State In The Real – Penn State Music Scene

Sufjan Stevens Gets Personal with “Carrie & Lowell”

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Sufjan Stevens is, if nothing else, theatrical. To make a midwest state feel like the center of the universe on his groundbreaking 2005 album Illinois was an almost laughable feat, but sooner or later everyone was excited to “Feel the Illinoise”. With his newest album, Carrie & Lowell, Stevens channels this dramatic energy into coping with the 2012 death of his mother, the titular Carrie. Through despair, nostalgia, and drug abuse, Sufjan Stevens presents one of the most personal and bold albums in his discography, and certainly the most heartbreaking.

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To place Sufjan Stevens in the “folk” genre alone has always been a limitation. His past experimental and orchestral word has proved that he is much more diverse than the average folk artist. But the music of Carrie & Lowell seems to call upon this term much more than his recent work. With extremely limited instrumentation (guitar, vocals, occasional keyboard), the album is reminiscent of Nick Drake’s Pink Moon, whose legacy continues to influence the genre. But C&L’s limited, yet beautiful, sonic qualities only push Stevens’ poetry further into the foreground. His blend of Greek mythology allusions with blatantly suicidal emotions on “The Only Thing” are only complimented by his majestic melodies, and the result is incomparable. Throughout the album, Stevens effortlessly weaves references to his mother’s hometown in Oregon, the bible, and his childhood into his lyrics. He presents his own memories as if the listener was a part of them. Lyrics such as, “remember I pulled at your shirt/I dropped the ashtray on the floor/I just wanted to be near you” from the nostalgic “Eugene” could be pulled from anyone’s childhood, and serve to build an incredibly personal relationship between the listener and Stevens.

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Listening to Carrie & Lowell is a distressing experience. Gorgeous as the music may be, one gets the sense that darkness is always looming overhead. To add to this, the album leaves off on a somber note, “Blue Bucket of Gold”. Because of this, it is important to keep in mind that Carrie & Lowell isn’t a story of redemption or triumph over depression, it’s a picture of a distraught Sufjan Stevens. Stevens isn’t teaching the listener how to get past the death of a family member, but is instead describing what it’s like to be in a black hole of loneliness. Dismaying as that may be, we can take comfort in the fact that he isn’t babying us. Like Nick Drake, Stevens is getting rid of all the strings and horns and speaking to us one-on-one in his moment of despair. No answers, just open-ended questions. However, in all its truth and sadness, Carrie & Lowell is one of the most rewarding and emotionally rich albums Stevens has under his belt, and a certain reminder of his talent and relevancy today.

Carrie & Lowell is now available to stream through NPR and will be officially released on March 31st.

EARL

Article Written By: Lauren Duncan

 

 

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I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside is another outstanding creation by Earl Sweatshirt. The whole album is a transparent view of Earl’s insecurities as well as his accomplishments. In the very first song on the album Earl says, “Critics pretend to get it”, but in all honesty, I feel like I get it. For those of us who have been with Earl since his beginning Odd Future days, this album feels like a natural progression. The lyrics; “I’m in my 20’s now” during “DNA” are even a little strange for me – still trying to remember he’s not just that kid stuck on an island his mom sent him to.

 

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Consistent with his past projects, introspective lyrics are never lacking during this album. He explores the ideas of time and what it means to grow up. This album is a coming-of-age story in the most honest way possible. In the song “Faucet” Earl discusses the difficulty in trying to prioritize his career, family and personal relationships. Yes cliché, but undeniably relatable. The only way Earl is allowed to get away with this is because his voice is so easily heard in this album. With his age, came certainty. Earl still doesn’t know what’s going on in his life, but he has found his voice. No longer does the rapper seem like a shaky and nervous teenager, he sounds like himself. In a recent interview with NPR Earl admits that this album is the first thing he has created that he fully stands behind.

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In the roughly 30 minutes it takes to listen through all of I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, this album will make you realize that being uncertain is okay, and Earl Sweatshirt is not a fad. Check out the amazing music video for the single “Grief” below:

 

 

MKTO Interview

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Monday March 23, pop, Soul, Rap group MKTO, came to Alumni Hall to perform a killer show. State In the Real got a chance to sit down with the dynamic duo for an interview. Check out the interview below.

 

 

 

Why To Pimp A Butterfly Matters

 

 

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At 12:30 a.m. on March 16th I was jet lagged, exhausted, and about to go to bed when I saw that Kendrick Lamar’s newest album, To Pimp a Butterfly, had been released early. The exhaustion was gone as King Kendrick had taken its place. Like everyone else, I had my expectations. The opinion had been formulating in my mind for weeks: “good kid m.A.A.d City established Kendrick as the best rapper of this generation, this next album will give him a place in rap history”. But with his new album, Kendrick Lamar decided to gracefully avoid this accomplishment and land on something much more impressive and necessary: with To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick establishes his place in African American history.

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Plenty of rappers today talk about social issues, and plenty of them do it very well (Killer Mike, Kanye, etc.). But Kendrick stands apart from these rappers. By combining incredibly introspective and personal experiences from growing up in Compton with the confusion of becoming a world-famous rapper, he offers a completely unique view on black issues in the news today. To Pimp a Butterfly takes popular “black lives matter” mottos found today and brings them several steps further. While Kendrick realizes that these are facts, he is more concerned with speaking directly to the black community, legitimizing his influence despite being richer and more famous; and empowering African Americans by helping them embrace their culture. TPAB achieves this through its extensive funk, jazz, R&B, and spoken word influences. The beats on this album feel organic, and are filled with live instrumentation and incredible features from black music history such as George Clinton and Ronald Isley. On top of this, Lamar is aided by rap legends like Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and, shockingly, Tupac.

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All of this acts as the medium through which Kendrick expresses his truly original and personal opinions about what it means to be black in society today. His messages ooze with authenticity, and not a second feels at all pretentious or undeserved. At the end of the final track, Mortal Man, his message is most clearly expressed: the megastar rapper Kendrick Lamar and the Compton born African American teenager are one and the same, and the same way that “To kill a mockingbird” is a sin, “To pimp a butterfly” is to completely give in to racist tendencies of our society. Kendrick explains that one black person, no matter how rich or famous, is no more important than the child from Compton or New York or anywhere. Lamar draws on this message in the track “King Kunta”. He compares himself to a king as well as a slave (Kunta Kinte), expressing how conflict within the black community is counterproductive. In the end, his message is one of unification, awareness, self-love, and black pride. In short, “To Pimp a Butterfly (to idolize Kendrick), is a sin because all African Americans are butterflies or have the capability to become butterflies.

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Needless to say, with To Pimp a Butterfly Kendrick sets the bar higher than with good kid m.A.A.d city. But TPAB also sets the bar for what a rap album can mean and what it can do. It can draw on the past while looking towards the future. It can be incredibly personal and speak to African Americans everywhere. It can be bone-chillingly dark and boldly loving. But most of all, it can be exactly what America needs right now.

 “Dark as the midnight hour I’m bright as the morning sun”

-From “Complexion (A Zulu Love)”

Think Tank: Who is Poised to Take the (Rap) Throne?

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Which Rappers Can Compete for the Prized Seat?

 

 

A few weeks ago, approximately upon the release of If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, I propose the question to a fellow writer about who is the best rapper right now, not counting Kanye and Jay Z? Like if those two were to stop rapping, who would we look to to say this is the best rapper around right now. Fellow staffer, Tariq Rashid, and I exchanged, long, lengthy Facebook conversations of our opinions on the matter. 13977_814585941905923_52292052812882662_nThis was all done to share our opinions on the matter, and really lay down a pros and cons of the best out there. What you will read is our opinions on the matter, so feel free to comment with your thoughts on the matter. For brevity’s sake, I will be denoted with ED, and Tariq will be represented with TR.

 

 

 

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ED: Where do we look to for influence in hip hop/ rap? Are you more of a Tupac or Biggie guy? Or do you prefer a Tribe Called Quest? Basically who do you look at as your grandfather of rap. This is an opinion based question so don’t feel the need to say Sugar Hill Gang.

 

TR: Ahh probably have to say Big. And earlier than that – I think Rakim’s important.

 

ED: For me bands like A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul were so innovative. The entire Native Tongues movement is what I like in hip hop and rap. It’s more happy it’s not angry at the world. It’s aware. They are making music to make a statement they aren’t just saying “Fuck the police” because they don’t know any different. They are saying why “We need to be wary of cops.” But at the same time approaching it from a much lighter point of view. From 3 Feet High to Midnight Marauders both of the albums have a sense of levity to it that makes them just fun albums.

 

TR: I like Tribe. They were an amazing group who carried that organic bohemian vibe with them. Little Afrocentrism in their aesthetic. All very positive uplifting stuff. And they were fun as well. You can’t help but swing a little bit and smile listening to “Bonita Applebaum”. I like Rakim because of his lyrical dexterity. He was complex.. he bucked the simple rhyme pattern that a lot of his peers used during his run. Very skilled guy with amazing capacity.

 

ED: And I think Biggie defined what it means to be a New York rapper. He helped create a sound.

 

TR: Agreed on that. Style, bravado, subject matter, sonic-wise. The whole nine. -He was a part of the 90’s NY Wave

 

ED: Ok so let’s get into this; when you are listening to someone new, someone who has really just started making music in the last 7 years, what are you looking for? Are you looking for use of samples? Original beats. Or are lyrics more important to you? Do you want lyrics that make you laugh or make you think? If we look at someone like Mac Miller he started creating frat raps. And same with Gambino. Both were funny. But now they look deeper and look at something in different perspectives. So what are you looking for when you are thinking of someone snatching the throne?

 

TR: Ideally you have a combination of awesome lyrics and great beats. They’re in concert. But lyrics always catch my ear first. Say something with substance that pulls me in, challenges me to think, or even *and maybe most importantly.. enables me to relate to you. Funny rappers are cool.. and I’m all for festive songs about partying.. but guys who are able to go in about politics, relationships, family problems, or the “game”/competition are great in my book. That’s what grabs me.

 

ED: tumblr_mk37sxL1PV1qivoo8o1_500Ok cool I totally agree. For me I’m one of those people that don’t really hear lyrics until I listen to a song a few times. So for me the beat is a little bit more important. If I hear a fire beat I’m going to listen to a song more if I can just vibe to it. But that being said if I hear the lyrics and they don’t make sense I get angry cause it’s not complete. I kind of think of Riff Raff in this way. I like him to laugh at but I don’t take him seriously.

 

Ok so for you who was one of the first rappers you really got into? Like you discovered them. You have followed them. So like Jay and Kanye don’t count.

 

TR: Come for the beat, stay for the lyrics.

201412-wale-pres-photo-billboard-650x430I remember listening to Wale when I was in middle school. He was the first rapper I really stumbled upon and was able to follow. It’s always cool being able to “claim” a rapper who you later try to get your friends hip to. I loved 100 Miles & Running as well as The Mixtape About Nothing. They were fun projects that engendered thought but also just sounded good. For me – Wale was “different”. He was freestyling over original songs by Justice, Gorillaz, Amy Winehouse and Lilly Allen. Doing concept mixtapes; his creativity made me gravitate towards him. Oh! And I loved his wordplay. Just waaay too good. So talented. And great subject matter range.

 

ED: For me it was Das Racist. I really don’t even know how I heard about them. I think it was through Rolling Stone. But I just remember their music being free and that was the best thing ever. I listened to them and thought they were joke rappers. But after going back their references were so deep and I loved that so much. For my I always appreciate a good reference, which is why I love pop art. But I felt like I was in on an inside joke. I couldn’t get enough of them. 101112-das-racist-2To this day I am still learning what some of their references mean. And these guys are smart as hell. They basically went to Ivy League school and they are all some sort of a minority so they are talking about those issues “You couldn’t see me like a Cuban playing hockey” this was also where I heard true samples from Billy Joel to a Tribe Called Quest they were doing things I couldn’t get my head around. Whereas when you listen to Kanye you can barely tell he is sampling. It all sounds so organic to his songs. But Das Racist made it obvious they were sampling.

 

TR: Very nice. First project you heard of theirs? Or single song?

 

ED: Song. I’m pretty sure it was “Rainbow in the Dark” the beat of it was sick and I heard some things in it that made me stop and be like they didn’t just make that reference.

Enough beating around the bush. If Kanye and Jay Z were to call it quits today. Who would be the one to take their spot, as the best in the game? Only one rapper.

 

TR: Very tough! But everything considered I’d have to say Drake takes the title as best in the game right now. I think we judge from each rapper’s total discography, but increasingly I tend to shift to an artist’s latest project. If You’re Reading This, which was essentially a collection of leftovers, was epic. Who puts out album quality mixtapes? It was sonically challenging with the different samples his engineers used (Genuwine, Three Six Mafia). The club bangers and soft ballads, competitive, revealing at times, and overall very comprehensive. I felt like Drake was in control with each flow and switched at will. You know when you watch Steph Curry pull up from way downtown and sink a three pointer that should count for 4 points? I feel like that’s what Drake does. *insert lyric lol* There’s something effortless about Drake’s approach now. His blend of lyricism, bravado, and creative license all make for a skilled precise rapper. He knows he’s got it and acts as such. It’s hard because I know Kendrick has a project on the way. But if we’re going with what’s right now.. gotta give it to Drake

 

ED: Funny you mention Kendrick… For me. I would say Kendrick Lamar. Even though his catalogue isn’t as vast as Drake’s his albums and what he has released by himself (mostly looking at individual things limiting tracks where he is a feature) is just breathe taking. I don’t think Drake has had that moment where he has stopped me. I love how thoughtful [Kendrick] is and Drake learned something from Wayne. But Kendrick’s mentor was Dre. Dr. Freaking Dre! What better mentor than that? Lil Wayne never convinced me that what he was doing was important. And Wayne was a huge reason why I hated rap for a long time. But when I heard “Lose Yourself” something clicked inside me. And I think Dre brought that out with Kendrick, like he did for Eminem. Hearing “ADHD” for the first time, you hear the pain in his voice about being from one of the worst places to grow up in. And I think this is something most rappers get pigeonholed into but Kendrick Lamar had his moment where he looked at where he came from and made a modern classic with good Kid. With Kendrick Lamar he is talking about things in such a poetic way and even though Drake helped to change the topics rap songs are about it was Kendrick who made it personal. With Lamar you take what you hear and then break it down and that’s when things get real. With “i” he is doing something we don’t see in modern black rap. Loving yourself. Who cares what anyone things. “I love myself” and that is so powerful. Even now with “Blacker the Berry” he is challenging what is popular in black culture and taking blame for what happened with Michael Brown and Eric Gardner. It’s revolutionary. And I truly think that “Started from the Bottom” is a stupid song and so not Drake that that song is what he is known for. Kendrick isn’t making radio hits. He is trying to make history. Following what NWA did. He is making music for him. And if it is successful then that is just a plus.

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TR: “i” sounded like a Kia commercial. Cool Isley brother’s sample and good message but it felt pop-y to me. Great breath of fresh air considered the sex and drugs we’re hit with in music across genres. Not to mention the violence in hip hop and a couple other genres whether it be gang or against women. So claps to Kendrick with that for sure. And good central message, respect and love yourself. It picked up a Grammy because of that but also because it was warm and kumbaya-ish. I don’t know if something as honest and abrasive as “Blacker the Berry” would have gotten a Grammy. If we switch the songs I don’t know if “Blacker” gets greeted like “i” does. And it’s not a testament to Kendrick Lamar… it’s more revealing of the people who sit on their high horse and do Grammy voting. Love love “Blacker”.. it’s a hard line sobering piece about systemic racism that examines police brutality, economic exploitation within urban areas, the relegation of black culture and harmful stereotypes. It also champions blackness and black culture. In the same token; Kendrick calls himself out and pivots by the song’s conclusion to ask about violence and destruction of the African American community by black hands. That’s honesty. He repeats that he’s a hypocrite at the beginning of each verse; that kind of self-criticism and transparency is valuable. I think its a hard comparison because Kendrick and Drake are rapping on two different levels.. two different platforms. I get socio-political speech with one and personal relationships/rap game fodder with another. It feels like comparing apples to oranges with subject matter.

 

ED: And I don’t disagree with who we are comparing. It’s hard with Kendrick because Drake is making things that are more commercially popular with listeners and Kendrick is making music. I know that’s hard to compare. But with Drake his music is so diverse and all over the place which is definitely something to take note of. But Kendrick is holding something back. Section 80 and good Kid are so different.

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TR: I think they both make what they want to make. And are great in their lanes. But it’s definitely worth a comparison.. just not AS easy as other head to heads I guess. I will say at this point they both do what they want. You mentioned “Started from the Bottom” which got Drake a lot of flack but even that I liked. Yes it got played out but everyone is allowed to describe their narrative, everyone gets to explain their trajectory to stardom. From child actor to amazing rapper, that’s impressive. I think people automatically think socio-economic when they hear bottom but I felt like that song was more about career things and work ethic.

 

ED: I agree completely I would just like to know if Drake was completely serious about that path. Cause I would say that even Kanye didn’t start from nothing. But Jay did. Drake had a fairly nice childhood compared to people like Jay Z and Danny Brown.

 

TR: Ya figure he did have a solid middle class upbringing with some changing here and there cause he was the product of a single mom household basically, but child actor supporting *in part a mother who is sick and chasing your dreams (that sounds so corny lol) is a feat. I’m very interested to see what Kendrick comes with… I could see myself possibly saying.. “Well shit” in the next few months.

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ED: Yeah me too cause really Kendrick only has one album and I love good Kid better than Take Care cause I think if we compare I think those are two good albums to compare. And Drake is just finally starting to break away from Lil Wayne and be himself cause his first album was too much in Young Money’s image of what they wanted and I think Nicki Minaj hasn’t found her voice yet and Drake found his with Take Care.

 

TR: I look at Drake and I really think his OVO imprint is a great reflection, NWTS is a great project. And all those loosies he puts on Soundcloud are great. Along with the artists he nurtures in some way shape or form on OVO.

 

ED: I cannot agree more. If he was still on Young Money I don’t think we would be having this conversation.

 

TR: Oh agreeeed. [Young Money is] a cesspool.

-Plus that short film – lol you’re the resident film major so I’m sure you have an opinion, but I liked it! Thought it was very cool. Also, wildcard.. ready to throw Big Sean in. Because Dark Sky Paradise could be great. This could be *his* album.

 

ED: Oh [the short film is] awesome. Drake is an artist and Kendrick is a poet. Drake is voice and vision. But Kendrick is just a voice, for now. But Drake is the whole package and Kendrick is a poet. But when Kendrick tries, he does cool things too. But Drake gets it.

Ok. But until [Big] Sean does things where I don’t pause cause of another artist’s verse (*cough cough “Control”) he doesn’t have my respect. But I think J Cole and Earl deserve honorable mention. And to a very lesser extent Tyler.

 

TR: Yeah, that’s why I said wildcard bc he got way outshined on “Control” and Hall of Fame was good but not cole-kendrick-drakegreat. Buuuut “Blessing”, “4th quarter”, and “Paradise” are all so good. I love how dark they are.. love that direction he’s going in. I think he’s definitely cooking up something different. I’d be willing to hedge my bet that Dark Sky will carve out a space for him. And definitely yes to Cole. I don’t listen to enough Earl but he’s got it. Umm.. if The Album About Nothing is flawless I’d say Wale made up for signing with MMG maybe maybe. Then we could put Wale back in jockeying position, at least back in the discussion. He came in with Drake, Cudi, Sean, etc. He’s another rapper who like Kendrick is socially conscious. Doesn’t hide that. Has great lyrical capability. Solid marriage of rhymes and beats. He’s just been stifled by lack of commercial success and the MMG umbrella putting a perceived squeeze on his artistry. Festivus was an awesome tape. Forest Hills was great. Good content wise.. from the cuts about his adolescence to the rap game ones and the dreamy songs too. Very solid piece of work. Loved his songs about inequality too that he kinda released as loosies

ED: And I am the same way with Sean, I like what I have heard “I Don’t Fuck With You”, is just FUN. 603224979And I agree about Wale, The Gifted, really put him back a few spots, it was just not really his voice. I love old Wale, but I think he has lost his voice. Like you said being with MMG, he is lost in the shuffle, Rozy is too much. If I hear “Maybach Music” one more time I might scream. It is almost a calling card for annoyance in my opinion, almost on the same level as “Mike Will Made It” but Cudi has lost it too. Indicud showed that he has something left in the tank, but for the most part he is a parody of himself. He is trying to be too weird and out there to actually focus on what made him good. But I like how Cole views being the best rapper around, that there is no throne, it is all about love, or something like that. But you almost have to look at it like a Mount Rushmore (Thank you LeBron) of best rappers and if right now you have Kanye, Jay Z, Outkast, and Wu-Tang (Basically looking at who is still alive and still kind of making music) It is hard to argue with a new Rushmore of Drake, Kendrick, Cole and Tyler the Creator.
TR: I wanna like Cudi’s experimental stuff. You always wanna support growth and exploration but WZRD was hard to listen to. I only liked two songs off of it. Indicud was okay. It had “Solo Dolo”, “Just What I Am”, “Girls”, “Red Eye”, “Beez”, “Brothers”, and “Afterwards.” But on the whole I didn’t feel the magic of a Man on The Moon album. No coincidence that his music has been mehh at best considering the trouble he’s had with drugs here and there and the little dust up and departure from G.O.O.D. Music.
ED: And I think we should really bring Tyler into this conversation, because he brings in a little bit from everyone. He has Drake’s artistry (Fashion, Directing, and Songs/ Producing and Managing a label) his albums tell a story, and a complex one at that. And that takes a level of planning, production that I really think that only Kanye and Pharrell have the genius to accomplish. But the criticism of the topics of his lyrics is valid, but I think Wolf is where he expanded his voice and made an album that was so experimental in his lyrical construction and so vulnerable for him. But I 100% know what you mean about supporting an artist as they try to grow, and I say this all the time. As an artist, its “Damned if you do, and damned if you don’t” If you try and change you get criticized for going away from the sound that made people love you, but if you stay where you are at, then you get flack for not growing as an artist. And it is so hard, the only ones that have survived this is, and to your point. Drake, Kanye and Jay Z. Stack up all of their albums, and they are snowflakes, each with its own personalities, and all have been met with love, except Magna Carta, but I think Jay Z is almost at a point where he needs to put the crown on the ground.
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TR: Fitting analogy. Couldn’t explain it better. I liked Magna CartaAs long as Jay doesn’t have a Jordan Wizards moment we’re cool, lol but that’s besides the point.

 

ED: I know you did, and it was good, on a track by track basis, but as a whole album I still kind of forget about it.

 

TR: I’m sure MOTM3 will be solid. I like Tyler. Enjoyed Wolf. but sometimes he just feels like a sideshow.

 

ED: I hope so, Satellite Flight has me hoping for a lot, but here is another problem that artists have when they get popular.

 

TR: I can get with the weirdness. his criticism of the mainstream is very funny and accurate. he tweets what he feels, but then he’ll do certain things that are just too whacky for me

 

ED: Let’s look at Kendrick Lamar right now, how many people are talking about his album and how great its going to be? A lot, and the problem is that the hype will almost always never be met. This is a huge problem with Hollywood too. We have these movies that we follow literally every step of the production, and basically have the whole thing made in our mind, and when they don’t come out how we envisioned, we immediately say “That sucked” and don’t look at the artistry behind it. Yeezus and Beyoncé (s/t) are fantastic examples of having the album create the hype for you. Make no announcement, and people can only be surprised. To be honest, I am super skeptical of Surf, I love literally everything that Chance and SOX has put out, but when you take in consideration how much we are talking about it and how much we are looking forward to it, what happens when it isn’t as good as we hoped?

 

TR: I think it’s a cool strategy; the surprise drop. And I’d agree. Living up to the hype is so dangerous for artists. They set the bar high, or worse… and to your point their product isn’t what we “wanted” or envisioned. I think that Kendrick has done well so far with these surprise drops. And an appearance on the Colbert Show for a song he *reportedly* wrote the day before is very cool. I think Kendrick lives above the hype because it seems like he’s very guarded when he creates. Guarded in the sense that he’s not polling popular opinion. But agreed, the hype beast threat is dangerouuuuus. I like Chance’s trajectory. It would have been cool to see a major album drop that’s solo but the Social Experiment stuff has been cool so far. I can get behind that. Chance’s sound is rich and I think that relationship works. His last song “Lady Friend” was alright, not amazing, but I think he’s getting the kinks out maybe.

 

ED: Yes, and Frank Ocean might be the J.J. Abrams equivalent of the music world. We know that he is making music, but other than that, nothing.

 

TR: Working with a little of this, a little of that. I’d rather an artist have a misstep than give me formulaic.

 

ED: But back to the whole argument. I think it is really a battle between Drake and Kendrick Lamar right now. But the thing that Drake has over Kendrick is that he has FOUR albums as opposed to one. Has Kendrick burned too bright? It is so hard to tell, without a second real album out. For arguments sake I am counting Section.80 as a mixtape and Drake’s stuff before Thank Me Later doesn’t count.

 

TR: Yes, clear cut Drake v Kendrick. Same discussion that loomed over everyone’s heads last year (if I have my years right). We compare basketball players with rings. It’s quantitative. I think the same tends to go for rappers. How many solid projects have you put out? Drake has Kendrick beat. Right now. As we speak. But I think that an incredible third offering from Kendrick livens the debate and definitely sets up a bunch of brain trust discussions. It’ll be great. And not to just throw people out because of numbers. Again, we’re highlighting quality projects that are impactful.

 

ED: It will be an incredible discussion. Because Drake has Thank Me Later, Take Care, Nothing Was the Same and If You Are Reading This… But here comes the million dollar question; how do we asses mixtapes? If we continue this sports analogy, are mixtapes the preseason? And the album the Season? Or is the mixtape the season and the album the playoffs? Cause does one hone your skills before the long ride, or does one determine the success of the other (preseason vs. Playoffs respectively).

 

TR: Honestly, on the whole, Mixtapes blow right now in rap. They’re either great or trash. Either album-ish quality or terrible. With Drake this mixtape which was album quality by many peoples’ standards is his regular season. Views from the 6 is that playoff stretch with which leads to a ring. In other cases though mixtapes are great pre-season approaches. A lot of other rappers use them as tuneups. i follow what you’re saying

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With that very lengthy discussion, we have taken you on a rap journey. You have heard our opinions on Rap, the history of Rap, and even taken a look into our Rap Mt. Rushmore. But most importantly this is supposed to open your mind, for those who only follow one rapper, or only see the bad in a rapper or musician, this is a way to look inward and see the merits in everyone. This is a piece that shows how we all look at music in such a personal way, and that music really is apart of the building blocks of life. We want to know your thoughts on who is “Poised to Take the Throne”

 

How Kendrick Lamar Told Our Story and His

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The other night one of my roommates asked me what was up with Kendrick Lamar’s cover for his new album To Pimp a Butterfly. I started to explain and then I stopped. “What is up with the cover?” I thought. I knew the sentiment it gave me but couldn’t find the right words. Shit, what does a group of shirtless beaming black men huddled together holding stacks of hundoes and bottles of champagne atop a “dead” judge against the backdrop of the White House mean exactly? And maybe, more importantly, what does this image evoke? What does listening to this album from beginning to end elicit? What memories, insecurities, secrets, achievements, and aspirations was the Compton native giving us? What did Lamar want us to hear and feel? I didn’t know entirely so I listened again.

To Pimp a Butterfly is a ride. Sonically, it’s different for Kendrick Lamar. It’s unlike anything you’d hear on the radio. The warm earthy goulash of funk, soul, and jazz is full and doesn’t let up. From the onset, with “Wesley’s Theory”, listeners hop in a pimped out DeLorean. The Boris Gardner sample from “Every N*gger is a Star” comes into earshot, the beat drops, and you prep yourself for some galactic funked out jam session. Kendrick spits and croons perfectly. Then interstellar funk god himself, George Clinton, hops on the train and you know you’re in for trouble. It’s an eccentric landscape. This is not good Kid mA.A.d city. It’s a completely different roller coaster with some of the best architects laying out the loops and drops. Lamar grabbed jazz impresarios, funk legends and contemporary beatsmiths for the project. It shows. And as you sit and ponder just why Kendrick went all 70’s on us in 2015 it comes into view. The 27 year old is a gifted scion of African American music. This is the stuff he was raised on. He’s just reaching back. He’s just borrowing from what is rightfully his which is uniquely black in form and expression. Lamar wears each genre well; comfortably weaving in and out. He bounces confidently picking up his crown on the funk infused “King Kunta”. There’s a familiar pep that pairs well with the warm backing of singers Bilal and Anna Wise on the intimate neo-soul ballad “These Walls”. Audiences hear the conflicted staccato on a jazz backed “u”. We sit on edge with the spoken word poem Kendrick sprinkles at the start of every other song that snowballs into a beautiful passage. It’s a wonderfully active performance of distinctly black art.What do we feel? Well, we groove and we bop and we ache and we twist. We do it all just like the black musicians and audiences did before us decades ago.

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The curated black sonic steps Kendrick raises himself on give way to a powerful platform unique for the African American community. Kendrick takes his time unpacking a list of internal and external problems. However, his power not only lies in his imaginative scope but also in his ability to make both nearly interchangeable. It’s revealing. Kendrick gets intimate as he explores his partner on the syrupy sweet ode “These Walls”. It’s a stark contrast from the rapper playfully tackling materialism in relationships and general pettiness via spoken word on the “For Free?” interlude. Both are honest raps that are relatable in the same manner that “Momma” or “Alright” is. The latter exposes Kendrick as he throws off the vices of drugs, women, and materialism which accompany stardom. Perhaps the album’s deepest exchanges come as Lamar embraces community. This album is a noisy barbershop. This album is a sticky summer block party. This album is your grandmother’s smoky backroom filled with card playing uncles. There’s a deep feeling that he’s here and in it with us still. In a year that was permeated by the shootings of unarmed young black men and the repercussions of the mass protests and discussions that followed; Lamar is timely. TPAB comes as a Black State of The Union address. What’s really good? K-Dot keeps it real with“Hood Politics”; a West Coast low rider trip that opens up the inner-workings of the barrio. There’s gang violence and illicit trading. But how different is this savage hood from “DemoCrips” and “ReBloodicans” who authorize killings abroad and take shady deals from lobbyists asks the rapper? It’s a question of perception and context. These urban ills didn’t come about in a vacuum. They’re the results of institutional racism. Decades of detrimental political economy, segregation, and flawed policy brought people here. Black culture is a reflection of broader American culture. Even hip-hop is an active etch a sketch “..of the prevailing values in our society, values created and sustained by white supremacist capitalist patriarchy” as scholar bell hooks describes it. Kendrick’s aim is clear when he raps, “They give us guns and drugs, call us thugs”.

 

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And just like that the urban griot starts to piece together the black condition from his stoop. Kendrick reaches back to the infamous Willie Lynch speech as he deconstructs the painful roots of colorism and their present day effects in African American circles with the help of Rapsody. Energy at rest turns to kinetic force on “Blacker the Berry”. It’s a bombastic reaffirmation of blackness. Lamar opens by claiming he’s “the biggest hypocrite of 2015”. It’s a bold statement repeated on each of the three verses as Kendrick rips open the black condition. This isn’t a CNN special; it’s a gritty take no prisoners look. Lamar calls out the government for exploiting poor neighborhoods of color, exposes the sinister nature of implanted self-hatred at the hands of whites, and eventually calls himself out for gang violence against other African Americans. It’s not the groovy warm self-love of “i”. It’s a sharp transparent reminder and wakeup call. It’s a middle finger to the white establishment that has hated, profited from, molested and murdered black people since their arrival in the Western hemisphere. The clarity is unrivaled. Kendrick Lamar is taking his blackness back and he’d be damned if you stand in the way.

 

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The rest of the album unfolds on a very individualistic level as Kendrick moves away from community and ascends into a space that is both torturous and rewarding at times. “u” is an addled battle within the rapper’s psyche. Lamar affirms the idea that we are our worst critics as he overturns all of his own insecurities, failures, and scars. The rhymer goes on to confront “Lucy”, the ever-present figure, who represents the devil. Lucifer tempts the rapper with everything; slowly pulling him away on a red velvet carpet until he meets God himself through “How Much a Dollar Cost”. By this time Kendrick is successful – obstinate even. The star bumps into a vagabond at a gas station who asks for change as he steps out of his luxury car. As the performer’s anecdote unfolds we see that Kendrick is being confronted by God. The misuse of his stardom and unequivocal greed has cost Lamar a spot in heaven. It is the ultimate reflective moment as the young man sees everything for what it is and what he lost. His only redemption comes, on the last track, “Mortal Man”. Lamar visits world leaders like Mandela, MLK, and Malcolm X and readies to take his seat as an artist who can be proactive about social issues. The song ends with Lamar’s completed butterfly poem about and an integrated “interview” with Tupac. It is vigorously heroic and ambitious at best and strained at worst. Maybe it was foolish to culminate with something like that or maybe it was daring and intimate.

To Pimp a Butterfly is evocative of the experiences of so many and simultaneously a mouthpiece for one. Kendrick Lamar wrote about what it means to be black in America . And Kendrick Lamar wrote about what it means to be Kendrick Lamar. It’s an epic autobiography complete with history and vignettes. Lamar reached back to his musical and political forebears to tell his truths and, maybe more importantly; a community’s story. I told my roommate the artwork for TPAB was about “us”. This mixed up world full of devastating plight and vibrant life African Americans have inherited is on that cover. Every black house, neighborhood, and city is reverberating through this album in some way, shape, or form. It’s ugly and pretty. Look what these people have made of their situation again and again. I just hope Kendrick Lamar continues to tell his and our stories. I hope he pushes for change so there’s more “pretty” things than “ugly”. Next time, I hope there’s no hesitation or confusion. That black man needs to fly.