The Grammys 2016: Album of the Year Predictions

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With the Grammys airing tonight at 8pmET on CBS, there has been much buzz regarding this award show’s highest honor…Album of the Year. These past few years have been difficult in determining a winner, and this year surely does not disappoint. All 5 albums, without a doubt, deserve the nomination. Each artist simply outdid the competition in their respective genres. Unfortunately only one can come out of the battered battlefield victorious. When looking at these albums one must think… Why are all of the album covers darkly drenched in black and white??? (With the except of Taylor Swift of course). These qualities further the complexities and tone that each musician effectively, and remarkably, established in their projects. With that being said, we must agree that each album is amazing in its own right without my, or anyone else’s, rating. Here goes my personal ranking of each 2016 Album of the Year nominee.


 

1. To Pimp A Butterfly – Kendrick Lamar

 

Rating: 10/10

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What more can I say about this album? This man? In a world where the hip hop mainstream is as commercialized as it’s ever been and ever sounded, Kendrick produces a complex work fusing almost every facet of black art forms. I’ve never heard anything like it. It’s definitely too soon to say but, i’ve often gotten the vibe of a Sgt Pepper’s or The Dark Side of the Moon. Meaning I feel like somewhere down the road To Pimp A Butterfly will be one of those stand-out albums that has changed the course of music making as we know it. So it’s really no surprise that this work is the most critically acclaimed album of the five. It would be less of a travesty if Album of the Year doesn’t rightfully go to this socially conscious uplifting album but, there is this one exception that just might get in that way of that…


2. Sound and Color – Alabama Shakes

 

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I smell an upset. But this should be nothing short of the usual. For the last couple of years, albums centered around the indie and/or rock genre have upsetted pop favorites (i.e. Arcade Fire and Beck). One might also argue that these upsets were given to the better produced album. Sound and Color was mixed/produced beautifully. A great use of the left and right channels, great recording of the instruments (especially on drums), and vocal effects differentiate this album in its sound approach from, not only its nominees, but anyone else for that matter. Their experimentation with genres and melody/sound techniques, also propelled Sound and Color to greatness. They’ve clearly evolved from their southern rock/blues debut album Boys and Girls. Like many legends before them, their progression just might be apparent in every project they put out in the future(similar to Kendrick Lamar). So an upset just might creep its way into the Grammys tonight, as I believe Alabama Shakes will walk away with Album of the Year.


 

3. Traveller – Chris Stapleton

 

Rating: 9/10

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Now, this album surprised me the most. When I first saw the list of nominations, I’ve never heard of Traveller nor Chris Stapleton. And I must admit, I’m not too familiar with country music. And then I reached the end of the album… One word that Traveller left me with was impressive. Having already written country hits for big names in the industry, his songwriting ability is clearly superior, as shown in Whiskey and You and Daddy Doesn’t Pray Anymore. Lines such as “…And pretend i’m a shelter, for heartaches that don’t have a home” and “I drink cause i’m lonesome and i’m lonesome cause I drink” gave me goosebumps. His voice is incredible. His riffs like the “warm” in Tennessee Whiskey and his southern growls in many songs left me in awe… and maybe a lil jealous. The end-song Sometimes I Cry for instance was vocally astonishing in its bluesy form. Stapleton channeled his inner Chris Cornell (in his Billie Jean cover), ironically both songs cliffhangers the hell out of the audience. Although Traveller doesn’t stand out from traditional roots like most of the other albums nominated, its southern influence feeds the soul, like most blues/southern rock/country songs do. Not bad for a first album. And I just might delve more into the world of country music now. Thank you Chris. Thank you.


 

4. 1989 – Taylor Swift

 

Rating: 8/10

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Go ahead and add “Favorite to win Album of the Year” to Taylor Swift’s list of W’s since 1989’s debut. Along with the cultural phenomenon brought forth by this album, many have labeled this project as the perfect pop album. Her full transitioning to a pop icon was a risky move considering how successful she was as a country-pop artist, but it seems to work fairly well in her favor. The reduction of instruments, synth-pop leading melodies, and more multi-tracking vocals led to a strongly put-together album. Songs like Welcome to New York and Blank Space epitomize the album, while other songs like Shake It Off and Out of the Woods bring great variety to the overall project. These, among other points, are reasons why this album definitely exceeded my expectations, even though some other songs were weak compared to the rest. But more on this later, on another blog post.


 

5. Beauty Behind the Madness – The Weeknd

 

Rating: 8/10

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To place Beauty Behind the Madness at the bottom of any list, feels borderline blasphemous, but I had to. It was so hard making this choice considering how good this album is. Since I first heard his music, I’ve always admired that hip hop inspired, r&b, dark aura that is the Weeknd. Songs on this album like Real Life and Shameless channel that mixture of promiscuity and drug-addictive themes with a dark twist. Although the usual Weeknd was present, a new character showed face in Beauty Behind the Madness… The pop Weeknd. Songs like Can’t Feel My Face and Earned It propelled him to a worldwide success, and did so without cursing, promiscuous & druggy themes, depression etc.. Although i’m a huuuuge fan of those two songs, other songs with pop appeal like In the Night and Acquainted don’t leave the same impression. They sound very predictable and, dare I say, too pop-y. Some of these songs bring down the albums zeal, as well as my expectations for a stand-out solid album from top to bottom. Nevertheless, Beauty Behind the Madness was very enjoyable and I expect the Weeknd to drop something even more captivating in his next project.

Congrats to all the nominees !

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We Want The Funk !

 

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I could actually feel James Brown’s smile radiating from the grave as millennials rattle the club scene by getting “up offa that thing“. Contrary to many people’s doubtful expectations, Funk has found its way back into our mainstream music. Even our very own infamous radio stations, which many of this genre’s lovers have disdained for years, contain elements of Funk in its barrage of pop hits. For those skeptical of the re-emergence, allow me to break it down. Here are some of the recognized faces in the pop world known for bringing the Funk.

 

Mark Ronson:

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Probably the most notable example of the resurrection is, as shown above via GIF, Mark Ronson x Bruno Mars’ Uptown Funk. Although this track unexpectedly caught the internet by storm, it’s not surprising that producer Mark Ronson would release such a song, considering his track record. Songs like Valerie (featuring Amy Winehouse) and Oh My God (featuring Lily Allen) gave Ronson his reputation of being a producer who sonically caters to old-souls. So when he teamed up with pop icon and old-soul artist Bruno Mars, it was no surprise that a Funk anthem was going to be the outcome. Aside from the fly suits and old school scenery in the music video, the the funky guitar chops and horn section in the chorus give the song its funky vibe (sprinkled with some Hip Hop inspired lyrics).

In fact, the grammy nominated album Uptown Special was filled with Funk components. His second single Daffodils (featuring Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker) could be best described, as youtube commenter Sam Feldstein puts it, “a funkier version of Another Brick in The Wall Part 2”. On his third single Feel Right, featured rapper Mystikal, channels his inner James Brown as the JB’s seem to back him up on the track. The guitars and horn section are up to their usual like in Uptown Funk, but what makes this song standout is the nostalgic bassline. That’s something really rare in music nowadays, a funky bassline. In the world of funk, performance is key. Watch below as the “little gangsta” absolutely dominates the competition in his talent show.


 

Kendrick Lamar:

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Almost out of nowhere, Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar has become a Funk innovator in his Grammy nominated album To Pimp A Butterfly. Three songs in this critically acclaimed album channeled the Funk.

The first taste we get from TPAB is the Grammy-award winning song i. The The songs funky groove derives directly from the sample of The Isley Brothers’ That Lady? Kendrick’s dancing in the music video also showcase some funk influence, something we also see in the SNL live performance.

Like the SNL performance, the album version of i uses the style of live band to differ slightly, from the single version. That same type of style was used on Wesley’s Theory. The instrumental, specifically the bass and synths, display sounds perfected by 70’s Funk bands like Parliament and Funkadelic, the songs ironically features Funk legend George Clinton. This style usually substitutes the staccato guitar strumming for high elongated synth notes playing the main melody (or random fills). Clinton and Lamar have also collaborated on a recent Funkadelic song.

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The hit song King Kunta also pays homage in its Funk ingredients. This time the 90’s G-Funk, that has once dominated the West Coast, makes up the skeleton of this song. The hypnotizing bassline resonating throughout the entire song, makes you think it was produced by either DJ Quik or Dr. Dre. Kendrick also gets down with his bad self in the music video, take a look here:


 

Janelle Monae and Bruno Mars:

Just One Of The Guys: Bruno Mars (center, with microphone) performs with his band at Key Arena in Seattle, Washington on July 21.

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Why group these two together? Well, music is one thing in the Funk culture, but dancing, however, is another. Songs like Uptown Funk and Treasure are perfect examples of the Funk/Disco presence in music today. These songs have given Bruno’s fans the definite impression that his influences derive from Funk musicians of the past. However, it’s performances, like his iconic performance at the Super Bowl XLVIII halftime show, that really seal the deal.

qSYaIw0Mars’ rapid footwork and splits had everyone at the edge of their seats, thinking James Brown’s charisma has truly never left us. Not to mention the famous dance moves in the Uptown Funk music video, via GIF again, was almost impossible to escape and almost impossible to embarrassingly admit you’d tried to attempt it. It was that much of a craze.

Janelle Monae’s Funk elements in her song Tightrope, consists of a driving bassline and hidden horn section in the background. Her song Q.U.E.E.N., however is driven by the main funky guitar riff and fill-in notes from synths. Like Mars, the music videos for these two songs display funky dance-moves that captivated the attention of its viewers. Q.U.E.E.N. features, what seems to be, impulsive dancing. Ironically that’s what the song is about. Monae does what she wants and naturally feels, without feeling restricted by anybody. In Tightrope, most of the dancing is based on footwork, as she slide glides (or glides) alongside her gliding bandmates/dancers. We also get a taste of James Brown’s horn section and dancing from about 3:18-3:52 of the video. She even says…”Ladies and gentlemen the funkiest horns section in Metropolis”. That bragging, assurance, and praise-type of introduction of one’s band is a technique commonly done by many Funk/Soul icons of the past.


 

Thundercat:

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Bassist extraordinaire, Thundercat has not only thrived in making his own unique music but he also arranged funky basslines for artists like Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Erykah Badu, proving that Funk musicianship (like legendary guitarist Nile Rodgers)is still alive. Like Wesley’s Theory, which Thundercat provided with intriguing and attention-grabbing bass riffs, his song Oh Sheit, It’s X! sounds like the big band, synth based type of funk you’d hear in the 80’s. This song (based on the bass grooves, vocals, and synths) instantly remind me of young Rick James, taking listeners back to the era of Street Songs. I can just imagine Thundercat feeling himself, on stage facing the crowd of women yelling…

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An eye-catching artistic feature that makes Thundercat stand out from a varied stream of artists is his choice of attire, especially when he is performing. In true Funk fashion, his on-stage fashion antics truly dazzle the unexpected eyes of the those who pay to see him, to say the least. Thundercat pays homage to the Funk pioneers of flashy clothing, George Clinton’s Parliament-Funkadelic. There was a time in their career in which Parliament-Funkadelic even claimed they were aliens from another galaxy, via the Mothership Connection. Thundercat, being a huge fan of anime/manga, sometimes dresses as fictional Dragon Ball Z characters (pic on the right). He also dresses as a Native American chief (pic on the left) because of his Comanche roots and the correlation between being a frontman in a live performance and being a chief in a tribe. Thundercat’s eccentric choice of clothing might be odd, due to our standard perception of pop stars, but hey… at least he’s not wearing a diaper.

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Using various effects installed in synthesisers was something commercialized in the 70’s by groups like Parliament-Funkadelic, and used by Rick James often in the 80’s. Having effects done on the bass, however, wasn’t done so often (distortion would probably be the closest thing to that). In the video below Thundercat has some type of pedal that gives his bass a “wet” sound, adding interesting Funk qualities in this song. We also see his technical skill on the bass, one of them being singing and playing intricate bass melodies. Also the instrumental break on 1:28 show off his solo abilities, something that he is often praised for.


Pharrell:

***EXCLUSIVE ACCESS***during the N.E.R.D "Seeing Sounds" performance and release party presented by Zune at the Roosevelt Hotel on June 4, 2008 in Hollywood, California.

Speaking of musicianship, I wouldn’t do this blog post any justice without mentioning this man. Since forever, pretty much, Pharrell has incorporated Funk elements in his music, often mixing it with Hip Hop and Soul characteristics. In fact, his early pop hits/collaborations consisted of this formula. Smash hits like the promiscuous I’m a Slave 4 U by Britney Spears and Nelly’s Hot in Herre embody the sexually suggestive(and sometimes blatant) factor in some Funk music, further enhanced by packaging it in a sexy music video. These songs contain Jazzy chords on an electric piano(or other piano of some sort), followed by very funky and sensual basslines, and (at times) funky guitar strumming.
Most recently, some of Pharrell’s Funk creations consist of Blow by Beyonce, Come Get It Bae (his own song), and of course the infamous Blurred lines by Robin Thicke (Featuring T.I.) While these songs feature their own variety of sexually suggestive lyrics wrapped in erotic symbolism, Blurred Lines tops them all with its unrated music video displaying topless women chased by the fellow contributing artists…and a goat.

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A smash hit and undeniable jam of the summer of 2013, that took a different approach in the music video and lyrical approach, was the unforgettable Get Lucky by Daft Punk. The song starts very spiritual/philosophical and turns into a composition about letting loose and having a great time… also possibly about a one night stand. The visuals for Get Lucky and also the carefree, yet still funky, Lose Yourself to Dance shows the artists performing live in glitter and/or rhinestone blazers. Very old school indeed.

Funk/Disco/Soul legend Nile Rodgers provided guitar work and lyrics for these songs, and a large bulk of the album. Meanwhile other legendary musicians of the 70’s like Nathan East and Paul Jackson Jr. were also utilized in the Grammy Award-winning project. This shows the beauty of collaborations that spawn from both the old and the new school, bringing forth a genre adored by many and undiscovered by a few millennials.

Pharrell, and this reemergence of Funk right beside him, don’t seem to be fading at all. As the years pass, this genre raises the bar, although it’s hard to imagine someone possibly topping Uptown Funk. Contributions between legends of the past and modern icons, prove to us as fans that the Funk will never die. Daft Punk’s Lose Yourself to Dance music video displayed Daft Punk, Nile Rodgers, and Pharrell in their flashy clothing, performing in front of a dancing audience(looking to pay homage the numerous Soul/Funk/Disco videos of the 70’s). The fan-made video shown below, however, shows an old video of Soul Train mixed with the new sounds of Pharrell and Daft Punk. Both time periods being advocate promoters of, in the words of Don Cornelius, “Love, Peace, and Soul”

 

J. Cole x Kendrick = The End of Life As We Know It

………

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Bruh.

 

 

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“And now we look at the competition, that’s quick submission. They tappin out before we even get a chance to miss them”.

 

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“Never stingy with the hoes, word to Cliff and Chris, so if I fuck 6 bitches I got six assists.”

 
I could quote they’re hard-hitting bars for pages but i’ll spare you the heart attack. I’m really lost for words, quite honestly. If Feburary really is the release date for their highly anticipated collaboration album, then God help us all.

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One Time for the Love Child…

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I would just like to take a second out of the usual and review something quite personal to me. Last night was amazing, to say the least. Friends, family, and loved ones of mine gathered at the famous Nuyorican Poet’s Cafe to lay eyes on me and friends, Stephen M. James (SteV Maverick) and Luis Rivera, perform our first creation…our first love child(…pause).

As rapper/singer SteV Maverick stated before the performance “This is a song with no name… from a band.. with no name”. One night I was randomly inspired and created a chord progression with a singing melody and sent it to Stephen for a performance idea; something that would involve me singing the hook and Stephen performing a rap/spoken-word poetry over the jazzy guitar. He wrote the first part of the chorus and I wrote the second, he had words already written for the verses, Luis created a poppin-ass bassline, and the rest was history. Love child was made with the thematic intentions of universal love. Meaning, even though life constantly gives you struggle, you must ironically find beauty within the madness and always respond with love.

In the words of Kendrick “My knees gettin weak and my gun might blow but we gon be alright”.

Our goal was simply to bring the weekly Friday afternoon jamming sessions to the Nuyorican stage. And that exactly what we did, the soft and intimate vibe of the song mingled with the intimate setting of the Nuyorican as all eyes were locked on the trio.

Due to the 5 minute time frame at the Nuyorican, however, we had to cut some things out. There was a beautiful transition and melodic bridge that complimented the song very well. And not to mention, a great verse by bassist Luis Rivera was also in the works. Although edited out, he still made up for its absence in his solo performance of “Cada dia” right after we took the stage. But even though we performed with the edits, we can always make a studio recorded version. Besides, what says pop hit single more than a 8 minute song “love song”.

Without further blabbering, ladies and gents, I present to ya’ll…Love Child.

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:

N/A


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.

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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.

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Intertwining Tracks:

N/A

The song ends with…

                              I remember you was conflicted, misusing your influence.


4. Institutionalized

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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

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                                      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.


 

We Gon’ Be Aaallright !

kl_alright_tde

 

In preparation for my first ever album review on this website (Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly), I thought it would be best to talk about his latest music video. Out of the three music videos that Kendrick released for TPAB, this is by far my absolute favorite. Its artistic visuals, overall structure, and multiple messages make this a true work of art and a strong candidate for video of the year.

Labeled by many fans as the best song on the album, Alright lifts the spirits of the listeners and the protagonist, in contrast to the track before it.  The sharp contrast works in his favor as the message of the song proclaims: although life takes its toll by giving you setbacks, someway somehow, through all the bs, “we gon be alright”. The literal interpretation, taken from Lamar’s perspective, is about fighting his own personal vices (the main vice = being seduced by the evils of fame, a constant theme in this album).

The video starts with dark and violent scenes in black and white, setting the scene perfectly for the slightly altered version of the structural poem in Lamar’s album.  We also hear small glimpses of audio, supplying us with clever references to Lamar’s songs Cartoons and Cereal and How Much A Dollar Cost.

However, we then come across a track never heard before. For the first time ever, to my knowledge, Kendrick’s delivers a verse in the style of the reggae spitters of the Caribbean. In terms of American rappers, this method makes him sound very much like Joey Bada$$ or Mos Def. Similarly to his performance at The Colbert Report, a full version of this song does not exist anywhere else on the internet, leaving many fans in a yearning frenzy. Will there ever be a full version ? Will the other members of Black Hippy share a verse? Who knows. As for now, this snippet, on repeat, will do.

Along with Kendrick rapping, all members of TDE’s Black Hippy were shown packed in a car vibing to the music. Im lost for words to describe the amount of excitement from the TDE fans, like myself, so I guess I’ll let youtube commenter “BLVCK LORD BEATS” take it away…

IMG_2796

 

…Yes, it was that real.

Considering the fact that Kendrick has received some criticism over his BET performance of Alright, he continued to push buttons in this scene. As the 4 Black Hippy members bob their heads to the music, the camera zooms out and the viewer is automatically exposed to…

Kendrick-Alright2

I wonder what the brilliant journalists at FOX news had to say about that.

As the actual song starts, there are a couple things that stand out.

1. Kendrick Soaring

untitled-article-1435732466

As shown in the pic above, Kendrick shows off his levitation skills via Marshawn Lynch. He flies over several areas in California, a light pole in Los Angeles, and upside down over his homies (and also crowd surfing on his homies, if that counts). Not only is he mentally lifted up from his sorrows, he now physically feels like he’s soaring into the air, furthering the theme of eventually being “Alright”.

2. Police Brutality

Kendrick-Lamar-Cop-1435711201

With the nation still divided in turmoil about the growing problem of police brutality, not many hip hop artists have stated their opinion, shockingly enough. Leave it up to conscious rappers, like J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar, however, to voice their opinion. Lamar shows a police officer in the beginning wrongfully using his authority to shoot down someone running away from him. At the end of the video, Lamar himself is also gunned down, stating the poem again, while falling down from a light pole. The lines “abusing my power full of resentment” were accompanied with the image of the officer on screen, inferring that the poem applies to everyone (not only that one line to that one oppressor).

3. Dancing

dancing

Lamar has a multitude of dancers showing off their dance moves in this music video. Most, if not all, of them are minorities. Some of which were also younger kids, as seen on top of this police car (a great reference to his BET performance just days before this video was released).

flying

This was great for children especially from urban neighborhoods to express themselves behind such a powerful message. Lamar is a firm believer in change for the community starting from within, hence the meaning of the song and hence that constant theme pushed in his recent masterpiece of an album.

Next post? A track by track review of To Pimp A Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar

Stay tuned 🙂