Better Late Than Never: Kendrick Lamar

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.

#cirdecsongs

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

Would you like to have your album reviewed? Contact me at cirdecsongs@gmail.com

5 Comments

  1. I can relate to this. I don’t have a significant relationship with hiphop, or must I say rap, because some of my favorites, like Prodigy and Chemical Bros’ music are very highly hiphop influenced. But multiple reviews made me decide to listen to this man’a works. Quite inpressed.. these albums are quite a journey! Which reminds me I still have to check out the follow-up album to this. Cheers Cedric!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post. Well said! His albums are incredibly well mixed, some of the best mixes I have ever heard. What I learned from him is that they songs are mixed the first 80% in mono using a crappy computer speaker with no lows or highs. And that’s because music lives in the mid-range. Only after they are stoked with with the crappy mono mix does his engineer flip the mix to stereo, engage his great studio monitors and start panning and adjusting that last little bit. I am not really into this genre either, but Kendrick is a genius in every and all respects. Love this album and DAMN won him the Pulitzer..

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Try as I might I just can’t get on with hip hop. I think the problem is that its dominant feature is a strong rhythm – the same tum-ti-tum-ti-tum rhythm in every damn song – and I grew sick of it uncountable years ago. That means that all hip hop artists have an uphill struggle to get my attention these days.

    Sometimes I’m prompted to make the effort again, as in this post, but I still haven’t found a hip hop song that wouldn’t be improved by removing the annoying rapping. That said, the lyrics of How Much A Dollar Cost do have merit. The words are a modern day parable and the song carries an important message. At least, I think it does – the language is somewhat foreign to this middle class white guy from England. I just wish the writers had chosen a more interesting beat!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Funny, because I hear the beats differently. They’re always gonna be in four, I grant you. But there’s a lot of nuance to be found from artist to artist. That being said, everything isn’t for everyone, and I when I don’t get it I usually say to myself, “I guess he wasn’t talking to me.” No harm, no foul.

      Liked by 1 person

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