Saturday, April 22, 2017

Blackstar 2: Kendrick Lamar Doesn’t Care If I Like It Or Not

So I guess I was lying about dinner with Kanye, but facts don’t matter anymore, so sue me.

It’s usually after dinner when the amazon $5 mp3s strike. They say don’t go food shopping while you’re hungry. I shouldn’t go music shopping when I’m full. It gives me too much endurance. Like Superman, I could climb tall record-store racks in a single bound. So paging through a few dozen pages worth of amazon mp3s is a snap. (But my advice is to stick to the $5 ones, the $3.99 ones - 400 pages worth - are a little sad, even for me.)

But it does give me more opportunities to catch up on this decade. It’s where I found an artist whose record will definitely show up on a lot of Best of the Decade lists.

And he’s already released a couple of new ones! So here I am, as usual, one record behind.

Kendrick Lamar: To Pimp a Butterfly (2015)

“Be honest. Do you really enjoy that album?” Mrs. Jaybee asked me today

It’s a fair question. Hip-hop isn’t a genre I’d ordinarily gravitate to. Plus, she must have found it funny to watch a sixty-year-old white guy listening to this.

So we both went through the album, rating each song from ick/meh/pretty good/great. And I showed her that my overall answer to her question was a guarded, but definite, Yes.

Not that Kendrick Lamar is losing any sleep over this. He’s got more important things on his mind.

But I’ll do my best to say why, with some half-assed observations based on my limited knowledge. I’ll use Kanye (as a crutch) for comparison purposes.

Like Kanye, when he bothers to meet me halfway, I enjoy it the most. I could swear he’s sampling Steely Dan’s “Deacon Blues” on “These Walls”, but can’t prove it. (It’s really “Hit the Quan” by Iheartmemphis.)

And my oh my, what a cool piano on “What a Dollar Cost”!

And where Kanye’s always talking about himself, Kendrick, in talking about himself, is really talking about an entire community. So while any of us can have a good laugh over Kanye bragging or feuding with someone, For Kendrick, the stakes are just too high.

And while I enjoy the parts less where he doesn’t meet me halfway, there’s no doubt that it’s my problem. The samples he uses are almost uniformly unknown to me, which puts into greater relief how African American culture is doing just fine without me, f*ck you very much.

And as difficult and painful as the story is, by the time you get to “i” (sampling the Isley’s “Who’s that Lady?”) the joy is real and well-earned.

So while Kendrick isn’t as funny as Kanye he’s also less of an egomaniac.

And where Kanye uses rock n' roll on Fantasy as an obvious crossover move, Lamar gracefully deploys jazz because he likes it.

Kanye’s first album ends with a 12-minute monolog about getting a record deal, this one ends with a 12-minute meditation on what it means to be an African-American man in America. (Kanye tries to do this on Fantasy, but could only come up with a dated and sexist Gil Scott-Heron poem.

So I give the edge to Kanye on sheer entertainment value, Kendrick gives me much more to think about.

I don’t get all of this, by any means, but that’s on me.


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