Monday morning started off the best way that a Monday could: with a new Kendrick Lamar album. Yes, Kendrick's third album To Pimp A Butterfly came out a week earlier than anticipated. Our own Andrew Treske has already provided his review, but the rest of the staff wanted to weigh in as well.
This album is so dense that it's going to be the subject of Staffchat for not only this week but next (and hell, maybe indefinitely). This week, we talked about the album's intended audience, the relationship between the tracks "u" and "i," and the Tupac feature that closes off "Mortal Man." There are still a quarry's worth of unturned stones, obviously.
Anyway, here's our unabridged discussion. And seriously, after you're done reading, go read Treske's review.
squints [8:59 PM]
dkataja [9:00 PM] Listening to music. I do that sometimes
importer [9:03 PM] Watching planet earth
importer [9:04 PM] The world is so cool
squints [9:05 PM] the natural world is pretty dope. the human world can be a lot less dope sometimes though
squints [9:05 PM] at least that's my explanation for why this new kendrick album had to be made.
dkataja [9:06 PM] he certainly made the world a doper place
importer [9:06 PM] I will start by saying this is an excellent album
squints [9:06 PM] yes. holy shit it is
squints [9:07 PM] but it's a reflection of much less excellent stuff
importer [9:08 PM] definitely. and I think like D'Angelo's Black Messiah, this album came at just the right time
squints [9:09 PM] sometimes it takes unexpected releases to make you release how much the world is missing a piece of work
importer [9:10 PM] i think it's interesting that we're starting to see more and more surprise/less warning releases
squints [9:10 PM] i think el-p said it best on twitter
squints [9:11 PM] "next year someones gonna fuck around and shock the world by dropping a completely expected album on the exact advertised date."
importer [9:12 PM] hahaha it's true
importer [9:12 PM] you had an awesome FB status about it. When I found out late sunday night it felt like christmas came early
squints [9:13 PM] well shucks, thanks man. for the readers:
squints [9:13 PM] "Waking up to new Kendrick a week early feels like waking up in July and your parents being like, hey by the way we're celebrating Christmas sooner than usual"
squints [9:13 PM] LIKE MY STATUS YOU GUYS
importer [9:13 PM] LMS
dkataja [9:14 PM] They pulled the album from iTunes shortly after its release too, which kinda makes it look like a mistake
squints [9:14 PM] apparently the head of TDE is NOT happy about this
importer [9:14 PM] but then K.Dot was fine about it
importer [9:15 PM] And then we started listening...
squints [9:15 PM] so let's talk about the album itself, yeah
importer [9:15 PM] Quick qualifier here
importer [9:15 PM] This album is incredibly dense
importer [9:15 PM] It's only been two days
importer [9:16 PM] We definitely have some opinions on it, but we'll see if they hold up in time
squints [9:16 PM] yeah, imagine trying to get through the entirety of coltrane, p-funk, and death row in two days. that's how this feels
importer [9:16 PM] So
importer [9:17 PM] If you're looking for the track by track review, this isnt what we're here for
importer [9:17 PM] But it's imperative that you read Treske's review
importer [9:17 PM] Because he tackled a beast and held his own
importer [9:18 PM] So much so that he's sick as a talk and taking the night off
squints [9:18 PM] yep. with that said, probably the biggest question facing us:
squints [9:18 PM] who is the audience that this album is intended for, and are we part of that?
spinellj [9:18 PM] Hello and yes
importer [9:18 PM] Jake!
spinellj [9:19 PM] Out of the shadows
squints [9:19 PM] JAKE!
squints [9:19 PM] that's an open-ended question btw, i haven't made my mind up.
squints [9:20 PM] let me start off by saying that this isn't a record i feel comfortable playing with the windows of my car down
spinellj [9:20 PM] I think this album finds kendrick trying to walk the line between an album specifically for black America and an album that's unitary with a larger audience
spinellj [9:21 PM] He's trying to explain afrocentrism and black america and white america to white Americans while kind of creating a musical space for blacks to get around and try to unite against oppression
importer [9:21 PM] I think it was aimed much more at a black audience (yes we understand the irony that all white guys are discussing this), but I think I learned a lot from being an omniscient observer
spinellj [9:23 PM] Yeah I thibk it's primary mission was the second one: it's primarily for his community, his people etc. But I think he's interested in reaching out and trying to let us know how badly we white people who rule the country are fucking up
spinellj [9:24 PM] This albums MO, to quote public enemy is to be too black, too strong. Which treske nailed with his review title.
spinellj [9:24 PM] If that wasn't a subtle enough plug for treske's review idk how I can help these readers of ours
squints [9:24 PM] i think you have to hold this album side-by-side with GKMC and, while one aspect of that album is DEFINITELY trying to explain to people outside of black america what life is like there, this album at times just feels angry beyond that
importer [9:25 PM] Agreed
squints [9:25 PM] there's definitely so much we can take away from this as white listeners, but there's a sense that that's not the objective
squints [9:26 PM] which is perfect--nobody is asking kendrick to make a record for white people. i think this might be better off broken down on a song-by-song level
importer [9:27 PM] the early part of the album is probably the least accessible to white people
spinellj [9:27 PM] What I think this alvum does really well is clarify his weird respectability politics comments beforw the album dropped into something more nuanced and palatable than bill Cosby shit
squints [9:27 PM] you mean the stuff azealia banks had such a problem with, the ferguson comments?
squints [9:27 PM] because if so, 100% agreed
spinellj [9:27 PM] Yeah
spinellj [9:28 PM] And how blacker the berry and I make 300x more sense in the context of this album than as singled
spinellj [9:28 PM] Singles*
squints [9:28 PM] i think really what the goal of this album is is to provide a positive rallying point, reminding a community what they should be proud of
dkataja [9:28 PM] Jake, same with i
squints [9:28 PM] i realize i'm the least qualified person to assign meaning to this, but that's the thread that ties "i" and "blacker the berry" together
importer [9:29 PM] Can we talk about the two one-letter named songs? "u" and "i"
spinellj [9:29 PM] Yeah hes kind of trying heal the fault lines and divisions that are symptomatic of a traumatized blackness (not the pathological blackness of cosby et al)
squints [9:29 PM] one sec on that porter
importer [9:29 PM] k
squints [9:30 PM] i agree with that jake, and i think that's where the sonics of the album come in
dkataja [9:31 PM] Treske mentioned the sonics in his review. He leans on jazz and funk, two sounds created by black people
squints [9:31 PM] those messages of a unified blackness make more sense over jazz and funk than they do over, say, the beat from "collard greens"
spinellj [9:31 PM] Yeah definitely. Like the music is essentially a soundtrack to black power
importer [9:32 PM] i love that
importer [9:32 PM] and it's not just jazz
importer [9:32 PM] it's avant garde jazz
dkataja [9:32 PM] "Not free"
squints [9:32 PM] if flying lotus is the most influential producer of 2015 i'll sit back and smile
importer [9:32 PM] the most caccophonus, chaotic form
importer [9:33 PM] He and Thundercat are about to finally get all the recognition they deserve
importer [9:33 PM] but they need to tip their cap to Miles Davis and John Coltrane
importer [9:33 PM] Take this Coltrane song for example
importer [9:34 PM]
importer [9:35 PM]
This was inspired by the Birmingham Church Bombings by the KKK in 1963
importer [9:35 PM] Much like the production throughout TPAB, this song is angry, somber, emotionally disturbed, and poignant
importer [9:36 PM] It's one of my favorite jazz songs because without words it so successfully creates this mood
dkataja [9:37 PM] That's what good jazz does
importer [9:37 PM] Now imagine the position Kendrick is in, with all of the chaos in 2014, trying to demonstrate the same feelings "Alabama" provokes and have virtuosic rhymes over it with words just as powerful as the music behind
importer [9:37 PM] Without coming off as pretentious
dkataja [9:37 PM] One of my takeaways was Kendrick's overall deployment of "real" instruments
dkataja [9:38 PM] I think that plays in to not seeming pretentious
dkataja [9:38 PM] So much modern hip hop leans on computer-created sounds
dkataja [9:38 PM] People had to sit down in a studio and play music to make this album
dkataja [9:39 PM] The bass and guitar in King Kunta wouldn't be out of place in an old Modest Mouse song
squints [9:39 PM] i've never been a huge fan of that attitude that live instrumentation is intrinsically better than synths and loops, but i agree that it works here
squints [9:40 PM] and i think what you're trying to say is that the bass and guitar in modest mouse songs wouldn't be out of place on a p-funk song
spinellj [9:40 PM] I thibk kendrick is a bit pretentious but its a likable kind of messiah complex
spinellj [9:41 PM] Kanye's partially likable exactly because of that pretension
squints [9:41 PM] i feel like the concept of pretension is a conversation unto itself, and i think 90% of the time when it gets used is bullshit
squints [9:42 PM] speaking of kanye, i read a comment somewhere (/r/HHH maybe) that kendrick gave us what we need, it may not be what we want
squints [9:42 PM] and i thought that was perfect
spinellj [9:42 PM] Well pretentious is often a way to disqualify art or people that are intellectually threatening to you
squints [9:42 PM] ^exactly
importer [9:42 PM] ^^
spinellj [9:42 PM] So you dont have to reckon with ot
importer [9:43 PM] I'd substitute prentension in this case with courage
squints [9:43 PM] i'd agree with that
importer [9:43 PM] this is a bold, brave album
spinellj [9:43 PM] It is, but that's not mutually exclusive w kendrick being pretentious "im doing gods work" "im pacs successor" kinda shit. But its not unwarranted which is key
importer [9:44 PM] not only is Kendrick being political here and stunting like earlier in the album, but he is opening his soul to his deepest insecurities in "u" and "i"
spinellj [9:44 PM] But yeah u and I are great
importer [9:44 PM] I think we can all agree that "u" is the most emotional song on the album
squints [9:44 PM] i think "u" is really more of the attitude kendrick is trying to combat. victimhood, self-pity, etc
squints [9:45 PM] and "i" is the opposite: courage, self-love, the willingness to stand for yourself
importer [9:45 PM] the way he does it too fascinated me
spinellj [9:45 PM] I dont think combat is the wright word
spinellj [9:45 PM] Right*
spinellj [9:45 PM] I think he's trying to sublimate tbat pain throughout the album and the culmination is I
squints [9:46 PM] i think that's a better description, yeah. combat was typed in haste (edited)
importer [9:46 PM] It's so interesting how much "i" changed from it as a single to here in the album
squints [9:47 PM] not to say it didn't make sense before, but it makes SO MUCH MORE SENSE in the context of the record
importer [9:47 PM] and what i found brilliant is that Kendrick took all of the criticism that the "i" single got and used it to make the new "i"
squints [9:47 PM] what criticism are we talking about specifically?
importer [9:48 PM] the criticism that people didn't like it because it was too upbeat
importer [9:48 PM] with the live show setting in this version, it shows he knew people were conflicted by it
importer [9:49 PM] he continuously encourages the crowd to come up to the front, meaning people weren't in on it
spinellj [9:49 PM] Well it sounded like a radio friendly concession when black america was going through Ferguson and their generally terrible year
importer [9:49 PM] and then a fight, the one thing that Kendrick has been urging to stop, breaks out
importer [9:50 PM] I'm starting to wonder if he did that on purpose or if this rendition is reactionary
importer [9:50 PM] because if he intentionally did it, he's brilliant
squints [9:52 PM] i'm with jake there. it didn't seem like it was very reflective of the times during which it first came out
squints [9:52 PM] but again, it's a completely different song on the record
squints [9:53 PM] so one last thing we probably ought to cover before we wrap this up---the tupac interview
importer [9:53 PM] My personal favorite part of the album so far
squints [9:53 PM] (also i feel like we've been talking for an hour but haven't even covered 1/10th of the things to talk about)
importer [9:53 PM] That's the beauty of it
importer [9:54 PM] We can only scratch the surface
squints [9:55 PM] but tupac interview: that's definitely one of the most surprising things i've heard. i was listening at work and i didn't grasp what was happening immediately
squints [9:55 PM] the closest cultural comparison i can make is matt damon showing up in interstellar
squints [9:56 PM] also sorry if anyone hasn't seen that yet
importer [9:56 PM] my jaw dropped when i heard tupac start talking
importer [9:57 PM] i thought the album was sure to end after he finished the spoken word poem built throughout the album (also an excellent part, but that's for another conversation)
importer [9:57 PM] i would've been satisfied with that ending, but the back and forth between him and Tupac took the album to another level
squints [9:58 PM] yeah, i had to stop what i was doing for five minutes. just seriously incredible
spinellj [9:58 PM] It was a very clever literalization of what kendrick had very consciously did for his entire career
squints [9:59 PM] i think there's a certain point you have to reach as an artist before doing something like that wouldn't be seen as cheesy or as reaching
squints [9:59 PM] and it says a lot that we're just sitting around going "that was awesome, that made sense" rather than questioning it
spinellj [9:59 PM] Well you have tk build up a certain amount of cachet and trust
importer [9:59 PM] My favorite twitter account @dragonflyjonez brought that up too Ethan
spinellj [10:00 PM] With your audience, with the people you're working with, with yourself
squints [10:00 PM] AH. glad someone else on staff loves him as much as i do
squints [10:01 PM] that said i hadn't seen him tweet that, for the record
importer [10:01 PM] "Kendrick interviewing Pac worked cuz Kendrick made it all about Pac. Not at all about Kendrick"
importer [10:02 PM] thoughts?
squints [10:03 PM] yeah, it made the point that kendrick realizes he's standing on the shoulders of giants, fighting this fight
squints [10:03 PM] that's why "pac?...pac?" is so haunting
importer [10:03 PM] that was devastating
importer [10:03 PM] but at the same time really encouraging
squints [10:03 PM] when you realize the giant who's shoulder you're standing on isn't there, and you realize you have to depend on yourself
importer [10:04 PM] exactly
importer [10:04 PM] I've seen tons of artistic renderings of this conversation between the two on the internet
importer [10:04 PM] in all of them Kendrick is a little boy looking up to Pac
squints [10:04 PM] ...wait pause
squints [10:05 PM] kendrick fan fiction is not only a real thing, but you've read it?
importer [10:05 PM] noooooooooooooo
importer [10:05 PM] drawings of this conversation
importer [10:05 PM] like, coming out from past few days
squints [10:05 PM] ohhhh okay okay okay
squints [10:05 PM] yeah that makes so much more sense
squints [10:05 PM] my b
importer [10:05 PM] hahah all good
importer [10:06 PM] But i think it's true
importer [10:07 PM] Other than Killer Mike and partially J. Cole, who has the platform as high as Kendrick to really discuss these issues?
squints [10:07 PM] oh god j cole no
importer [10:07 PM] but at least he's trying
squints [10:07 PM] but you're right, kendrick and mike are at the pinnacle of this sort of thing right now
squints [10:07 PM] that's why the shoutout on "hood politics" works so well
squints [10:08 PM] i think we should wrap this up. i'm down for continuing this convo next week
squints [10:08 PM] we haven't even touched on Lucy yet
importer [10:08 PM] Luci*
squints [10:08 PM] yes
spinellj [10:08 PM] Kanye but he never embraces politics the way those two do
spinellj [10:09 PM] Jay if he were still good
importer [10:09 PM] and Drake isn't even in that conversation
importer [10:09 PM] which is why I think he'll never be considered the greatest
importer [10:09 PM] not even close, and this is coming from a big Drake fan
squints [10:11 PM] alright well drake aside, anyone have any closing thoughts before we adjourn part I of our kendrick staffchat series?
squints [10:12 PM] no? good well we'll check back in next week