TOTW: Kendrick Lamar_FEAR.

Since I started listening to Kendrick Lamar a few years ago he has managed to become one of my favorite rappers of all time and certainly my favorite current hip-hop artist. His last full length to pimp a butterfly made my album of the year very easy to decide and its follow up EP Untitled Unmastered was also one of the best things to be released last year. So the announcement of his new full length DAMN. was greeted by me with a mix of excitement and trepidation. Could he continue this incredible run of form or was it too much to ask?

This week DAMN. was released and so it’s time to start thinking about those answers. However it’s still far to soon to comment of how highly I regard this album. To Pimp a Butterfly only cemented itself as a classic from repeat paying. Only as the tens of plays went to hundreds and the layers of truth and artistic expression were revealed throughout every element of that work did I realise its true merit. A week after the release of DAMN. And I’m still only on the surface but I can say that the surface is looking pretty good.

Modern stronger trap influenced textures make up the key elements in the first half of the album which starts to shift towards samples and acoustic instrumentation on its second half. Kendrick is still on form with his cutting deliveries that often sound like outpourings of pure rage the first time through before you start to notice the subtlety and poignancy in the lyrics. They turn from all out brawls to silent assassins. Laser targeting people, elements of American culture and corporations with overwhelming positivity or vitriol. It will take more time to divulge whats going on in the album but for now all I can say is I’ve listened to it six times and am still finding new things to enjoy and analyse so its looking good so far.

I picked FEAR as my Track of the week because it stood out, forcing me to sit up and analyse it on my first listen. Which I usually try to keep as passive as possible, paying attention to the aesthetics of the album as a whole rather than the individual elements.

FEAR handles Kendricks insecurity in his current position and looking back to the fears that he had during the To Pimp A Butterfly days with a honesty and vulnerability that is often hidden under the bravado of Rap. At nearly 8 minutes its also the longest work on DAMN. But continues the structure of his earlier works by splitting the track up into smaller arrangements, motifs and skits that all blend together to put across the ideas of the overall track. This style of arrangement results in tracks that become very cerebral and almost dreamlike as the characters and feelings thought the track fade in and out the overarching narrative becomes the poignant element to hang your thoughts on.

If you still Haven’t listened to Kendrick Lamar I hope this will persuade you to go further into his work and his back catalog. Missing out on it is missing out on one of the most interesting popular artists working today and someone who actually has something to say about current events, It’s all well worth your time.



TOTW Playlist:

Albums of 2016

As the year comes to an end It was time to celebrate my favourite music of the year with my list and a brief review of my favourite five albums. they are in no particular order (excluding the album of the year). Feel free to click the links below and give them a read.

Albums of 2016:

Ian Wiliam Craig-Centres

Kendrick Lamar-Untitled Unmastered

SWANS-The Glowing Man

Danny Brown-Atrocity Exhibition

Album of the Year 2016:

Ólafur Arnalds & Nils Fram-Trance Frendz

Those who are interested and want to hear more this Spotify Playlist features them all in their entirety:
Spotify Playlist:

Albums Of 2016: Kendrick Lamar-untitled unmastered.

Untitled unmastered arrived Just a year after To Pimp A Butterfly and consists the same kind of sound design and lyricism found in the best album of last year. However these tracks are a gathered collection of curios, rather than more detailed structures of the previous album. In lesser hands and with lesser talent behind the making of this work it could have come across as a cash grab to get some extra money from fans clamouring for any new material. However the quality of the music and the mix of this album only enhances the experience of listening to these smaller and sometimes more experimental ideas.

This collection of tracks at varied stages of completion are blended together in an almost dreamlike way. They create a style and sound that represents an artist during and incredibly creative time period with the same thoughts and contradictions found on To Pimp A Butterfly but in a structure that is at times more instinctive. Allowing moments to wonder off the path and into the subconscious. This is exemplified in the instrumentation and its “unmastered” treatment with drums often sounding a lot looser and natural with a swing and an organic sound closer to free Jazz then Hip-hop. The mix also allows the elements of the instrumentation to drift around in volume with slow mixes and panning as instruments float about the stereo field.

Add these disparate elements together and it could have been an incomprehensible mess but Kendricks usual hard hitting lyrics and cutting delivery anchor them in place. On tracks like Untitled 5 they are delivered with such anger and command in structure that when they arrive they become both the lead element and the drive for the track that you would usually expect from the rhythm section. It’s this contradiction between the massive verity of experimental styles and the solid grounding of experienced rap that enhances them both to make this piece as a whole one of the best works to come out this year.

Kendrick Lamar has managed to do something that many artists never achieve. Create the best album of the previous year and then come off the back of it with a work that both appeases the fans before they get to restless whilst also wiping the slate clean for the direction of his next album. It’s a rare and momentous achievement and for that alone it deserves to be on my end of year list.

TOTW: Kendrick Lamar_Untitled 05

It was a surprise when Kendrick Lamar released the EP “untitled unmastered” at the beginning of this month.  Coming so soon after my album of the year “to pimp a butterfly” this could have backfired in lesser hands, where the conventional collection of B-sides are released as a quick money grab after a success. Feeling more like a decision made by the label then the artists themselves.

Although “untitled unmastered” follows some of those conventions, being a collection ideas recorded during and around the making of “to pimp a butterfly”. It manages to show an artist at a creative high. Experimenting with ideas that are as interesting as anything on his most recent album. If Kendricks not at the top of his game he’s certainly at the top of every one else’s and instead of a cheap money grab “untitled unmastered” feels like a stop-gap for fans. A way for him to leave behind the sound of “to pimp a butterfly” and move onto something completely new for his next album whilst also relieving some of the hype that would surround what’s to come it if there had been a two-year wait.

I have listened to this EP many times over the past few weeks and every track manages to hold its own and be part of my favourite collection of pieces so far this year. It was hard to pick one for the TOTW but Untitled 05 grabbed me most on first listen and continues to be a favourite, exemplifying what Kendrick does so well.

The track opens with a two minute build from Anna Wise and Kendrick. Describing different forms of suicide. Accompanied by the jazz instrumentation of drums, saxophone and a collection of keys that have a real woozy swing to them. It’s a sound that feels slightly off, disorienting the listener and it sets you up for the aggressive, regimented delivery of the first verse. It gives the woozy bed of music direction whilst providing a musical context for the angry, drunk and murderous character Kendrick unveils over the first verse. The track then opens up the floor to two more verses including fellow TDE label mates Punch and Jay Rock who both express elements of fears and insecurities within themselves that manage to fit the theme of the overall tune.

The fact that you can read just as much into the musical accompaniment and production as you can the lyrics make this and “to pimp a butterfly” so compelling. There’s a reason why songs sound like they do and why they’re structured in their place within the context of the EP/Album. It goes above and beyond what most artists are willing to do. Creating a work with meaning and subtext that just isn’t there in the surface focused world of most modern popular music. For this Kendrick Lamar deserves all the accolades and credit he is getting at the moment. He’s become one of the most relevant and important artists currently creating work in any of the arts. Proof that there is still hope for the mainstream music industry. That people can create, express and experiment with ideas and sounds and still be successful. I don’t know how he can top the past few years of work but I’m looking forward to see him try because whatever comes next will be both exiting and unexpected.

Untitled 05
TOTW Playlist

Album of the Year 2015: Kendrick Lamar_To Pimp A Butterfly

Cover of To Pimp A Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar

On first listen and before I even started to enjoy or get my head around To Pimp A Butterfly I knew it was going to appear somewhere on my end of year list. Now many listens later, it not only stands out as the best album this year but would easily fit on my best of all time list.

The instrumentation on this album was the first thing that stood out to me. Kendrick Lamar has managed to gather a collection of incredible musicians to create a hybrid genre that celebrates the history african american music. Soul, Funk, Jazz, Hip Hop and R&B are all fused together in a way that is unique to this album.

Although these types of genre have been used in rap previously, the majority of the time these elements were sampled to create a very structured bed for the rapper. On To Pimp A Butterfly they are living, exuberant pieces of music that weave in and out of the vocal deliveries. Complimenting and respecting each other, allowing both the time to shine within the track.

This is a sound that could only come from a collective effort between all musicians on the album. Working together within the same environment. The whole sound feels organic and requires a great deal of restraint from Kendrick. In lesser hands (especially in Rap music) big egos would stand in the way of this style of collaboration, because it requires the release of some control from the main artist over the album. It’s clear that for Kendrick the message is more important than any individual throughout the album which allows this creative freedom.

Although the lyrics are often extremely personal and deal with Kendricks battles with self-worth, fame, success, poverty, gangster lifestyle and religion they manage to provide a strong and honest look at society and how ingrained racism is within it. He achieves this by having a deep understanding of himself and others, This is clearly a man who battles with his own thoughts and feelings on a daily basis and grapples with them throughout the album. On tracks like “Blacker The Berry” they are balls of rage pointing and venomous, on tracks “Alright” and “I” they are positive and uplifting feelings of beating adversity. The album also goes into the deepest areas of depression with the track “U” which shows Kendrick as a drunken suicidal mess. All tracks push forward interesting messages with layers of depth that reveal themselves on repeat listens subverting the expectations of the listener.

Every element of each track has been carefully thought about to suit the lyrics. From the genres blended together, to the production of the track. Each of which has been curated by a wealth talent including some of the most recognisable names in the industry. These producers and featured artists are always there to contribute to the sound of the track rather than just be a name to put on the album sleeve. This powerhouse of different talent manages to work within the album due to a strong curator. The conflicting styles of producers only clash when it is the desired effect and always result in a positive outcome.

The album is structured arround a poem that develops throughout, one sentence at a time. Kendrick will recite the poem up to a point before a few tracks related to the most recent sentence play and as the album continues more is revieled untill the poems completion, just before the albums denouement. This provides a great way to centre the album around a collection of themes, the structuring of which is brilliantly managed. Tracks about his personal struggles and the weight of oppression are shrugged off with powerful positive messages of hope before doubt starts to set back in.  These feelings cycle betweeen tracks over the entirety of the album.

It’s this rollercoaster of emotions and how they are portrayed lyrically and musically that keeps the album fresh throughout its 79 minute play time. As the final track “mortal man” arrives Kendrick admits his aspirations of following the footsteps of his idols, but also brings to light that our idols are human and can make mistakes. It’s up to us as an audience to accept them as humans as well as heroes. He asks the same of us, will we be there for him? He admits his faults openly and aims to be better. It’s this one last track of catharsis that sums up the personal themes of the album before its final political end, which arrives like a great twist in a film.

Concluding the poem he recites throughout the album he then starts to interview Tupac Shakur about his beliefs and struggles under a bed of free jazz. This interview was recorded twenty years before the release of To Pimp A Butterfly and manages to portray to the listener that things haven’t changed. The issues of poverty and inequality with african americans are still as prevalent today as they were twenty years ago.  Other reviews have commented on how this album has managed to arrive at the right time, portraying post-Ferguson emotions of anger and despair. I would argue that it says far more. That the events of the past two years are only the otcome of a continous struggle that has been on breaking point for many years and the album does this in a way that’s beautify poetic.

The album concludes with another poem relating to its title which ties the politics and the personal together, once finished Kendrick asks Tupac his thoughts on the poem to which there’s no reply. The question hangs there in infinite silence, leaving the listener with the question in their own heads. A question I always contemplate for several minutes after the album has finished.

As a white man from a small town in England I am far from the culture Kendrick is talking about and yet by the end of this album I have an empathy for its people greater than I ever have before. Kendrick Lamar is an Artist in its purest form, by expressing his life and situations openly with passion and belief he has managed to create something that only great art can achieve. A connection with me as the listener that breaks down the boundaries of culture and beliefs. To humanity in its purest form, our emotions.

To Pimp a butterfly Is hugely ambitious in every aspect, A main stream album that takes risks many alternative acts wouldn’t and manages to achieve them all with such clarity and purpose it leaves me more astounded on every listen. It its a pure expression from a single artist whilst also being an incredible collaboration between musicians and producers to the highest of standards. It manages to handle both being political and personal without ever becoming self-indulgent or condescending and leaves the listener questioning their own feelings and empathizing with a man, his culture and the greater society as a whole.  It’s no contest. To Pimp A Butterfly is the album of the year.

TOTW: Kendrick Lamar_King Kunta

I’ve been listening to the Kendrick Lamar album “to pimp a butterfly” regularly since its release and am still struggling to decide my opinion on it. Above all other popular genre Hiphop and Rap can manage to be experimental and still maintain commercial success and this album is a perfect example.

The list of top producers, supporting artists and influences on this album are numerous and on KingKunta were treated to a mix of Funk with early west coast hiphop. The base line on this track and backing vocals could have come straight out of a Parliament/Funkadelic track and it drives the whole thing forward with a groove notorious of the funk genre. This Groove provides a great bed for Kendrick Lamars raspy vocals and the more modern sounds of production which keep the track fresh: