It’s Sunday, a perfect day to start a new series! Welcome to the IOU Series!
I write a lot of crap about a lot of things, in these pages. And you folks, you lovely Constant Readers, are good enough to come by and put up with my jibbering, and comment on whatever it is on any given day. And through these comments, conversation threads begin, which lead to many things… very often, it’s record recommendations for associated or similar artists, which is yet another reason why I love this community (there are many).
Often times, following a recommendation, I’ll say “sure, I’ll try that!” and I mean it every time. Now, sometimes life gets in the way, or ten other albums I wanna hear come first, or whatever the case. But I do intend to hear them all and, being the geek I am, I’ve kept a list of all the stuff I’ve meant to get to…
So. This IOU Series will contain a bunch of stuff that I’ve promised to cover, and never quite gotten around to it… UNTIL NOW!
I covered Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City a while back. Following that, Marshall at the amazing Free City Sounds blog mentioned that I should definitely move on to this one.
Right from that amazing cover art photo (sure to give Trump a heart attack), and before we get started, I need to preface this whole thing with a disclaimer that I am a fairly uninformed person when it comes to modern rap. I likely shouldn’t even be trying to write about it here. I went back and looked, and I put the same damn disclaimer on my Good Kid… review too! Hey, at least I’m consistent…
However, I promised I would get into this record a long while back, and I am a man of my word, so here we go! I will, as always, be writing from the gut (not any knowledge gleaned from long immersion in the genre).
The first thing that comes to mind, after hearing this one, is: I remember thinking there was real potential on that earlier release, and hoping that the next record (this one) would bring maturity and clarity to the table.
I think he did it. Some of the songs are funky, maybe a little spacey (at times), and definitely soulful and jazzy. The rapping comes fast and furious (how does he not stumble, at that speed?), and the messages are clear and strong. This is his America right now, and our world at large, and we human beings have potential and we can reach it. And we can still want sex and good times too. We acknowledge that life can be (and often is) very difficult. But we’re in it together, across (ought to be) inconsequential boundaries like race or where you grew up.
There are some great guests here, like George Clinton, Thundercat, Anna Wise, Bilal, Snoop Dogg, James Fauntelroy, Ronald Isley, Rapsody, Pharrell Williams, Dr. Dre…
I loved the one-liners that were just perfect, like “look both ways before you cross my mind.” Man, that one ruled. Or “Shit don’t change ’til you get up and wash your ass.” Seemingly innocuous lines like “if these walls could talk” take on new power when you realize it covers a lot more than just the walls of your own home. He’s talking about the world.
This album had 5 singles (“i,” The Blacker The Berry, King Kunta, Alright, and These Walls). It had many cool things going for it, including (from Wiki): “The booklet included with To Pimp a Butterfly‘s CD version was produced with braille letterings, which when translated reveal, according to Lamar, the “actual full title of the album.” Complex commissioned a braille translator, who found that it literally translated to A Kendrick by Letter Blank Lamar which Complex noted was most likely supposed to read as A Blank Letter by Kendrick Lamar”.
I could go on. But I sit here wondering if I can even do a record like this justice, and I know that the answer is no. There is so much in here, not to mention the other wealth of stuff between the lines. I probably just listened to a masterpiece that will take years to reveal itself to me. And by then, Kendrick will already be long gone, ahead of the curve and only adding to his legacy.
Thanks Marshall, at Free City Sounds, for the recommendation. I’m gonna need a bunch more listens for it all to really sink into my old brain, but even now I know that this record is damn good.
Well, I ended the recent Stones Run yesterday, so let’s take a total left turn, shall we? YES WE SHALL!
Anyway, if you want a review, GO READ MARSHALL’S. He went so far as to give it an A+.
Note: My copy is the 2CD version, with CD2 having 4 extra tracks. It’s the only version I’ve ever seen, in the shops. Lots of appearances here too, like Dr. Dre (two tracks), Jay-Z, Drake, Mary J. Blige, MC Eiht, Jay Rock, and Anna Wise. Uncredited appearances include Pharell Williams, Chad Hugo (Neptunes), and Schoolboy Q.
Anyway, since I can’t see the point in trying to top what Marshall wrote, I’ll just write a bit from my gut…
I should preface this by saying that I don’t listen to a whole ton of hip hop, so I have no real cred here, but I will say that I know what I like when I hear it, and this record is one that I loved by instinct. This really is an incredible record. Every song is its own animal, yet the whole thing manages to flow as a complete album should. The bass is huge, the flow is relaxed yet also quick, the voices span the whole range, and the songwriting is fascinating. The lyrics are largely quite excellent.
And even with that, there were a couple of things I could have done without… and I should preface this by saying that living here in my white middle class existence in Canada, I don’t know the first thing about what it’s like to live in Compton. At all. So probably this stuff is normal and expected.
I am not much for skits on rap records. I know there’s a tradition, but to me, it wrecks the flow, not unlike What’s He Building In There, on Tom Waits’ (otherwise perfect) Mule Variations album. They’re interesting the first run-through, but after that it’s just distraction. I’d leave them off. I could also do without all the n-word and hos crap. I know it’s pervasive in the genre, and I have to assume that they actually talk like that, but it’s sad, because it makes them sound dumber than they are. And I really do not believe that these people are dumb, not for one second.
Anyway, I did still enjoy this record a ton, it’s musically interesting, and a lot of what he has to say is intelligent and well-told. I just hope that, with maturity, his next record will leave out the silly childish crap and move towards the promise of even more greatness that I absolutely can hear in this effort.