5am (Spoken Word Version)

Check out the spoken word version of my song 5am.

Took out the guitar part and just delivered it a bit slower to make sure everyone gets each line. Kinda similar to my Room in Here video a couple months back. I pride myself on being a poet with these lyrics translated through melody and bars so, it’s great to see the words slowed down with no music… Gets people listening more…

Check for yourselves:

 

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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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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.

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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.

kendrick-king

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…

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…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

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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

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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

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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 🙂

A Look into the World of Bachata

Straight from the campos of the Dominican Republic, comes one of the most definitive genres in Latin America…Bachata.  And that’s exactly what it was then, campo music. Until the death of the DR’s notorious dictator, Trujillo, in 1961, most of the music in the radio airways consisted of Merengue and the Cuban Bolero; Cuban music was primarily at the forefront. Immediately after his death, Bachata pioneer Jose Manuel Calderon recorded “Que sera de mi“ in May 30, 1962 and the rest was history.

History

Following a series of other songs recorded by Calderon on that date, a path for the young genre was made to prosper in the future. With influences derived from the Bolero in Cuba, Bachateros like Jose Manuel and Rafael Encarnacion defined the 60’s as not only the starting point of Bachata, but also the starting point of the music industry in the Dominican Republic. With its rise in popularity in the 70’s (due to artists like Marino Perez, Leonardo Paniagua, and the iconic Luis Segura) the music found its way to a commercial audience, especially due to the help of a radio station called Radio Guarachita.

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Although exposure was present , Bachata was regarded as a genre and lifestyle associated with the lower class.  The high brow would often demean the content of the music and everything else associated with it. Only the campesinos would be found listening to it and also playing it. Gathering friends and jamming at these country areas is showcasing method that is still being done to this day, similar to cyphers in Hip Hop.

This changed, however, once the early 90’s came into the picture. This all changed when 3 Bachata phenoms burst into the music scene; three phenoms by the names of Raulin Rodriguez, Luis Vargas, and Anthony Santos. Dominican artist Juan Luis Guerra (who already beared international exposure at that time) also helped propel the genre to new heights with the 1992 release of the critically acclaimed and Grammy award winning album “Bachata Rosa”. The early 90’s also gave light to artists from the late 90’s/earl 20’s (like Teodoro Reyes, Kiko Rodriguez, El Chaval, Frank Reyes the list goes on). These attributes led the country to define Bachata as its most prestigious and nationalistic genre.

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Bachata, however, reached a level that exceed many people’s expectations, when the group by the name of Aventura broke the rules, as they would proudly say. The self-proclaimed “Kings of Bachata” where constant hit makers, making them loved all over Latin America and even some other areas around the world. They helped paved the way for young Dominican artist like Prince Royce, Xtreme, and of course the solo career of Aventura’s front-man Romeo Santos. All of these acclaimed and recognized artists broke into the mainstream music world, collaborating with musicians such as Usher, Lil Wayne, Jennifer Lopez, Snoop Dogg, etc.

Here is one of the most memorable collaborations that was adored by listeners worldwide and the mainstream media. To say the least, this song was played EVERYWHERE.

Themes

As expected in any other genre, the thematic context of Bachata music revolves around love. What makes the music so different from other genres is the depressing twist to the music; something that was commonly found in the early days rather than the current Bachata music. I’ve said many times before that Bachata is the Dominican version of the Blues. Many of its early songs consisted of drinking your pain away, crying about your lost lover, life not worth living, etc. Because of these themes and the high pitch whiny vocals (that were sometimes done intentionally), many people would label the music as “la musica de los ñoños” (whining/wimpy music).

Unlike the blues however, one thing that stands out is the dancing component.  I’ve always found it odd when I heard somber lyrics played through the speakers at Dominican parties and see a crowd of people sweating from the constant dancing. Whether it’s wallowing in heartbreak or being infatuated over your lover, the dancing aspects of Bachata has definitely helped the genre surpass its expectations of fame.

Exhibit A:

Instruments

Your typical Bachata band is made up of 5 major instrumentalists. This versatility made it easier to assemble a group, in comparison to other Latin American genres that needed as many instruments as symphony orchestras.

luis-vargas-2-051. Lead Guitar

A regular acoustic and/or electric guitar. The guitar player almost-always wears a thumb-pick and relies on an abundance of repetitive down-strokes. It’s urgent for the lead guitar to contain a cutaway for the high notes that are usually hit a little before/after the 12th fret. The acoustic guitars also need a pickup, giving their instrument that distinctive thin sound so frequently heard in the music.

folder2. Rhythm Guitar

Usually does not have a cutaway and sometimes smaller that the lead guitar. It’s mostly played at the upper register of the guitar

hqdefault3. Bass Guitar
525965_389106514453959_270157939682151_83681748_2119449353_n4. GÜIRA

The concept of introducing the güira to Bachata was introduced by Jose Manuel Calderon. As mentioned before, Bachata was influenced mainly by Bolero. Calderon thought it was best to replace the commonly-used maracas for the güira. Since then, the güira has been a vital instrument in Bachata (and also other forms of Dominican music).

PMU13695. Bongos
Theory

WARNING: This section goes out to all the music nerds out there…

1. Rhythm: Bachata is played in 4/4 time (The original Bolero music in Spain is mostly played in 3/4, while the Cuban Bolero is mostly 2/4)

The Bongos are where we hear the prime example of African influence. The rhythm and stylistic approaches taken are very similar to the tribal and syncopated beats played by traditional African drummers. The güira plays the 4 beats in the measure, most of the times. Some players might add some syncopation (There’s a lot of room for improv in güira playing).

The lead guitar, especially in its early days, pays homage to the Spanish/Cuban Bolero by playing various riffs throughout the entire song. In the 90’s-present, however, they have decreased in the riff-like solos and added an arpeggiation of chords.

The rhythm guitar, however, plays two eighth notes per beat in the 4 beat sequence.

2. Chord Progression: As mentioned before, early Bachata was centered on sad themes. With that being said, both guitars (and bass) do something musically interesting. As the artist sings about bringing himself down to a depression, the chords in most of these songs decrease in a chromatic fashion (furthermore reestablishing the sadness in the music). The songs start with the root chord, usually in a minor, and ends with the perfect 5th.

Here goes an excerpt of the rhythm section, played by yours truly. Since it starts in A minor, it ends in E major. This chord progression could be heard in the smash-hit “Nereyda” by Raulin Rodriguez  and the classic tune “Pena” by Luis Segura.

Notice how the root note of each chord is played once followed by the picking of the chord three times (Remember these are eighth notes so this makes up the first two beats). The last two beats of the measure starts with the third of each chord played once followed by the chord played once (one beat). The same method repeats; except instead of the third, the fifth of each note is played first followed by the chord (2nd beat). Hence, the song is in 4/4.

The lead guitar, also played by yours truly, is played on top of the rhythm section. Notice how my hands are chromatically going down the scale.

Final Thoughts

Since the early days of Bachata, most things have changed because of the emergence of Aventura. Their use of English lyrics, hip/hop and r&b influences, different chord progressions, etc have taken the genre out of the Dominican Republic (and New York) and out onto the rest of the world. Bachata music now seems like it’s at it’s highest point. Artists are selling-out around the world and crowds of different ethnicities are now dancing to the music. One could only hope that the creativity and exposure of Bachata would keep escalating for the sake of my motherland, the Dominican Republic.

#HoySeBebe

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Baduizm: Redefining Black Womanhood in the U.S.

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The United States of America, that we’ve all grown to love and cherish, willingly caters privilege to a specific group in this country. The realness in me feels foolish to even state the blatant obvious but the writer in me urges to keep it “professional”. So I guess I’ll balance in the middle by stating the complete opposite… If you are black and if you are a woman living in America, privilege is something as rare as a neglected child feeling accepted in a foster home, the irony. If white upper-class male is what you presumed from the beginning, allow me to quote the always-profound OG Maco in saying…

Bitch U Guessed It

Black women have always been victims to discrimination on both ends of the societal spectrum (race and gender). Since the second-wave feminism of the 1970’s, several African American women have urged their black sisters to fight this double discrimination specifically by redefining themselves; by redefining the normative societal chokehold that has plagued and defined many black women for centuries.

Enter, the legendary Erykah Badu. A direct result of the second-wave feminism, Badu’s songs and music videos have made her a global icon for black women to look up to in the 1990’s, (which some refer to as the third-wave feminism).

Two societal aspects of renewal that are going to be covered in this analysis are 1. Self-love towards your body, she often questions the norm’s perception of beauty and 2. Romantic relationship issues with men. Her first two albums, Baduizm and Mama’s Gun, are the platform for this analysis.

1. Self-Love/Beauty

                                                       Badu’s Image

In a world where a majority of the media (magazines, television, etc.) commonly showcased, and preferred, the average clothing style of a white American person, Badu chose to wear afro-centric attire.

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She constantly wore head wraps, African dresses and scarves, African jewelry etc. Badu is also known for wearing large dreadlock and afro wigs.

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By glamorizing this afro-centric style in her videos and concerts, she gave young women a taste of their own history rather than the white American culture that they were accustomed to seeing on a daily basis. Badu touches on this subject, as a feature, on the Janelle Monae song titled Q.U.E.E.N. Monae, like Badu, defends and praises her unique style, while in the chorus referring to herself as “Queen” because of her style and ability to embrace her uniqueness, despite all the criticism directed towards her.

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Badu adds to the track by saying that this song will provide the path to freedom because we [black women] have been droids for too long. This positive message sent to black women encourages them to redefine themselves by rejecting those one-dimensional perceptions of style that they’ve been bombarded by and embrace their own.

                                                      Language

Audrey Lorde in her book Sister Outsider says…

I had to make contact with other women while we examined the words to fit a world in which we all believed, bridged, our differences, And it was the concern and the caring of all those women which gave me the strength and enabled me to scrutinize the essential of my living.

Another way Badu deviates her black listeners from the predominately white experience is her use of Ebonics in music. When searching Badu’s lyrics online, enough is spelled enuf and your is spelled yo. Aside from the spelling, one could clearly note the pronunciation of these words in her music. Lyrics like See I picks my friends like I pick my fruit & Ganny [granny/grandmother]told me that when I was only a yut [Youth] clearly reinforcing black culture with the use of its vernacular. She also uses the word nigga from time to time in her music. This Pathos method of using the everyday language of black communities further allows her to connect with her audience.

                                                body (CLeva/Window Seat)

I woke up like diiss: the words spoken proudly from this generation’s most-known advocate for black womanhood through music, Beyoncé. Her song “flawless” is an anthem for women to embrace how they naturally look. This brings me to one of the main topics of redefinition that Badu showcases in her music: questioning American society’s perception of beauty of the female body through self-love and acceptance.

Badu’s song “Cleva” (Clever) from her sophomore album Mama’s Gun opens with:

This is how I look without makeup. And with no bra my ninny’s sag down low. My hair ain’t never hung down to my shoulders. And it might not grow, shit. You never know.

Despite the usual accessories women place on their bodies, which includes Badu’s afro-centric accessories (hair and jewelry), she exposes her naturalness to her audience. Although Badu indulges in her humanness, the verses purposely contain lyrics that mislead the listeners; such as, Nowadays my figure aint so fly.

Once the chorus hits, however, Badu says despite her physical appearance, her possible low self-esteem towards her body, and other’s perceptions of her appearance, she is intelligent (Cleva). She claims that intelligence is the most important thing at the end of the day, another message she wanted black women to take away from her art.

While most music videos, including those of some black women performers, exacerbate the exploitation of the black woman’s body and perpetuate stereotypes of black womanhood, Badu, Elliott, and Hill depict themselves as independent, strong, and self-reliant agents of their own desire, the masters of their own destiny.

           – Rana A. Emerson – Where My Girls At?”: Negotiating Black Womanhood in Music Videos

Because of the male dominated society, on both ends of the racial spectrum, black women barely felt like they had a voice until musical, and even visual, artists like Badu brought the idea of self-love to the public. I mean, who could forget the jaw-dropping music video for Window Seat.

In the video she walks through her hometown Dallas, Texas stripping bits of her clothing until she is eventually naked and “killed” at the assassination site of John F. Kennedy. Badu’s intentions of the video suggest that courage is needed to evolve and layers of you have to be peeled in order to achieve it.

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She also says the video was a protest to the psychological term called groupthink. The idea of groupthink says that people tend to gather in the norm and criticize (or assassinate, in the video’s context) anyone who is different.

Badu says she was terrified while filming because she is not completely in love with her body (a problem many women experience). As expected, Badu was criticized heavily for exposing her body in public which she responded by saying: people have a hard time processing it when it is not packaged for the consumption of male entertainment. She claims the positive message of her video is completely neglected and sexualized because of the taboo perception of nudity.

Now, how can you argue with that?

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2. Romantic Relationships with Men

                                                 Mistreatment (CERTAINLY)

Who gave you permission to rearrange me? Certainly not me. Who told you that it was alright to love me? Certainly not me…

This bold excerpt is tenaciously embedded in Erykah Badu’s debut album Baduizim, title track: Certainly. In this song she thematically puts together a triple entendre. In doing so, Badu cleverly perpetuates the theme of someone inflicting change without permission.

18kzabnhpxjvrjpgYou tried to get a little tricky, turned my back and then you slipped me a mickey.

1. The female protagonist in this song condemns her ex-lover, who has done wrong in her eyes She feels angry at the fact that a man came into her life and altered who she is. Metaphorically that is exactly what the “mickey” (date-rape drug) represents, another form of mistreatment and abuse. In a literal sense, the song embodies the protagonist’s frustration after being drugged and (possibly) sexually abused.

2. On a grander scale, this song generally summarizes the first meaning. Therefore the song exhibits black women’s anger after having their pride and respect taken away from a variety of men in society. Whether it’s through labor, romantic relationships, or civilian rights, men have created a world where a black woman’s worth is stripped away from her.

3. As clarified at our good friends at http://genius.com/, Badu initially intended this song to be about the stolen identity of slaves in the U.S. The protagonist, now being Africans, rebukes Americans for mistreating them and forcing them to change their customs and beliefs.

In the bridge of the song Badu says You know that the world is mine, the idea of afro-centrism now being present in her lyricism. Toward the end of the “flipped it” version of the song she says

You know that the world is mine when I wake up. I don’t nobody telling me the time, no! The world is mine, mine, mine, mine. I don’t need no nigga, rollin over, looking after me!

Basically stating that once black Americans (or black women, in the other scenarios) become conscious (wake up) they will overcome their oppressed state and prosper in the world. All it takes is that redefining moment of consciousness.

                                                       Let it go(Bag lady)

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This song instantly reminds me of author Ntozake Shange’s classic For Colored Girls who have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow is Enuf.  One of the soliloquies encompass a very sassy and sarcastic character (lady in green), purposely acting oblivious by stating “somebody almost walked off wid alla my stuff”. In this story, she accuses her male counterpart of taking away her “stuff”. Metaphorically meaning, the woman has given all of herself (like her pride and trust) to her lover yet receives no respect from him; creating an altered version of her like in Certainly.

Badu channeled her inner Shange in the music video Bag Lady, off of Mama’s Gun. Badu and her back-up singers are each individually dressed in yellow, blue, green, purple, and red dress (an obvious reference to “For Colored Girls…”)

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Unlike “Certainly” and “Q.U.E.E.N”, Badu sings directly to a woman (rather than being the first person perspective narrator) who is negatively effected by her past relations with men. This effect allows Badu to literally speak to the black women in America burdened by this scenario.

Interestingly enough, the instrumental is the same as the Dr. Dre song Xxplosive. Let’s take a look at some lyrics from Dre’s song shall we?

Fuck a bitch; don’t tease bitch, strip tease bitch
Eat a bowl of these bitch, gobble the dick
Hoes forgot to eat a dick can shut the fuck up!
Gobble and swallow a nut up, shut up and get my cash
Backhanded, pimpslapped backwards and left stranded
Just pop ya collar, pimp convention hoes for a dollar

…Lovely.

Badu takes that instrumental and makes the complete opposite, almost as if she was responding to Dr. Dre’s song.

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At the end of the song she says for my grocery bag ladies, for my Gucci bag ladies, showing that this applies to all women, rich and poor. Badu advises these women to let it go, as it will not only harm your future relationship with another man but also the overall relationship you have with yourself. I guess nobody ever told you, all you must hold onto is you, is you, is you.

Badu throughout the entire song emphasizes the size of the bag as a constant metaphor. Badu claims the heavier the bag, the more restricted you are to move freely; basically insinuating, the more stuck in the past you are, the more stuck you are going to be in the present and future.

Bag Lady’s music video bridges the gap between the generation of women in the 70’s and the 90’s by adding the Shange element. It’s a pretty smart move considering that both generations went through the exact same struggles. Check out the visuals:

Some great scenes to looks at:

  • :52 – Badu shows women intensely reading certain books close to their faces. Some of the titles read “Quick thick Hair” and “How to get over him yesterday”, all problems that black women go through and hope to find solutions to.
  • 1:43 – Badu visually shows men rejecting women because of their “extra baggage”. With the line One day, he gon say, you crowdin my space cosigning the scene in video.
  • 3:00 – The change in scene displays the braggadocios Booty instrumental playing in the background. The women (all with some interesting titles) are all wearing black and showing off some amazing 007 moves.
                                                         Kick him out (Tyrone)

Im getting tiiiiired of yo shiit…

Who can forget the classic Tyrone? Way before the current internet sensation who claims he’ll “fuck you wife, long dick style”, there was this unforgettable song. I’ve always credited the sassy and witty approach for making it one of Badu’s most memorable songs. The central character in this song is furious with the way her relationship is going and demands her lover to call his friends to “pick up all yo shit”.

What makes this song this song special is the fact that this character takes it upon herself to throw him out of her life, unlike “Bag Lady” and “Certainly” which leaves the question of who ended the relationship completely ambiguous. The self-dependency and blatancy of “Tyrone” makes this a classic for many black women who have ever felt neglected by their lover.

Now, every time I ask you for a little cash. You say no but turn right around and ask me for some ass. Oh well, hold up, listen partner, I ain’t no cheap thrill.

Or towards the end of the extended version of Tyrone where she says get up of your knees and hands or So, tell your boys at the licor store that you gon’ need a place to go. I don’t care but you gots to leave.

This shows the emergence of powerful black women that we have seen all to well in the 90’s…

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This song plays really well at her live concerts. In fact, this song was released as a single through her live album titled Live, where women were going insane.

Peep how she sets up all the men in the audience. She says, Brothas how ya feel? *Cheering* … Let’s see how ya groove to this. The immediate first line ? Im getting tired of yo shit.

The women went nuts. They were cheering and clapping throughout the entire song while dudes in the audience were probably sitting there like…

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Another important line would be It’s gettin’ late, no time to wait. You need to go on so I can meditate. Meditation has always been regarded as a form of self-cleansing and self-empowerment, yet again redefining herself.

And to add insult to injury she ends the song with the classic line… But you can’t use my phone.

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Erykah Badu resembled perfectly the new wave of feminists that emerged in the 1990’s. She often calls herself an “analog girl in a digital word” With a stylistic voice approaches of older jazz heads like Ella Fitzgerald or Billie Holiday mixed with the word usage of Ntozake Shange and Alice Walker, Badu truly stands out in the industry, because of her “old sound”. She also relates to generation of the late 90’s/early 00’s by her Terry McMillan themed lyrics and Hip Hop/R&B influence in her instrumentals. For the first time black women were empowered enough to kick their men out of the house and take command of their own household. That was something rarely seen in the history of the world until then. Certain black women were applauding their ideas and use their art as stepping stone for other women to follow. Badu certainly fit the image as she urged black women to redefine themselves by channeling insecurities and obstacles in order for their transformed lives could live in a clearer future.

Bravo, Miss Badu…Bravo.

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