State In The Real – Penn State Music Scene

Author - Tariq Rashid

How Kendrick Lamar Told Our Story and His


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.



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”.



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.



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.

Dillon Francis Proves It's Better with 'Friends'

Producer and DJ Dillon Francis plays ringmaster on his first studio album Money Sucks, Friends Rule. The California native gathers a motley assortment of rappers, producers, DJ’s, and singers for an eccentric experience. Francis, who works under the Mad Decent label/collective, pulls out all the stops. The packed roster makes for a fun ride. After all – the more the merrier, right?

“All That” featuring Twista and The Rej3ctz

Francis sets the tone off the bat with a bombastic party anthem backed by Windy City rhyme-slayer Twista and West Coast collective The Rej3ctz. “Hella women, hella bottles poppin'” they got all that. It’s fun, it’s a Friday night.

“Get Low”

Things get exotic when DF and DJ Snake team up on a mesmerizing dance number. The pungi aided melody gets overpowered by the heavy bass but it’s still a welcome treat.

“When We Were Young” featuring The Chain Gang of 1974

This is prime club EDM. The Chain Gang of 1974 have the perfect vocal presence on the track. It’s an emotional full track that captures a moment.

“Set Me Free” 

Tricked out sample? Check. Crashing bass? Check. Spacey vibes? Check. The title of this liberating track doesn’t disappoint.

“Drunk All The Time” featuring Simon Lord

“Drunk All The Time” is a personal favorite. Simon Lord navigates a groovy 70’s disco infused melody narrating the tale of a woman who has got a hold of him. Lord croons, “Being with you, I feel drunk all the time. I cannot get you – get you outta my mind.” The Brit perfectly captures the inebriating experience love and lust bring us.

“Love In The Middle Of A Firefight” featuring Brendon Urie

The impressive vocal features continue on the passion infused “Love In The Middle Of A Firefight”. Panic! at the Disco frontman Brendon Urie sings over epic production laced with all the notes of a forbidden romance.

“Not Butter”

Francis goes light on the lyrics for the dystopian mod club song. There’s something about the song that feels dirty and uninhibited. Francis’ evil production sets the tone for a dark night.

“I Can’t Take It”

The sample based party rip infuses hip-hop and some soul. The continual tweaking of DF’s sample goes a long way. Some parts of the track play like rubber bands; stretching until you think something might pop. It’s just enough to put listeners over the edge and bring them back.

“We Are Impossible” featuring The Presets

The Presets shift  the album a bit as they let the 80’s vibes flow on “We Are Impossible”. Frontman Julian Hamilton doesn’t shy away from baring his flawed soul. Let your mistakes show. This is what connects us anyway.

“We Make It Bounce” featuring Major Lazer and Stylo G

Possibly the most kinetic song of the album; “We Make It Bounce” throws audiences into the mad chamber of a Major Lazer and Stylo G collab. This is hot sweaty dancehall meets strobe light Red Bull fueled club. It’s a fun song that bridges genres and will undoubtedly get a crowd moving.

“What’s That Spell” featuring TJR

The uptempo electro heavy track plays on crowd participation and a heavy bass foundation. Francis could have done without the cut but it doesn’t hurt the album.

“Hurricane” featuring Lily Elise

Lily Elise lets all her love fly on the last song of the album. Francis does a decent job marrying her vocals with stellar production. Elise hits every note on the romance tinged EDM ballad. If there’s a song on this track that you’re sucking face to – it’s got to be this one.

Five Questions We Have After Listening To "Multiply"


We waited and wondered what was coming from A$AP Rocky when he created a viral site complete with a Doomsday-esque countdown. Pretty Flacko didn’t disappoint as he released a new single called “Multiply” late last night. The rapper makes his return after a mini-hiatus over a devilish beat complete with three stunt-heavy verses. Rocky’s accompanying music video upped the ante as A$AP Mob ran loose on the streets of New York.  However, we were left with a few questions after listening to the banger. Maybe you had the same questions?

1. HBA Hate?

At one point A$AP Rocky was synonymous with the street wear brand Hood By Air. Rocky wore Shayne Oliver’s graphic heavy fits everywhere. He even walked in HBA’s Fall 2013 show during New York Fashion Week. On the ghastly track “Angels” Rocky slyly raps, “N*ggas got rips in they jeans man I started that. Hood By Air man I started that.” . The rest of Long.Live.A$AP is littered with HBA  references.  So, why all the shade now? The rapper proclaims, “HBA shit is weak, you can keep that” on “Multiply”. What changed?

2. Been Trill Shots?

Been Trill’s weird art/rap collective is huge. Whether you like the fact that it’s readily available for suburban hypebeasts at your local mall is valid point. However, there is no mistaking the brand’s enormous pull. Virgil Abloh, Kanye West’s “style adviser”, is one the brand’s five creative leaders. The movement also has ties to rapper/producer Travis Scott. Rocky essentially claims that the Been Trill set stole his personal steez. We just wonder if this bold fashion proclamation will reverberate. Keep your eyes open for subtweets, people.

3. Can You Rap About Rappers?

We here at SITR are fans of Rocky’s style. The self proclaimed Balmain Badass is influential. So, checking a few people and asserting your sartorial reign of fire is cool with us. But Rocky also calls out a lot of fake guys outside of the realm of fashion. He goes as far as name dropping Pimp C (a trill idol of his) and enlisting Juicy J for a sh*t talking epilogue. The entire song is about erasing the fake while bringing back the real. We understand Rocky’s personal style is intertwined with his music. It’s a complex mix of culture. Some veiled shots at a few rappers would’ve been nice though. Rocky is a Tumblr deity, runway loyalty, a producer of culture.. but don’t forget he’s a rapper too. Lord Flacko needs to keep it gutter and compete with other artists.

4. What’s Up With Ferg?

A$AP Ferg’s first week sales landed him a top ten spot on Billboard’s Top 200. The debut album also brought some decent reviews from Pitchfork and XXL. Since then Fergie Ferg has recorded with Haim, Elle Varner, SBTRKT, Big Krit, and Mali. That’s a varied assortment of artists which only goes to show Fergenstein’s range. If you haven’t heard Ferg’s “Petit Valley” I suggest you take a trip to his soundcloud and listen now (thank us later). Since the second collective A$AP Mob tape was shelved when’s the next time we can hear Ferg? We’d hate to rain on Jodye’s parade but the second in command deserves some shine. Ferg is a monster and we want to hear his sophomore effort.

5. Chanel

Where’s Chanel Iman? Are Rocky and his fashion killa boo still an item? A certain SITR writer is very single and asked if we’d post this. That’s all.

Christian Hackenberg Pregame Playlist

The Nittany Lions return to home turf this weekend after a thrilling last second win against UCF in Ireland. One of the biggest factors for the squad is sophomore quarterback and team captain Christian Hackenberg. We all hope C-Hack can lead the squad past Akron for a win so SITR took the liberty of making a pre-game playlist for the young gun slinger.


“0 – 100/The Catch Up” – Drake

Drake did numbers this summer with a slew of bangers. One of our favorites was “0 – 100/The Catch Up”. It captured the confidence and genuine passion within Drizzy’s OVO movement. We’d like to see that same aggressive attitude in Christian Hackenberg’s eyes as he marches downfield. Let’s see you break another record young man.  If he ain’t the greatest then he’s heading for it!

“Burial” Yogi feat. Pusha-T

Everyone needs a hype song to get going when you’re sitting restless in the locker room before kickoff. EDM maestro Yogi knows “hype” and produces three minutes of it with the help of bricklayer Pusha-T. The chorus rolls on, “I came, I saw, I conquered, I balled”. Hackenberg has no choice but to put up numbers when he comes out of that tunnel at Beaver Stadium.

“Bricks” – DJ Carnage feat. Migos

The fast talking Atlanta trio make our heads spin with their rhymes. Does anyone know what they’re saying? Yeah, that’s what we thought. Linguistics aside; Migos get things going. Things get epic when Migos put on. #14 will put in in drive with this one.

“Hot Boy” – Bobby Shmurda

Team insiders say the first score of the game will be accompanied by a squad shmoney dance session. Okay, maybe we made that up but it’d be cool. In the event that Hack hits his shmoney dance after a TD we can only hope he spurs a stadium wide flash mob-esque response. *Penn State hats fly up and never come back down*

“Am I Wrong” – Nico & Vinz

Scandanavian imports Nico & Vinz did something right with their hit “Am I Wrong”. The duo sing about breaking out of the crowd, doing your own thing, and reaching for the top. Hackenberg is an ambitious student athlete with a unique skill set. Things may get tough come game day but he should shrug detractors and keep it pushing. How’s the saying go? Oh yeah, “Haters gonna hate, Staters gonna State”!






Future Gets Honest With Us

There is something to be said for artists who throw away the tired rap tropes of money, cars, and women. When artists are actually themselves and invite audiences into a personal space, something happens. Atlanta rapper/crooner Future attempts to do just that on his sophomore effort Honest. The hybrid hip-hopper floats between his signature Southern howl  and animated rapping to explain his current state of affairs.

Future opens on a high note with the tribal anthem “Look Ahead” . The rapper is backed by solid production by The Runners which is bolstered by a hippy-esque chant and chorus arrangement. Future half rhymes , “Was it cold nights that made me cold? Do the stress increase my hunger? Tell a lie then make a promise.” These short jagged quips are a hallmark of the artist’s delivery. Audiences often get sentence fragments that are supplemented by Future’s unique delivery. Future Hendrix is at his best when he toys with his voice; letting his gravelly vocals precipitate  freely.

The rest of Honest unfolds as Future balances between hood cuts and introspective love songs. The rapper clearly still has one foot in the trap. Future naturally thrives on “T-Shirt”; a braggadocious ode to the rapper’s fashion sense and prowess on the corner. The same applies for the Mike Will Made It produced “My Momma”. Future asserts, “My momma ain’t raised no ho. My n*ggas they wrap that dough. These n*ggas ain’t got no hope, they runnin’ and kickin’ in doors” on the chorus. He continues his dealer exploits on the hit “Move That Dope”. Next, Future teams up with fellow cocaine cowboy Pusha T, Pharrell, and Casino for an energetic corner jam. Pusha T easily outshines the rest of the ensemble with his narcotic puns and vivid street imagery; the VA native emphatically raps, “Get it n*gga? I nose better, put a smile on the Devil’s face. Who don’t wanna sell dope forever and flood their Rollie ’till the bezel break?” Pharrell adds a decent verse and Casino eases through the last verse with a staccato offering.

Elsewhere, Future is tender, offering his brand of hood R&B. The radio favorite “I Won” finds Future and Kanye West bragging about their trophy wives. It’s a little misogynistic but audiences get the feeling that Future and West are in on the joke. Ye muses about dipping Kim Kardashian in gold, beating out professional athletes to “win” his wife, and the fact that Kris Jenner pops out “trophies”. Future croons about pissing his neighbors off with audible sex and the fantasies that unravel each time he finds himself with Ciara. Metro Boomin’s delicate piano dotted melody completes the piece.

Future scores guest verses from fellow talents Drake and Andre 3000 on “Never Satisfied” and “Benz Friendz” respectively. “Never Satisfied” serves as an eery soundtrack to the materialistic needs of two millionaire rappers and the company they keep. Drizzy fights the eternal hunger for success and his flawed monogamy. Conversely, Future gripes about the women that never seem to get enough designer offerings or love from him. It’s a never-ending cycle for the two addled stars. In a worthy plot twist, Future flips the script on “Benz Friendz”. 3000 does denounce materialism singing, “I told that b*tch I’ont give a f*ck about a Benz, b*tch. And I don’t want no b*tch who need to have that kind of friendship.” Future follows suit explaining that “these cars don’t mean sh*t, these hoes don’t mean sh*t”. Later, the two ATLiens navigate murky waters filled with gold diggers, counterfeit love, and commercialism.

The juxtaposition of Future’s materialism bashing and love promoting with the hard dope dealing and designer courting of the rest of the album is a curious one. But it reminds viewers that the dualism has no place in the modern world. Future is an amalgamation of his varied experiences and perspectives on life. This all makes for an album rich in content. Future drives home his point with the last song; “Blood, Sweat, Tears”. The song is his crowning moment and a fitting period to a passionate album that’s brutally honest.

Djay MS Wants You To Sweat

These days I consider walking up the HUB steps from Chick-fil-A and treks to the beer distributor my exercise for the day. I’d hope you guys are in better shape than me. If not, don’t worry! I think I stumbled on something that might help to get the physical activity going. DJay MS continues his weekly series of Friday mixes with The Work.Out Plan; an elastic mix that should get you pumping in the gym. MS begins the mix with “Space Jam” by Quad City’s DJ  and doesn’t look back after that. There’s plenty of 90’s vogue, Jersey club, and contemporary hip-hop cuts on the mix. Ladies and gents, don’t hesitate – stretch it, run it, jump it to this mix. Take a spin below.