 2. (from a more metaphorical approach) Mitch doesn’t chase predetermined/detrimental stereotypes (no chasersmoney ain’t the motive), rather he alters the way he thinks (almost as if he were taking shots of consciousness) in order to free his people (enlightenment).

Chaser serves as a perfect intro, as it embodies Intoxicated Enlightenment as a project. He sets the tone early on for what’s to come next. Now that he has taken enough shots, he is intoxicated enough to tell his tale.

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…For me I personally turn to the intoxicants. And I have faith in my community. I have faith in our society but, when I get to that point of being overwhelmed, that’s what I indulge in. And i’m allowing ya to hear my journey through that state of mind.  

 

 

With that being said, whether it be drunken sips, toad licking, glue sniffs, lighting crack pipes, a needle fix (or whatever be Mitch’s prefered choice of “intoxicants”) we’re given the thoughts and actions that go through his mind when he’s under that state of mind. Subjects vary from somber moments in his life (Live a Little) to, something we’ve all probably fallen victim to, drunk texting (Drunken Text). Although there is vast difference in flow, concepts, sub-genres, emotions, etc., Mitch efficiently executes in every facet. I cannot stress enough that the storytelling, song structure, flow, and technicism of his lyrics contain such a vast improvement since his last project.

Exhibit A:

Released this January as our first official taste of Intoxicated Enlightenment, Mike Mitch tells a provocative, and hopefully fictional, story about being blackmailed after a booty call. Split Second truly highlights Mitch’s storytelling abilities. As the plot thickens, the woman in the song threatens him with a rape charge and claims that they’ve conceived a child. All seems to be well though. In the next song, Jump (Slippin’), Mitch with such eloquence and poetic stance articulates with, “Fuck that bitch though, we out here”. Check out the visuals filmed by his production company Limitless Imprint Ent.

Exhibit B: 

More lyrically sound (from a technical standpoint) than Split Second, Nothing To Change has more of a conscious upbringing. Mike Mitch uses an unusual technique of incorporating a spoken word performance in the chorus, something I believe I haven’t seen before. Written (the spoken word) by Mitch himself, his ability to experiment as such, proves to me that he has gotten better as a writer. He also channels more of an omniscient narrator, hoping to bring change in a forever-violent world. Considering, the ill things happening in the world today, Mitch (among other artists) combat with songs that provide people with hope. Check out the creative lyric video also created and edited by LIE.


 

Instrumentals:

 

Intoxicated Enlightenment is encompassed by beats from producers Live Bradshaw, Cler-Vision, DJ Brandeezie, Sha-Liek Tha Engineer, and Digital Dru. The instrumentals do a good job of complimenting Mitch’s flow and concepts. As mentioned before, some of this album’s beats rely on synthesizers and also rapid percussion (especially in high hats). This is done in order to fit the turn-up image (that usually occurs when “intoxicated”) that Mitch was trying to convey most of the project. In a very trap-music style, songs like the first single Gilligan’s Island and Black-Out urge you to gather the homies and channel your inner Sosa.

As such:

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Although the turn-up was real, other songs contained a different stylistic approach. Take most songs produced by Sha-Liek Tha Engineer, for instance. These songs, based on soothing vocal samples, were at a slower tempo, more somber sounding, and tended to be less party and more conscious. Songs like Live A Little and Paper.

165796478Speaking of beats that stand out, I couldn’t finish this section without talking about my favorite instrumental on Intoxicated Enlightenment. The song Happy Hour, produced by Live Bradshaw, paints the image of a live band performing alongside Mike Mitch. The enchanting piano, amongst other things, sounds like live piano music you would hear during happy hour in a bar, ironically enough. The piano by itself sounds like would never fit in the standard 4/4 time (because of its rapid runs up and down the keys) but Live Bradshaw manages to add a easy-tempoed boom-clap drum beat and an angelic voice sample to make this mere obstacle sound heavenly. The efficient use of “ethnic instruments” (I believe he’s using the bongos, tablas, and maracas) throughout the song also give it a much more relaxed and joyous vibe. It is also a big reason why Happy Hour has such a good chorus (one of the best and most tranquil on the album).


Features:

 

What would a great rap album be without climatic features ? It’s hard to imagine Intoxicated Enlightenment without its guest appearances, considering that every rapper propelled each individual track to better heights. The song Justice League, for instance, featured phenomenal verses from close LIE collaborators KS, Shellz D, Live Bradshaw, Ave Campbell, and Mark Twayne.Twayne, alongside Mitch, released a collaborative project titled B.A.R.S. a year ago and has been dominating, to say it kindly, so far in the world of battle rap. Don’t believe me just watch. His verse on Paper did well in setting the tone, in a song about artists’ “releasement from these chains” by doing it “for the paper”. KS who, released the 30-for-30 track recently, absolutely killed his verse on Justice League and the song King Arthur (in which the bar was already set high by an impressive verse from Mike Mitch). Both Live Bradshaw (in Sweeting Thing Ever) and Ave Campbell (in Gilligan’s Island) do a great job in matching the song’s vibe and style, along with meshing well with Mitch’s verse. Not to mention Bradshaw on Justice League had one of the hardest lines on the album.

Proper grammar was never used for collateral cause feds still need the lower cases for the capital.

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I was also surprised by two features. I’ve always known Dyani and Shakeil to be singers, that is until recently. Dyani did a great job in playing the “girl role” on the song Drunk Texting, displaying her rap skills well in the context of the song. Shakiel this past summer dropped his impressive 11236 EP and a music video for his single 236 Summer. To my surprise, most of the EP showcased Shakeil’s rapping ability as did the song #Winning on Intoxicated Enlightenment. Some of his songs on the 11236 EP and #Winning show how well Shakeil could balance both rap realms of bragadocious/turn-up and socially conscious, like Mike Mitch. Rapper King Q also did well by matching Mitch’s energy and delivered a well-spit, hyped, verse on Black-out, similar to Ave Campbell on Gilligan’s Island.


conclusion:

 

Every facet on Intoxicated Enlightenment scream to me one simple thing…progression. Acts of an Upperclassmen was a good body of work but there was still some room for improvement, all of which Mitch must have taken into account when going into this project.

The bars were superb, first and foremost. I found myself questioning whether if Mitch truly got better lyrically or did the content quality effect his writing this time around. From punch lines to rhyme schemes, Mitch seemed to have a better grip of lyricism. From this, listeners received great song ideas that are both food-for-thought and enjoyable. One thing that is also important to mention is that Mike Mitch mixes his own work. The mixing aspect, to me, was the most drastic improvement. The vocals, most importantly, are generally alot clearer (as well as the beats). He also used the left and right channels more efficiently, as processed adlibs would take turns alternating in each ear…God bless stereo. These improvements, along with others, made the catchy songs mesh well together and provide a strong body of work meant to stand tall in today’s times in rap music.

Intoxicated Enlightenment‘s concept really stood out to me.The multi-meaning rhetoric of seeing the world with a different pair of specs was enhanced in almost every song on the album, considering that each song has its own theme/plot. Whether it’s displaying a swag-rap song or a socially conscious song, Intoxicated Enlightenment has it all. It has tracks that make you want to gather the masses to demand change and it also has tracks that make you want to round up your boys and keep it 300.

Such as:

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All in all, it looks like Mike Mitch, has his work cut out for him. It seems like he truly gets better as the years go bye. It’s exciting to think where he can go from here because of the bar being set so high. I recommend this project to everybody, go and check it out, if you already haven’t… http://www.datpiff.com/Mike-Mitch-Intoxicated-Enlightenment-mixtape.728613.html

Nice work, Mike.

To Pimp A Butterfly: A Track by Track Review Part 2

e59k1vm4wxbv5newpl2xRelease Date: March 15, 2015

Rating: 10/10

Favorite Tracks: For Free?, Institutionalized, U, Alright, Hood Politics

 

 

 

 

Introduction

To Pimp A Butterfly thus far has provided us with an emotionally driven work that details the struggles brought forth by Kendrick Lamar’s newly gained success. Thematically, tracks 1-8 range from personal issues that Lamar bottles up to business/celebrity temptations lured by corporate America/popular culture. Kendrick’s talks, in between some songs, has smoothly guided the listener to a larger context, therefore confirming that this album, like Good Kid Maad City, contains a narrative. The narrative is based on some sort of poem (Kendrick’s talks)that is broken up in between the songs and exposed more and more as the album progresses, a concept I’ve never seen done before.

Picking up right where we left off, Kendrick overcomes obstacles brought forth by success and his own depression, but he is still searching for some clarity after being seduced by “Lucy” yet again. That’s when he decides to “go back home”.

9. Momma

download (2)This instrumental perfectly embodies the title. It provides Lamar with, what I would best describe as, a nurturing feeling. The soothing vocals are sampled from singer/songwriter Lalah Hathaway’s “On Your Own”. Interestingly enough, Terrace Martin is listed as a producer for the album where this single was released. Also, drummer Robert Sput Searlight, who has appeared on some songs in this album, assisted Hathaway on her Grammy win for the song Something.Like many songs on the album, Momma could be interpreted in many different ways. 1. The song could be about going to Africa and urging black people to get in-touch with their ancestral history.

downloadKendrick himself visited South Africa recently and says it was a imperative visit. 2. It could also be about escaping the stressful aspects of success and going back to your hometown. 3. Lastly, this song could also be about draining yourself of negativity and reaching a place of sanity and internal clarity, especially through religion.

 

                                               We’ve been waiting for you.                                                                                        Waiting for you. Waiting for you. Waiting for…you.

First Verse: Kendrick details his early beginnings in rapping. He talks about getting better over the years by not “mimicking radio nemesis” and now reaching a status that gives him a “feeling that is unmatched”, thanks to his early years in Compton.

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Thank God for rap, I would say it got me a plaque But what’s better than that? The fact that it brought me back home.

 

 

 

Second verse:  In true Socratic fashion, Kendrick embodies the famous quote: “I know one thing: that I know nothing.” He spends the entire verse talking about how he “knows everything”, listing many aspects of life from spirituality to “advertisements and sponsors”. He, however, ends the verse saying

                           I know what I know and I know it well not to forget.                                                                            Until I realized I didn’t know shit. The say I came home

Third Verse: Kendrick meets a young boy that resembles him. Out of all people, this young child enlightens Lamar by telling him to be embrace his upbringings, be an advocate for his community, and telling his “homies to come back home”.

The beat suddenly changes to a more upbeat sounding instrumental. The music along with Kendrick’s rapping/singing makes this one of my favorite parts of the album because of its liveliness. This part of the song seems genreless to my ears. The closest genre I would label it as would probably be jazz-rap because of the saxophone being such an integral component in the song. Kendrick elaborates more on “this feeling” in this section of the song with lines like “Where you [the feeling] reside? Is it in a woman, is it in money, or mankind” and also…

I thought I found you back in the ghetto when I was 17 with a 38 special. Maybe you’re in a dollar bill maybe youre not real. Maybe the wealthy get to know how you feel

This section of the song can be found in the SNL performance of his first single “i”, a performance, and single brought forth months before the album was released. Fast Forward to 4:09.

Intertwining Tracks:

Wesley’s Theory: 1. The chorus 2 of Wesley’s Theory (“Go back home. money go back home”) applies to this song.

2. “Gambling Benjamin benefits sinning in traffic. Spinning women on cartwheels, lien fabric on fashion”

Institutionalized: 1.“My innocence limited the experiences lacked”

2. “I know street shit. I know shit that’s conscious”

U: “I know fatality might haunt you”
Aright: “Where u reside? Is it in a woman? is it in money? or mankind?” The same questions he asks in Alright.
For sale?: “I know loyalty I know respect I know those that’s ornery” what Lucy wants and claims she isn’t in the previous song.”

10. Hood Politics

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Kendrick goes back to his braggadocios ways, this time the bashful content being the overall message of the song. However, he puts up this cocky wall to reassure himself that he has always been THAT guy, that he has always been “A1”. Because of its themes and execution of delivery via lyrics, this song does a great job of embodying the stereotypical hip hop essence of cockiness, i.e. your typical brag-rap song.

                                       I’ve been A1 since day 1, you niggas boo boo.

The captivating saying in the song Cut You Off, from Kendrick’s first project Overly Dedicated, is present here. As Youtuber “I’m Infinite” would say:

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Another commenter also suggested “Don’t wowwy” for Overly Dedicated.

In Hood Politics, Lamar delivers one of his most mesmerizing displays of lyricism on the album. He succeeds in giving many quotable bars to his fans. I’ve seen many people often quote several lines in this song before I’ve even listened to the album.

Lines like “Aint nothing new but a flu of new Democrips and Rebloodicans. Red state vs a Blue State which one you governing?”standout completely. This line also has a great message, basically saying that the hood mentality, like in Institutionalized, applies to everyone.

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Another interesting point was when Lamar also touched on the control verse fiasco in 2013. Considering how humble he was about the criticism he received, it’s a breath of fresh air to see him take the presumptuous approach and say:

Unless you askin me about power. Yeah I got a lot of it. I’m the only nigga next to Snoop that could push the button. Had the coast on stand by

Further establishing his “power” he confidently ends the verse saying:

But I resolved inside that private hall sitting there with Jay. He said it’s funny how one verse could fuck up the game. I’ve been A1 since Day 1, you niggas boo boo.

I remembered you was conflicted
misusing your influence, sometimes I did the same.
Abusing my power full of resentment.
Resentment that turned into a deep depression.
I found myself screamin’ in the hotel room.
I didn’t wanna self destruct, the evils of Lucy was all around me.                                                So I went runnin’ for answers.                                                                                                        Until I came home.                                                                                                                            But that didn’t stop survivor’s guilt,                                                                                        going back and forth trying to convince myself of the stripes I’ve earned                                       Or maybe how A1 my foundations was.                                                                                           But while my loved ones was fighting a continues war back in the city,                                         I was entering a new one.

Intertwining Tracks:

Wesley Theory, King Kunta: “Democrips and Rebloodicans” the mixing of the hood and politics again, hence the title of the song
King Kunta: 1. These two songs are the braggadocios songs of the album

2. “24/7 365 days times two, i was contemplating gettin on stage just to go back to my hood hear my enemy and say…”. Pretty much the premise of Hood Politics.

Momma: In verse 1 of both songs Kendrick talks about his early rapping days and how he is now a big star.

11. How Much A Dollar Cost

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This one of the most standout tracks of the album, produced by one the most standout producers on the album. Under the name LoveDragon, many have wondered about his/her identity. Many have spread rumors but no one is quite sure yet. Kendrick reveals that the producer wants to keep his/her identity a secret so no one will know for a while.

How Much a Dollar Cost speaks like a passage from the bible. Coincidently the sounds of the song from, the vocals to the piano, wrap the song’s omniscient presence in mysticism. Kendrick begins the track feeling perplexed and bothered, questioning the value of money. He then starts the parable with a homeless man at a gas station in South Africa begging him for 10 Rand (1 US dollar) as Kendrick tells him to leave, assuming he will use the money for drugs.

Funnily enough, Kendrick could’ve ended it all by simply driving away from the man in the 2nd verse but he’s hesitant to leave with the line “he’s staring at me“showing up often. In the last verse Kendrick details a dialogue with the man, continuing with Kendrick’s stinginess and the homeless man’s humbleness. As the homeless man, Lamar brilliantly references Exodus 14 when trying to show Kendrick that even a timid man could guide people to the promise land. The man eventually reveals to be God providing Kendrick, with a long awaiting answer:

homeless_christ_hungry_please_help1-620x350I’ll tell you how much a dollar cost.
The price of having a spot I Heaven, embrace your loss, I am God.

 

 

 

A troubled Kendrick, played by the legendary singer/songwriter Ron Isley, closes the song with the similar theme in Aright (hoping things will get better through God). Although listed as a feature, Isley is only equipped with a couple of lines to sing. One would think he would be used more (maybe in a chorus, considering that there was no chorus to this song). However, this small snippet was well executed enough to leave a great mark on an unforgettable song.

Check out Kendrick explaining this song on 6:01.

Wesley’s Theory, For Sale?: “My son temptation is one thing I defeated”. Kendrick was also being tempted by the evils in these songs.
Wesley’s Theory: The “I can see the borrow in you I can see the dollar in you” line from Wesley’s Theory is the same premise of How Much A Dollar Cost.
Institutionalized: The dazedness and the”what money got to do with it” line in the introduction of Institutionalized are similar to first few lines in this song.
U: The start of third verse, ending in “who the fuck am I kidding”, could modulate over to U, as they both share that same theme (some of the words, like guilt and selfishness, Kendrick actually uses in U)
Alright: Both songs use the phrase “rights my wrongs”

12. COMPLEXION ( A ZULU LOVE

 

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With the appreciation of black physical features in the U.S., and the rest of the world, being scarce, Lamar proposes Complexion: A song unifying people of the world by stating “complexion don’t mean a thing”.

                                      Dark as the midnight hour or bright as the morning sun,                                                     give a fuck about your complexion, I know what the Germans have done.

In several lines of the song, Kendrick plays the character of a slave trying to woo a black woman in the plantation house. Considering that field slaves were darker than anyone in the house, Lamar was trying to metaphorically bridge the two worlds. He states how ignorant he used to be when discriminating against a woman’s skin complexion (he doesn’t specify what type of skin tone) and then shouts-out his recently-engaged lover Whitney Alford, who told him “a woman is a woman, love the creation.”

A minor beat change occurs and Lamar passes the mic to North Carolina Fem-c, Rapsody. The gif below successfully sums up Rapsody’s verse in nutshell.

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It was that good.

There were so many quotables in this song from “Enforcing my dark side like a young George Lucas. Light don’t mean you smart being dark don’t make you stupid” or “Call your brothers magnificent, call all your sisters Queens. We all on the same team, blues and pirus no colors mean a thing.”  The metaphors were impeccable, references were brilliant and a breath of fresh air, and her flow was great. Perfect way to end the song.

Intertwining Tracks:

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13. The Blacker the Berry

 

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“I wish somebody would look in our neighborhood knowing that its already a situation, mentally, where its fucked up. What happened should’ve never happened. Never. But when we don’t have respect for ourselves, how do we expect them to respect us? It starts from within. Don’t start with just a rally, don’t start from looting, it starts from within”.

These words, derived from Kendrick Lamar, have stirred much controversy when published from a billboard magazine interview earlier this year. As race relations continue to be a growing problem in the U.S., Lamar adds his two cents on the single The Blacker the Berry.

tumblr_n0cat3h24L1qbtzbno1_250The song circles around a pro-black narrator that states his love for black features and culture and angrily denounces white America, claiming that they “never liked us anyway”.

Lamar started each verse with “I’m the biggest hypocrite of 2015” a line temporarily used to derail the listener by taking them on a misguided ride full of resentment and finger-pointing. Lamar then takes the plot twist-approach of throwing the entire song out of context with the last line:

                                      So why did I weep when Trayvon Martin was in the street?                                                      when gang bangin in make me kill a nigga blacker than me? Hypocrite!

Lamar warns that the uplifting of self is a must before trying to take on your oppressors; hence, the double entendre in the title. The double sidedness of the title refers to 1. the popular saying “the blacker the berry the sweeter the juice” and 2. the juice referring to power and abuse (made famous in the movie Juice). One of them is accepting of black people the other is sabotaging black people. Interestingly enough, both terms are connected to Tupac in some way.  Lamar has responded to the criticism of this track by saying he was talking to himself, instead of the black community, like many believed he was doing.

Tune in at 1:58 to hear Lamar’s thoughts

The Blacker the Berry’s delivery was the angriest on the album. It is the only track that had that level of aggression and is one of the rare tracks that has a boom-bap percussiveness to it. The grim instrumental was primarily created by Boi-1da. Along with Kendrick’s resentful tone, the haunting piano chords and eerie guitar sounds flawlessly add on to the intensity of the track.

The haunting vibe is made more apparent when the piano is the only instrument being played, as showed:

Intertwining tracks:

King Kunta: 1. The pro-black themes are present in both songs.

2. The desire to degrade black culture (“cut the leg off him”) is also present in both songs.

Institutionalized: “Church me with your fake prophesizing that imma be just another slave I my head. Institutionalized…”
Complexion (A Zulu Love): 1. Both songs deal with admiration of black skin/people.

2. “Blues and pirus no colors mean a thing” Rapsody ends Complexion with a superb transition into Blacker the Berry because of the themes of inner-hate perpetuated by gang violence.

3.”Im black as the heart of a fucking Aryan” similar to the “I know what the Germans have done” line in Complexion.


15. You Aint Gotta Lie (Momma Said)

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Pushing towards the end of the album, You Aint Gotta Lie takes the Real spot in GKMC. Like Real, an important aspect of this song is Kendrick’s mother. Her words make up the blueprint of this song. In true waterboy fashion, Kendrick says in the intro:

             Hey, hey, babe check it out, Imma tell you what my mama had said, she like…

Lamar’s mother says his level of “realness” is now reduced because of his celebrity status. He comes back home and his mom immediately catches him on his BS.

The pre chorus goes from: “Askin where the hoes at to impress me. Askin where the moneybags to impress me. Say you got the burner stashed to impress me. It’s all in your head homie…”

to the eventual chorus: “you aint gotta lie to kick it ma nigga. You aint gotta lie, you aint gotta lie. You aint gotta lie to kick it, ma nigga. You aint gotta try so hard.”

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This song later translates to people other than Kendrick (a technique used often in this album) especially the money flashy rappers.

 

 

Lamar basically says you don’t have to sell lies to the public. The most common lies in the rap industry today range from money to women to drugs to violence. He hits us with a very memorable line:

See, loud rich niggas got low money.And loud broke niggas got no money.The irony behind it is so funny

Produced by LoveDragon, this song demonstrates a lighthearted vibe. The synthesizers and the talk box enhance that vibe, as well as placing the California/west coast stamp on the track. Kendrick mostly spits in the high pitch/Andre 300 voice, and flow, that he does so often, especially at the end.

Intertwining Tracks:

Wesley’s Theory ,King Kunta, Hood Politics “You sound like the feds homie” before this line there was a mentioning of hood related topics Kendrick tries to emulate. A mixing of the hood and politics yet again.
Hood Politics 1. This song seems like his mother’s response to this record, and in essence his own response.

2. Niggas be fugazi biches be fugazi…” same as the chorus on Hood Politics

Momma “Been a virgin to bullshit” = “The perks of bullshit isn’t meant for me”

15. i

 

When a song is as successful as i, changing the song in any way would be considered a risky move. Singer/Songwriter Taylor Swift, on the other hand, released a video for her single Bad Blood with an unexpected verse from Lamar. It worked well in her favor. Lamar does the same concept but in a slightly different way.

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On the album, Lamar presents us with a complete alternate version of i, a live version. The same speaker used in the beginning of the music video introduces Kendrick to his hometown, Compton.

The concept of having love for yourself is scarce on the radio, or music in general; it is especially almost non-existent in rap music. Serving as the counter opposite of u, i tells a tale of overcoming depression. Contrary to the common misconception, u was recorded first, meaning i was the response to u. Kendrick was at a point where he felt better in life and wanted to give that same message to incarcerated prisoners and people who are suicidal.

The delivery in this song is a huge contrast to the single version. Instead of the high pitch Kendrick voice, Lamar exercises his usual performance self over the Isley Brothers’ sample of Who’s that Lady. This version is strikingly similar to the SNL performance mentioned before in Momma.

Lamar’s last verse however is interrupted by a fight involving his friends in the audience, one of the great moments in this album. Lamar tells them “how many niggas we don lost bro?”, among many persuading lines, and starts to spit a freestyle. Lamar goes back to the Boris Gardner sample on Wesley’s Theory as he tries to justify the use of the infamous n-word to the audience. He educates the audience, and listeners, on the origins of the word; making us wonder whether the negative connotation and backlash of the word was yet another form of oppression.

Listen to Dr. Kaba Hiawatha Kamene detail the origins of the word negus.

Intertwining tracks:

Wesley’s Theory The n-word justification in both songs.
King Kunta “So many mothafuckas wanna down me” = “everybody wanna cut the legs off him”
These Walls “The judge make time” like in the last verse of These Walls
u 1. The depression in i is what’s spoken about in u.

2. “Trials and tribulations” are mentioned in both songs.

3.”In front of a double dirty mirror they found me” the same mirrors he talked about at the end of u.

Alright 1. Both songs share the same concept of fighting depression based off of u

2.”These days of frustration keep ya on tuck and rotation” = “painkillers only put me in a twilight”

Hood Politics “I went to war last night” the same concept of “going to war” is mentioned at the end of the poem section in Hood Politics.

16. Moral Man

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Many people have compared the Compton MC to legendary West Coast rapper Tupac Shakur. Aside from the Pac flows and messages used in other tracks on this album, this song truly embodies this comparison.

Kendrick questions:

When shit hit the fan, is u still a fan?

In typical Tupac fashion, Lamar denounces the evils of fame. He fears his image will be damaged because of his uplifting messages of social consciousness. He states Michael Jackson, JFK, and Moses as some examples.

History_Nelson_Mandela_Champion_of_Freedom_SF_HD_still_624x352It’s interesting how he keeps mentioning Nelson Mandela’s name in an admiring way. He often says “I want you to love me like Nelson” and he also mentions how he visited his cell in Robben’s Island. This is interesting considering that during his stay in South Africa he got most of his inspiration for this album.

After providing us with a number of conscious messages, Mortal Man does a great job in closing the album by asking his fans will they still believe in him. In the second verse Lamar plays the relatability card once again as he places himself in everyone else’s perspective and says people go through the same struggle; i.e. close friends abandoning you during the rough patches of your life.

Through it all, Lamar hopes for his words and legacy as a positive leader continue to live on forever as he progresses in his career as the “leader of the new school”.

Intertwining Tracks:

These Walls “You think she’s gonna stick around when them  25 yrs occur” lack of commitment to someone behind bars like in the second verse of These Walls.
For Sale? From the lines “like who got your best interest” to “and who pretending?” epitomize Lucy in For Sale?
Momma “See I gotta question it all family friends, fans, cats dogs…” Similar to the second verse in Momma.
You Aint Gotta Lie The line “and the girls gon neglect you once your parody is gone…” can apply to Mortal Man as well.

Outro:

I remembered you was conflicted misusing your influence, sometimes I did the same. Abusing my power full of resentment, resentment that turned into a deep depression. I found myself screamin' in the hotel room. I didn't wanna self destruct, the evils of Lucy was all around me. So I went runnin' for answers. Until I came home. But that didn’t stop the survivor’s guilt, going back and forth trying to convince myself of the stripes I’ve earned or maybe how A1 my foundations was. But while my loved ones was fighting a continues 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 that 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, im no mortal man, maybe im just another nigga.

 

We finally get to the conclusion of the structural poem. Unlike GKMC which has a plot-based narrative, TPAB follows a groundbreaking concept of a narrative based on a poem. The finishing pieces of the poem completes the narrative but finishes unresolved, as the narrator at the end still questions/doubts himself (could also be praising himself considering that nigga [negus] is originally defined as an emperor/god, i.e. no mortal man).

The outro and album then take a turn as we learn this whole time Lamar was talking to a man who has undoubtedly solidified his legacy. Mr. Immortal Man himself, Tupac Shakur.

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Lamar proceeds with an interview of Pac where the questions vary from black resistance to spirituality.

In typical prophetic Pac fashion he talks about things that are relevant today, long after his death. He also mentioned some themes in this album. In his closing statement, for instance, Tupac says “we aint even really rappin, we just lettin our dead homies tell stories for us” (Similar to what Kendrick says about Nelson Mandela’s spirit in Mortal Man).

Kendrick then recites a poem that, in essence, explains the entire album. He waits for an answer from Pac but he doesn’t get one. Lamar basically is trying to insinuate to the listener that the “dead homies” are living within him and that the answers he is looking for is inside him, and were inside him the entire time.


 

Conclusion

Reviewer Kinge from the Youtube channel Dead End Hip Hop said “You know one of the things that I love about it [TPAB], is that its.. its.. so black”. I couldn’t agree more. To Pimp A Butterfly is encompassed by black styled genres such as Jazz, Funk, Soul, Hip Hop, and some might argue spoken word. Because of this genre meshing and various experimental approaches in sounds, this album became one of the most exciting and exceptional pieces of work i’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to in my life, let alone in recent years.

Lamar’s delivery in each song was stupendous. He has gotten better with finding the perfect flow/tone for each beat every time he releases a new project. With each character Kendrick introduces he brings that character to life with his voice. It feels like he has truly mastered that in this project. Also, Kendrick grows more into a socially aware rapper this time around by analyzing society and himself in depth, showing that society as a whole (Kendrick included) needs to improve. He also grows more into a politically aware rapper, always associating the government with a corrupt act (the mixing of the hood and politics which we saw so often).

Although not as conclusive and happy ending-based as GKMC, TPAB still does well in supplying us with an ending. Its more realistic to think even though we will technically never have the answers, preparing decent goals, in striving for perfection, will get us far.

In Conclusion, sonically, lyrically, and message wise, it was a great album; without a doubt, Lamar’s best work to date. I truly believe we’ll be looking back at this album and calling it a turning point and a stand-outish piece of work in music. There goes yet another classic for Mr. Kendrick Lamar. Well done.

 

To Pimp a Butterfly: A Track by Track Review Part 1

e59k1vm4wxbv5newpl2xRelease Date: March 15, 2015

Rating: 10/10

Favorite Tracks: For Free?, Institutionalized, U, Alright, Hood Politics.

Introduction

Within a week of its release in October 22nd 2013, music lovers, from critics to the general public, were already hailing the debut album good Kid, m.A.A.d city an instant classic; launching Kendrick Lamar’s career into the mainstream. Because of this album’s success and acclaim, it’s no surprise that the expectations for a follow-up equate nothing more than greatness, especially after a 2 ½ year hiatus. Finally Lamar gives us To Pimp A Butterfly, an album that manifests a true post-modern piece of work. The album mostly delves not a multi-perspective narrative style that invokes instrumental substitutions at any given point of a song. Despite the schizophrenic complexion that deludes us from one particular theme/story, the intertwining allusions of the individual songs (and its themes) and the overall arrangement of the album (structured by a poem) compress Lamar’s message in an orderly fashion.

Without giving any more away, ladies and gentlemen I give to you: A track by track analysis of Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly.

1. Wesley’s Theory

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The parabolic tone of the album is introduced in the beginning by its most important message. TPAB starts with an excerpt of Jamaican singer Boris Gardiner’s Every Nigger is a Star, from the movie of the same title. The film’s motive was to make the notorious “n word” into a positive word, uplifting the people of Jamaica (more on this motive later).

                                                             Hit me !

Lamar hit us with this classic James Brown line, setting the funky tone strong from the beginning. And that’s exactly what we got… Funk. Wesley’s Theory is by far the funkiest sounding song on the album. The distinctive tone in Thundercat’s bass and his adventurous playing, along with the synthesizers, give this song the afrofuturistic sound of bands like Parliament in the 1970’s. Interestingly enough, the legendary George Clinton is featured on this song.

The narrative of this song deals with rappers who get their first taste of money. I could write a dissertation on this song alone because of its rich/complex components. The song’s structure itself is…

Gardiner sample>Clinton> Chorus 1>Verse 1>Chorus 2>Chorus 1>Dr. Dre>Verse 2>Clinton 2>Verse 2

And each section has its own perspective. For instance Kendrick in Verse 1 is the typical rapper that wants to go stir crazy in spending. While in Verse 2 Kendrick plays “Uncle Sam” (something he does often in the album) manipulating Lamar to spend his money. At the end of this verse he says:

                                   And everything you buy, taxes will deny,                                                                                           I’ll Wesley Snipe you ass before 35

Lamar cleverly hints at the Wesley Snipes tax evasion fiasco and also the youngest age someone could be president. He warns rappers that to be smart with their funds or the government will kill your career before you could even reach your full potential (or your own mistakes will).

Exhibit A:

cash4gold


2. For Free?

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If you have wanted to step into a jazz bar/club in the 40’s just slip in your earphones and listen to For Free? From the sassy saxophone to the quick syncopated jazz chords on the piano, it was almost like Kendrick brought back Charlie Parker and other Bebop musicians back from their graves. The fast paced and improvisational techniques are especially evident in Grammy-award winning drummer Robert Sput Searight who starts dropping bombs like if he was the reincarnation of Kenny Clarke. Along with the music, Kendrick spits in a spoken word style. All of these components add to the smoky bar, background band, lead singer on stage smoking a cigarette, type of feel.

arts_visualarts4-2online_01   5546f50dc4b281e6c080df99db59a715

Wesley’s Theory ends with the phrase “taxman coming” repeating as it gets louder. Continuing from that, Kendrick (now playing the role of himself) rejects the notion of giving up his money and/or services. For Free? starts with your typical urban goldigger, to put it nicely, degrading Kendrick for not pampering her with luxury. Also saying she needs a “baller-ass boss-ass nigga”. Kendrick responds with “This dick aint freeeee” and executes with other quotable lines.

                             I need forty acres and a mule not a forty ounce and a pitbull

These lines make it clear that this woman symbolizes corporate America or the “taxman“. Lamar feels like he deserves to be reimbursed rather than offering his services for free.

Check out the wacky music video below:

The song ends with the goldigger degrading him again saying:

                               Ima get my uncle Sam to fuck you up. You aint no king.

 

*This next section is to show how some songs on the album intertwine in messages, references, etc. As the album progresses, more songs will be available *

Intertwining Tracks:

Wesley’s Theory: 1.  “Celery telling me green is all I need”

2. “Pity the fool that made the pretty in you prosper…” like Kendrick in the second verse of Wesley’s Theory.


3. King Kunta

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                                                   I got a bone to pick.                                                                              I don’t want you monkey-mouth mothafuckas sitting on my throne again.

Symbolism aside, Kendrick takes shots at rappers in the music industry. The braggadocios Lamar claims that everyone is out to get him when he has the “yams” (power, fame, etc.) Lamar follows the tradition of African writer Chinua Achebe, in his classic novel Things Fall Apart, by using yams as a metaphor. Another afro-centric allusion is a reference to the protagonist in roots, Kunta Kinte, who got his foot chopped off for trying to escape slavery. It’s interesting how he manipulates the name and uses it to his advantage in the song.

With that being said, the metaphorical meaning of King Kunta encompasses black culture. Kendrick hints how white America tends to bring a black man down (cut leg off) when he gets a taste of success (the yams).

Like Wesley’s Theory, this song has a funk vibe to it, as Lamar channels his inner James Brown. His flow is very reminiscent to James Brown in The Payback (noted by many as the first rap song). He also flows like Tupac in some lines, paying homage to the G-Funk music he was raised on. What makes this song a true G-Funk song is its bassline. The repetitive riff sounds like something DJ Quik would produce. TDE longtime producers Soundwave and Terrace Martin perfectly epitomize the ambiance of a west coast house party. This is perfectly suited for the rapper who shows nothing but love to his hometown Compton, CA.

Check out the music video below:

Well done, king.

kendrick-king

Intertwining Tracks:

N/A

The song ends with…

                              I remember you was conflicted, misusing your influence.


4. Institutionalized

image20150805-32093-1suk65p

As the last line of King Kunta echoes in the head of the listener, Institutionalized starts. Like Wesley’s Theory, this song is interestingly structured and has multi-perspectives. So for the sake of this review I am going to split the song into 7 parts.

  1. Intro: This section could be told from the perspective of two people (the main two perspectives in the song). 1. Kendrick being trapped in stardom (the ghetto) and 2. A person from the hood feeling trapped in his urban environment. While first listening to this song, my college suitemate Luis geniusly pointed out something in this song that truly blew my mind. Notice how “institutionalized” sounds like “Institutional lies” in this song. Furthermore saying that the lies/manipulation presented by their society (or the higher society) causes them to feel trapped (institutionalized). It’s safe to say Luis had me like…surprise-face-gif
  2. Verse 1: The beat completely shifts to a more jazz sounding instrumental, which carries throughout the entire song. Kendrick starts with the same cockiness in King Kunta until he brings up his “homies”. He tells the story of how he took one of his friends from back home to the BET awards. His friend wants to steal from the celebrities at the awards show (misusing your influence). Alluding to the title, Kendrick warns that if a person is institutionalized, they will have the urge commit crimes in whatever circumstance. Like so,

download (1)

Kendrick ends with “I shoulda listened when my grandmother said to me.”

  1. Chorus: “Shit don’t change till you get up and wipe your ass, nigga”. Neo-Soul singer Bilal sings the chorus as Kendrick grandmother. The raspy voice fit perfect as the image of a grandmother was definitely fulfilled. Chorus says you won’t see progress in life until you cleanse yourself and put in the work yourself (wash yo ass).
  2. Snoop Dogg 1: In the style of hip hop legend Slick Rick, Uncle Snoop tells the story of the song like if it was a bedtime story. “Once upon a time in a city so divine…”

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He ends it by saying “took his homey to the show and this is what they said”

  1. Verse 2. Kendrick is now talking as the perspective of his friend, who is clearly angry at the fact that celebrities flaunt their wealth when “it’s a recession”. He also justifies his actions by saying he is modern day Robinhood giving to the poor. Kendrick ends by getting out of character( and the tone of voice he’s currently in) and says “I guess my grandmother was warning a boy she said..”
  2. Chorus: Bilal sings the chorus again
  3. Snoop Dogg 2: Snoop Dogg opens with the same line and ends the song perfectly tying in the songs concepts. He tucks the listener into his/her bed, turns off the light, and as he closes the door he gently says “fuck you, goodnight, thank you much for your service.”

Intertwining Tracks:

Wesley Theory: “So many rollies around you and you want all of them”
Wesley Theory, King Kunta: Constant mention of mixing the hood and politics. “I should run for mayor…” “If I was president…” “Ima put the Compton swap meet by the White House, Republic run up, get socked out”

5. tHese walls

creative-dental-clinic room

                                      I remembered you was conflicted,
                                      misusing your influence, sometimes I did the same.

The last Line of King Kunta now expands with the purpose of Kendrick applying it to himself.

These Walls serve as the Poetic Justice slot for TPAB. The slow jam two-stepper does a great job of encompassing 70’s soul music, as I could picture Kendrick performing this on soul train. This is the closest we’ll get to that though.

Lamar for the majority of the song talks about being inside “walls”, meaning a woman’s genitalia from a literal standpoint. However, the walls also represent the walls of his urban upbringing that have molded and enclosed so many people. The walls could also be himself, more specifically his mind and the many depressive thoughts that come to it.

     if_walls_could_talk_by_woodsj6-d324aul   If these walls could talk they’d tell me to go deep. Yelling at me continuously I can see.                                                                                                                     Your defense mechanism is my decision. Knock these walls down that’s my religion.

In the last verse, the beat slightly changes and Kendrick says he was using his fame to sleep with the girlfriend of the person who killed his friend in GKMC. “So when you play this song, rewind the first verse. About me abusing my power so you can hurt” (Sometimes I did the same) And as we know well, especially from listening to Lamar, nothing good ever comes from being spiteful.

Intertwining Tracks:

N/A

                                         I remembered you was conflicted
                                        misusing your influence, sometimes I did the same.
                                        Abusing my power full of resentment.
                                        Resentment that turned into a deep depression.
                                        I found myself screamin’ in the hotel room.


6. U

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There are records in the Hip Hop world that truly stand out in their experimental approach of delivery. Take Eminem’s Kim for instance. Never was there a song in which an artist truly embodied the emotion needed to bring their words to life, and most of that is because of Em’s delivery. The same goes for this song.

The song starts where These Walls left off, Kendrick screaming. The scream adds to the winding down effect perpetuated by the music. The dark ambient sound, (which could be vocals) unexpected saxophone fills, and random clunky piano notes add to the haunting vibe of the song (Ironically this song is number 6 on the album). Note: This is the only song where Kendrick is consumed by the evils that seduce him.

                                                    Loving u is complicated

Considering the success of i (winning two Grammys), it was a risky move for the album to contain a song that is the polar opposite in both lyrics and sound. Addressing himself as “u” instead of “i“ would be an example of the contrast; and also how detached he feels from himself. Or lines like

            I can feel your vibe and recognize that you’re ashamed of me. Yes, I hate you too.

We then hear a collection of static sounds of the song Lovin You Aint Complicated, by Whoarei, with the knocking of the Hispanic housekeeping lady. We get another beat change, based on the Whoarei sample. The song, and Kendrick, goes from sporadic and crazy to gloomy and depressing. Lamar reaches his breaking point. His drinking and crying in the song is evident in his voice cracking.

Photo: © Europen Parliament/P.Naj-Oleari pietro.naj-oleari@europarl.europa.eualcoholic

 

This is one of the most honest records I have ever heard. Everyone included in this track does a great job on making the listener feel the emotion. Lamar takes us through the point of a view of someone having a nervous breakdown, which is throwing a fit at first and then crashing and crying towards the end. You could hear him dropping the bottle of alcohol and interrupting himself by taking gulps. The sample does a great job of dragging the song down, especially the bass and piano chords that drop heavy. Kamasi Washington on the screeching saxophone also adds pain and emotion with every wailing note.

Kendrick even says:

            And if I told your secret, the world will know money can’t stop a suicidal weakness

Listen to Kendrick talk about the importance of the record below.

Intertwining Tracks:

These Walls “And If this bottle could talk…” “and if those mirrors could talk…” Both lines follow the same structure of the chorus and offer the same overall message in These Walls.

7. Alright

kendricklamar-alright-02

Alright immediately starts on a vibrant tone, a ginormous contrast from u.

What’s interesting about this record is Lamar’s inclusiveness rather than the reclusive u that came before it. He states not only is he going to be aright but “WE gon be alright”. Lamar stated before that uplifting a generation is a main motive for making music. Songs like Alright provide a message for people to embrace and live by, initially brought forth by Kendrick’s beliefs. He says “My rights, my wrongs, I write till im right with God” or in the chorus “If God got us then we gon be alright”.

jesus-saving

In the chorus Lamar also says “And we hate popo, wanna kill us dead in the straight for sure”. As mentioned in the previous post, his BET performance shook up the wrong heads in the media. Despite the criticism, that he has responded to, Lamar seems to be an upright advocate for the black lives matter movement.

Check out the music video, which recently got nominated for video of the year at the VMA’s, where he is set to perform.

Pharrell Williams teams up with Kendrick yet again and gives us a banger this time around. I must ask: when was the last time you heard a banger that provides a multiple voices singing the main melody and random saxophone runs throughout the song? The answer is probably never. These types of songs are usually computer based, relying heavily on presets in music computer programs. However, Pharrell keeps the essence of the album by supplying Kendrick with live, natural instrumentation.

Intertwining Tracks:

Wesley Theory, For Free? “I recognize you looking at me for the paycut”
Wesley Theory “What u want you? A house? You a car? 40 cares and a mule? A piano? A guitar? See my name is Lucy im yo dog. Motherfucker u can live at the mall” Almost the same exact lines in Verse 2 of Wesley’s Theory.
For Free? “I can see the evil I can tell it I know its illegal. I don’t think about I deposit every other zero.”
Institutionalized From “Thinking of my partner” to “heaven I can reach you” Kendrick mentions giving money to his friends like in Institutionalized.
These Walls “Where pretty pussy and Benjamin is the highlight. Now, tell my momma I love her but this what I like”
U 1. “Drown inside my vides all day” and “when my pride was low, looking at the world like where do we go”.

2. “Loving me is complicated” at the end of this song.

                                        I remembered you was conflicted
                                        misusing your influence, sometimes I did the same.
                                        Abusing my power full of resentment.
                                        Resentment that turned into a deep depression.
                                        I found myself screamin’ in the hotel room.
                                        I didn’t wanna self destruct, the evils of Lucy was all around me.
                                       So I went runnin’ for answers.


8. For Sale?

devil q2

Serving the spot of an interlude, For Sale? delivers in the style of For Free?, exciting instrumental with a spoken word style delivery from Lamar. The beat is very dreamlike mainly because of the repetitive fast piano runs throughout the song. Check out the beginning of this video and notice the technique used in For Sale?:

The surreal sounds ironically make you feel like you’re in the clouds (I’ll touch on the irony later). The song also contains a great bassline and, what I can best describe as, an electronic Peruvian flute-sounding instrument as the lead; it could also be just a synth.

Although some similarities between the two interludes are apparent, this song touches on the subject of when an artist is successful (instead of the up-&-coming artist in For Free?) and is wanted for sale. Also, instead of talking as himself, like he did in For Free?, Kendrick takes an interesting approach in talking as the devil. As Lucy (Lucifer) talks to Kendrick, she tries to manipulate and wow him with material objects. Kendrick’s villain clearly yearns for Lamar as she continually says “I want you” in both the chorus and 1st verse. And what better way to get his attention:

Screen-Shot-2015-05-01-at-12.29.14-PM-1430508604“Lucy give you no worries. Lucy got million stories about these rappers that I came after when they weas boring. Lucy gon fill your pockets. Lucy gon move your momma out of Compton inside that gigantic mansion like I promised. “

 

 

 

The irony of this song is quite conspicuous. It’s probably the sweetest sounding song on the album yet lyrically the creepiest. Lamar had the perfect set of words (and vocal tone) to send chills down your spine by embodying such a mischievous character. Especially with lines like…

                    I want you to know that Lucy got you. All your life I’ve watched you…

The symbolism of “Lucy” and corporate America, once again, works in his favor. As you could picture an A&R throwing crooked contracts at rap artists would probably look like:

devil in a suit

Intertwining Tracks:

Wesley’s Theory, Alright: For Sale? expands on the approach of talking as the manipulating devil
For Free?: “Lucy got million stories about these rappers that I came after when they was boring” = “watch you politic with people less fortunate, like myself”

                                        I remembered you was conflicted
                                        misusing your influence, sometimes I did the same.
                                        Abusing my power full of resentment.
                                        Resentment that turned into a deep depression.
                                        I found myself screamin’ in the hotel room.
                                        I didn’t wanna self destruct, the evils of Lucy was all around me.
                                        So I went runnin’ for answers,                                                                                                       until I came home.