Try as I may, I don’t hear everything when it comes out. Sometimes I intend to with all sincerity, but life gets in the way and the album falls through the cracks. Sometimes I don’t hear about the record until long after its release. Sometimes I don’t have any interest in the record, but give in and listen after hearing others sing its praises.
From time to time in this space, I intend to visit records released some time ago. On one hand, it makes me feel a little silly to have missed the party in the first place. To be certain, some of you will ask, “How could you possibly have missed out on that album?” All I can do is shrug and say I can’t be everywhere. But at least I eventually showed up, and it’s usually better late than never. Here’s a prime example.
Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly (2016)
I won’t lie: modern hip-hop is, for the most part, lost on me. The last time I got really excited about rap was around the turn of the century, when I learned about The Roots and Jurassic5. Since then, hip-hop stopped speaking to me (and we weren’t having the deepest relationship in the first place).
Oddly enough, I learned of Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly by way of a jazz journalist. Nate Chinen, author of Playing Changes: Jazz in the New Century mentioned Lamar’s album as one case in point relative to how modern jazz artists like pianist Robert Glasper were being inspired by and playing sessions with MCs like Lamar. The collaborations and blurring of musical genres was creating a remarkable new scene. It was something we discussed when I interviewed him.
And let’s address the elephant in the room: Kendrick Lamar is a remarkable rapper. His subject matter shows depth and reflection, the thought processes of a man looking for answers within the larger picture. He’s bit always the most … diplomatic about his thoughts. But he definitely gets his point across. Makes me anxious to hear what he’s had to say about the world as it is today.
Lamar’s fearlessness when mixing sounds to create his personal soundscapes is highly commendable. There is nothing obvious or cliche about his directions, and his will to make his voice serve that eclecticism only helps him to stand out more. What a trip it is to hear elements of rock, jazz, funk, soul, avant-garde, electronics, and other elements mix so gleefully on a single album!
To Pimp a Butterfly is what hip-hop should be. Open, raw, honest, and flexible. I can no longer say I have no interest in modern rap music.
You can follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (cirdecsongs) My book, I Can’t Be the Only One Hearing This: A Lifetime of Music Through Eclectic Ears, is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other fine book dealers. I’m currently working on my next book, The Wizard of WOO: The Life and Music of Bernie Worrell
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