The Best Album of 2015, Obliquely

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Chris

Chris lives in Austin, TX, where he once shook Willie Nelson's hand.

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  1. Avatar Chris
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    Got on the bus, put “Alright” on, and was blown away like I was listening to it for the first time. Damn.Report

  2. Avatar Glyph
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    1.) I have not yet listened to this, the consensus best album of the year. I have brought shame to my family.

    2.) What does the album title mean? Is it a riff on To Kill A Mockingbird? I gotta be honest, it’s a (to me) really actively-unappealing title; but perhaps that’s the point.

    3.) Lamar was like a movie director and screenwriter, and his collaborators merely actors playing his roles. – I’ve seen a similar “director” metaphor for Kanye, and I’m of two or more minds about it (warning: this may or may not get slightly political) –

    On the one hand, it seems natural to be more transparent about the collaborative nature of making records, and it shouldn’t be seen as any kind of diminution to the guy whose name’s on the tin – nobody thinks Kubrick or Coppola less of an artist, just because they personally didn’t shoot or edit their films. Giving more exposure to collaborators seems like a natural and right move, and in fact one that slightly undercuts hip-hop’s general (and people like Kanye’s, specifically) reputation of huge artist ego and individualist braggadocio.

    But in reality, to a degree I DO somewhat discount the “named” artist whenever I see a huge number of collaborators, even though that is obviously unfair. The musical myth of the “lone genius” is strong, even though I know that in reality Brian Wilson and Prince didn’t – COULDN’T – do everything themselves either.

    OTOH, I’ve seen Bjork complain about the way that her collaborators are often talked about as though they are responsible for the lion’s share of what’s good about her records, rather than her own vision; and it’s her (and my) impression that this often happens to female artists (and maybe any minority). Bjork, like Kanye, has long collaborated with up-and-coming electronic producers (specifically, they’ve both worked with Arca, who also worked with Kelela and FKA Twigs) and she (and Arca!) want to make clear that Arca is collaborating with her – she’s not riding on his back.

    On the third hand, if I’m interested in a particular producer like (for ex.) Arca, I definitely want to know what other records he’s worked on; and I don’t think it’s weird that if all of them turn out good, some of that credit SHOULD go to him.

    I’ve kind of lost the thread of my point, but anyway.Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to Glyph
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      It’s probably worth noting that, unlike Dre, or to a lesser extent Kanye, Lamar does the vast majority of the work on this album. But he has vocalists and other rappers and musicians who do the instrumentals, producers who do the samples/beats, etc. Wise was asked if, when she went in to record one of her parts (I think on “Institutionalized”), she had any influence on the part, and that’s when she said not a lot, because she was just playing a role written and directed by Lamar. She has a somewhat distinct voice (you can easily find it on the album even when she’s not credited as a featured artist), so she definitely brings something to the album, but it’s sort of like speaking his words with her accent.

      He’s said a lot in interviews about the title. Apparently it was To Pimp a Caterpillar (TUPAC) at first, but as the project began to take shape, he changed it to Butterfly. Much of the album is a sort of conversation with Tupac, and one of the metaphors in that conversation is of the artist as a butterfly. The pimp thing is meant to be jarring, and it has a few different meanings in the context of the butterfly metaphor.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris
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        Also, the unpleasantness of the title fits with the whole piece. It really was jarring when it first came out, because people had heard “i” and thought, “Kendrick sounds happy, and like he’s finally going full pop,” and then he released this album which, though it includes “i” (and a response, “u”) is almost anti-pop, and alternates between outward and inward directed anger. Even “Alright,” at the top of the post, which is probably the catchiest tune on the album, seems to want to undermine its own catchiness at every turn.Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to Chris
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        It is jarring – it’s a word that I think I only usually see used either literally – as in a panderer of prostitutes – or jokingly (though it occurs to me now that the phrase is probably, like “It’s a Sin To Kill A Mockingbird”, kind of a riff on “Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel?”)Report

  3. Avatar aaron david
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    Thoughts:
    1. My son agrees with you about Kendrick, Flying Lotus and hip hop in general.
    2. No matter how hard I try, I cannot get behind hip hop. Just not there, speaks to nothing in me.
    3. Georgoe Clinton and the Isley Brothers? Oh heck yeah! Still moping the floor with everyone else.Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to aaron david
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      Flying Lotus, and perhaps Bilal as well, are less the heirs of rap than of funk and soul, and while they are undoubtedly hip hop, their music is only rap when they want it to be. Often it sounds more like psychodelic R&B than rap. SZA probably fits in that category too. As does, to some extent, Lamar, though he is in the end a rapper. If you like Clinton and the Isley Brothers, then maybe you’ll find something to like in Flying Lotus, Bilal, or SZA, if not Kendrick. Oh, and Thundercat is pretty much straight funk. And Sonnymoon is space music.Report

  4. Avatar Kazzy
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    I haven’t listened to a ton of this album — or KL in general — though what I’ve heard does certainly communicate the brilliance of his efforts. And yet… he just doesn’t grab me.

    In a way, I’m reminded of our conversations about “high” and “low” art. To the extent that such things exist, KL seems to be among the highest of high art rappers in the game (now or ever). I can pour over his lyrics and think, “Wow…” And that’s only when I actually can parse them. I can read a post like this and see the work and thought and brilliance that went into crafting his songs.

    But when it comes down to it, I’m rarely in the mood for his songs. Maybe it is a less sophisticated ear or a different relationship with music (probably both, ultimately) but I’d rather listen through Kanye’s Twisted Fantasy than Butterfly… or, hell, even the more acclaimed Yesus. And it isn’t just because it was bigger and louder and catchier. Another “recent” (for me… which means made between today and Haley’s Comet’s last appearance) fave for me was YG’s My Krazy Life, which certainly didn’t have Kanye’s ‘wall of sound’ approach and yet totally hooked me (though I suspect part of this was it’s homage to the west coast/gangsta rap that dominated my formative years).

    I kind of put KL in the same category I put The Godfather II: undeniably brilliant, a masterpiece, yet something that will sit dormant on my shelf because rarely am I in the mood for it.

    tl;dr: My attention span is too short for this shit. I just want to bob my head and/or shake my ass.Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to Kazzy
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      This has actually been part of the conversation about the album since it came out. For example, “Why Did Everyone Claim to Enjoy Kendrick Lamar’s ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’?Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Chris
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        Interesting. And to me, this quote stands out: “In that narrow band of time, I “got” the album’s messages and themes but couldn’t grasp the motivations for the album’s sound.”

        Personally, I don’t really care about the motivations. I get why they matter and are worth considering… but not really by me. Does that mean I’m listening wrong?Report

        • Avatar Chris in reply to Kazzy
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          I dunno if it means you’re listening wrong. It might mean you’re listening differently, though I admit that even if I didn’t know his motivations, I’d enjoy the album. I think the songs are good. But the Jezebel post that post links probably says it best when it says that initially the album can be “suffocating,” because it’s really, really heavy, and that is a result of those motivations. He recorded this album not only in the wake of Mike Brown (NO POLITICS), but also his de facto ascendancy to the throne of hip hop, so that people were looking to him for a statement on everything, and the weight of that burden is in part what the album is about. The single he released right before the album’s release, “Blacker the Berry,” just comes out and says it: “I’m the biggest hypocrite of 2015.”Report

          • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Chris
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            Like I said, I think all that matters. Context absolutely matters. And I don’t mean to criticize those who care — even care deeply! — about things like motivation and messaging. By the 30th spin, I got much more out of Twisted Fantasy than I did the first time. And I can appreciate when there is a message or something being said in the art. But sometimes — most of the time with music — I just want to be entertained. And Kendrick doesn’t entertain me as much as he impresses me.

            But if he entertains you? Fuck yea, man. Because his presence makes the game better.Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to Chris
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        That piece touches on something I’ve noted – the speed of new music release (both the constant flood of records, and how quickly they can be put out, often leaking before the official release date) STILL can’t even begin to fill the massive distributed hungry maw of the always-on internet – if you want to write about a record and have anyone actually read it before the convo has moved on, you have to hit “publish” within 72 hours at most of the release; hope you got a copy way in advance.

        Which is no way to spend enough time with most records, to freaking know ANYTHING about them.

        I wonder if a publication could advertise that they won’t review anything until 30 days after its release, and draw for themselves at least some readers who want to try to see things assessed on a deeper and more balanced level than the current feeding frenzy that turns the entire music criticism convo into the British weekly music tabloids of the eighties: build up, tear down, new new new, is it “good” or is it “important” who cares gotta get those eyeballs before they are gone to the next thing.Report

        • Avatar Chris in reply to Glyph
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          That publication should hire me, because I’m clearly in no hurry ;).

          The 72 hour thing is pretty limiting for everything, not just music (it’s clearly hurt science journalism, e.g.), but the folks I know who used to review music before the internet (or at least before it was where music reviews were done) would get the CD, listen to it for a few days, and then start writing their reviews, so I’m not sure it’s changed that much.Report

          • Avatar Glyph in reply to Chris
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            The turnaround used to be about a week. That wasn’t great either, but it’s way better than three days. And of course there were far fewer voices in the conversation. The addition of more voices is good in many ways, but it also means it can be harder to pick out the ones that are worth listening to, and easier for the whole conversation to either collapse into complete incoherence or get carried away by the madness of crowds onto the wrong track (anyone who’s ever attended a meeting that had too many people in it will know what I mean).

            I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Democracy simply doesn’t work. 😉Report

          • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Chris
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            I imagine the quick turn around works for most albums/artists since most artists are playing to our expectations as listeners. But part of the deal with certain types of artists is that they’re playing against our expectations and in those cases, where more time is sorta required to understand what the hell they’re getting on about, a quick and accurate review doesn’t seem possible.

            Trivial example: for the first day or two after watching the movie Melonchalia I was pretty convinced it was the worst movie I’d ever seen (well, Dancer in the Dark…). But by day three the “deeper theme” of the movie became apparent to me and I revised my view of it to being merely one of several of the worst movies ever. It took some time to get there tho!Report

        • Avatar aaron david in reply to Glyph
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          @glyph
          Well, I don’t think there is any money in it, but there is absolutely a market for long form pieces of critism for music that is over 30 days old. In fact on of the best pieces on music I have read in the last 10 or so years (basically my internet life) is right here. Basically it needs to get out of the gutter of music journalism and into the land of literature. Think a place like The Solute, where people who actually like to think about film go, as opposed to the EW and such that want to talk either about opening weeked gross or who’s dating who.

          Ganted whomever is editing it would have to be ruthless to deal with the clowns that would pop up who wanted to talk about ephemeral crap. They would have to get like minded authors who agreed on an editorial esthetic and police it ruthlessly.Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to Chris
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        Also, since that piece mentions them, and there’s never a bad time for this album (uh…bad words)

        https://youtu.be/2D7sApxBNioReport

    • Avatar Vikram Bath in reply to Kazzy
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      Funny you should mention The Godfather. It’s one of my favorite movies, and I liked it enough that I bought it well over ten years ago…and it’s still at my parents’ house in the original shrink wrap.

      But I will listen to this though. Once I can get home and headphoned.Report

  5. Avatar Roland Dodds
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    Since everyone seemed to love the Lamar record, I tried to give it a listen. I didn’t get the appeal, but maybe I am just old and missing something. Some of the love for the record is starting to feel like the “right” opinion to have in critical circles.

    I really loved the Flying Lotus record however.Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to Roland Dodds
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      It’s definitely reached the point where it is the “right” opinion. When every single “Best Of” list includes it, that’s as likely a clue about the social pressure behind it as it is a clue about the actual quality of the album.

      That said, my status as a Lamar fan is well established, so it’s highly unsurprising that I would be blown away by this album. I’ve basically spent the last 3 years saying “Kendrick is the greatest ever!!1!”Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Chris
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        How wrong am I to prefer another of your faves — Chance the Rapper (and the band he works with) — to KL?Report

        • Avatar Chris in reply to Kazzy
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          Not wrong at all. Of the new artists of the last few years, he is my second favorite after Kendrick. And his life show is one of the best I’ve ever seen. He has unbelievable energy, and his backing band (The Social Experiment, which put out an album of its own this year that features Chance heavily, and is very good) is damn good.

          By the way, if you like Chance’s style, and you like Wu Tang, you might dig the album Ghostface Killah put out last year with the jazz/hip hop instrumental group Badbadnotgood, called Sour Soul.Report

    • Avatar Glyph in reply to Roland Dodds
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      I haven’t followed Flying Lotus’ more recent stuff, but I can tell you that Los Angeles was pretty darn good.Report

  6. Avatar Zac
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    I found To Pimp a Butterfly good but not great. Personally, as rap albums of 2015 go, I think Vince Staples’ Summertime ’06 had it beat hands-down; it’s just as deep but way more enjoyable and accessible, IMHO.Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to Zac
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      I really like Summertime ’06, though it’s not even my second favorite hip hop album of the year (that would be I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside). I really liked Hell Can Wait as well.

      I think he’s definitely deep, though very much a product of the world Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City created. I just think To Pimp a Butterfly is richer and more daring lyrically and musically, and much more innovative. It’s hip hop, but it’s hip hop 10 years from now. Like Good Kid, it’s almost certainly going to change the game, and the next Vince Staples won’t be making Good Kid-like albums, he or she will be making albums like this one.Report

  7. Avatar j r
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    Thanks for this. A couple-few random thoughts:

    – The inaccessibility of the album that some commenters have noted is absolutely related to its blackness. As someone who grew up listening to Public Enemy and NWA, To Pimp a Butterfly is not particularly sonically or lyrically overwhelming. It is, however, unapologetically black in a way that little else is. I’m talking The Last Poets black. The music, the ad libs, the colloquialisms, the album cover, yes, it’s overwhelming. I suspect that is intentional. And this is not to say that you have to be black to get it, but it certainly helps to have a certain level of familiarity with black music and black culture in general.

    – Calling this album anti-pop is right on. And that’s interesting, because Lamar isn’t exactly anti-pop. He’s not an indie rapper. He does features on lots of mainstream tracks. He even did a verse on a Taylor Swift record. Of particular note is that “i” is a mainstream record, but the album version is different. It’s live, it’s less polished, and it’s bracketed by… more blackness. I could call it heavy handed, but it works.

    – If Kendrick Lamar drops two more classics, he is a legitimate contender for GOAT status. I probably listen to his “Control” verse once every two weeks. “I’m the King of New York, King of the Coast. One hand, I juggle them both.” I’m a New Yorker, but I can’t argue with that right now.

    – The influence of James Brown permeates this album.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to j r
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      @j-r

      You’re from NY originally? Or presently? City-Metro area or upstate? Or (gulp) Long Island?Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to j r
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      The title of the Jezebel review I mentioned above is “The Overwhelming Blackness of Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly”. It includes this paragraph (forewarning, I have not edited this, so it contains the n-word):

      Kendrick’s new album (To Pimp a Butterfly, released on Sunday just after midnight) is music that makes you hyper-aware of this blackness. There’s a Color Purple reference. A song called “Complexion” (with “A Zulu Love” in parentheses). There’s a “ghost of Mandela” line. A song called “King Kunta.” And “Institutionalized.” And “Hood Politics.” There’s funk, there’s soul. There’s 40 acres and a mule, Gators, cotton picking, Richard Pryor. Master, chains, jigaboos, queens, Africa, naps, and that Brazilian wavy 28-inch. Rapsody. Linen, Mutombo, and keeping it gangsta. The album art. There’s: “I love niggas/ I love all my niggas.” There’s a song telling us we’ll be alright. Live music that sounds like the instrumental version of a march or a good cry. The album starts with a Boris Gardiner sample: “Every nigga is a star.” And then he raps about getting a nut and how we “should’a never gave niggas money.” It ends with an imagined 2Pac interview outro. It’s the essence of Dis Tew Much.

      Report

    • Avatar Glyph in reply to j r
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      I’m a little disappointed that in a comment mentioning both PE and blackness, you had no questions for radio stations.Report

    • Avatar j r in reply to j r
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      @kazzy

      Born and raised in Queens. Bounced around a bit in my adult life. Was in DC for a few years (managed to make an appearance at Leaguefest ’14) and then moved back home last year, but took off again a few months ago. Now, I’m doing an expat thing on the other side of the globe.

      @chris

      I saw that while writing my comment. The phrase that comes to mind for me is unapologetic blackness. I don’t find it overwhelming. Although, in the context of having to churn out a review in a matter of days, I could see it being so.

      @glyph

      What’s interesting is that in those early days, it wasn’t just that MTV and Top 40 radio wouldn’t play rap. Black stations kept rap at an arms distance as well. Listening to Pimp a Butterfly reminds me a lot of the type of music that was on black radio stations in the late ’70s and early 80s. I guess everything comes full circle.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to j r
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        Interestingly, the “Blackness” didn’t stand out to me. I mean, I was certainly aware of it, but it didn’t strike me one way or another. Maybe that is a function of having spent much of my life immersed in or at least adjacent to various elements of “Black culture”. Though it is also probably related to the way I listen to music.

        If the Blackness of the album did indeed limit critics’ ability to engage with it, it makes me wonder if those people should be the ones reviewing rap albums.Report

        • Avatar Glyph in reply to Kazzy
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          If the Blackness of the album did indeed limit critics’ ability to engage with it

          Since it, seriously, is the crit-consensus album of the year, I doubt it.

          It also raises the question, what would an album (that wasn’t Skrewdriver) that was overhelmingly concerned with “Whiteness” look like? A parody, like Weird Al’s “Amish Paradise”? Your average pop-country record?Report

          • Avatar Chris in reply to Glyph
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            I suppose one way of describing the reason for my distaste for both mainstream country (though there are a handful of country songs on the 2015 playlist embedded here) and mainstream rock is that it they are overwhelmingly white.Report

          • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Glyph
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            Perhaps. Though, as Chris mentions above, there is often a “right opinion” to have. And I think that phenomenon can be exacerbated when certain elements of Black (and other non-white cultures) become fetishized. Liking Kendrick Lamar can be a way of signaling that an otherwise painfully white music critic is not so painfully white.

            We sort of got into this during the Hip Hop Symposium when we were discussing it behind the scenes and there was a clear divide between what you and Chris — who are what I’d call music aficionados — preferred and what me — a general fan — preferred. It sort of dovetails with the high art/low art discussion, with the (potentially) odd dynamic wherein KL is more popular among whites than Blacks.

            Hmmm… I don’t think I’m explaining this well…Report

            • Avatar Glyph in reply to Kazzy
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              I think you are explaining it fine. Above, I embedded that Freestyle Fellowship album. At the time, me and my friends listened to it a lot, and when I listened to it yesterday, it still sounds good to me; the way the samples are done is creative and funky (and woven together with a lot of good live playing too), and (again, to me, someone with not a ton of hip-hop knowledge) the MC’s seem to be playing off one another really well.

              BUT it, and many of the sort of jazz-inflected albums that came out around the same time, are also derided by many people as “backpacker” (essentially, “hipster”) hip-hop. See this hilarious review:

              http://www.unkut.com/2013/08/that-shit-i-dont-like-freestyle-fellowship-innercity-griots/

              Or this article – on the one hand, the album is rubbing shoulders with some giants. On the other, the list itself is geared towards people who have little to no knowledge of the genre.

              So does that mean they are awesome, or does that mean they are watered down and easily-digestible to outsiders? I mean, they got an A- in Entertainment Weekly, so you KNOW they’re street:

              http://www.dailycal.org/2012/09/19/goin-off/

              AND YET, the whole reason I brought it up, is that it was name-checked in the piece Chris linked, as an obvious precursor to what KL is doing; that is, it is unapologetically, “black”.

              So, which is it? Too “white”, or too “black”?

              And at the end of the day, doesn’t that feel like a dumb question?Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Glyph
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                I’ll confess to not knowing how valid or valuable the question is. But I will say it is interesting.

                What happens — what does it mean — if the “Blackest” hip-hop music is more appealing to white aficionados than Black fans? I don’t know, frankly.

                At the same time, there may be some real selection bias here. I don’t really read any music writing except what y’all offer here. So maybe KL is held in similarly high — if not higher — regard among Black aficionados and I’m just not listening to them.

                But I’m more curious — and what I was attempting to comment on — were the white listeners who ONLY go for the “high art” hip hop. Who will listen to KL and no one else. I think that is an interesting phenomenon… though again I’m not sure what it means.

                Lastly, I think liking KL gives certain white folks in certain circles “cred”… hence the high regard for an album that makes little sense to them.

                Note: I’m not ‘accusing’ anyone here of being any of these sorts of listeners… not that there would be anything wrong with being one of these sorts of listeners either. I’m just spit balling about the interesting racial dynamics that surround hip-hop.

                Me? I listen to it because A) it was the most prominent musical genre of my formative years and B) I went to a mostly Black high school, making it even more prominent. But I didn’t know who half the dudes were that y’all were talking about way back when. And I thoroughly enjoy Drake. So what do I know?

                ETA: That last point kind of brings it home for me… there are a lot of “high art” people who would decry Drake as not a “real rapper” in the form of KL. And yet most rap fans like Drake… how else do you explain both his popularity and ubiquity?Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Kazzy
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                I get the impression that his popularity is pretty much universal among hip hop fan types. It’s certainly true that white liberal music snobs want you to know that they love Kendrick Lamar, but it’s also not a for nothing that every hip hop artist at every level wants Kendrick to do a verse on one of their tracks, despite the fact that they know going in that he’s going to murder them on their own songs.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Chris
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                Yea, I get that. I think this is where my explanation is failing. EVERYONE likes KL. But te white liberal music snob ONLY likes KL whereas the masses like him and Drake and Wayne and Hova and Pac and ma$e. Okay, maybe not Ma$e.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Kazzy
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                Ah, yeah.

                And definitely not Ma$e.

                Every time R. gets ahold of my phone she puts a Drake or Lil Wayne station on my Pandora account. I consider this a sort of musical warfare.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Chris
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                R and I need to hang out. We can curate a playlist for you! I’ve got a station that almost exclusively plays Jay, Kanye, Drake, and Wayne (or collabs of those four). It is PERFECT.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Kazzy
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                She will be in New York again in March.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Chris
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                You coming up with her???Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Chris
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                I still remember when “Control” dropped and all the people KL name checked responded with, “Well, yea, he’s right.” Including Big Sean!

                Circling back to my initial point, I guess I’m wondering why all these critics celebrated it? Did they enjoy it? Did they recognize its potential impact? Were they seeking the “right” opinion?

                They sure as hell don’t owe me an explanation. I’m firmly in the “Your tastes are your own!” camp. I’m just curious about a subset of critics who seemingly lack the context to understand the album celebrating it for its meaning.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Kazzy
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                I suspect there are many reasons. Everyone else is doing it. It gives me liberal non-racist cred. It’s just an incredibly fucking good album. Or some combination of the three.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris
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                By the way, this list might get at some of that. Complex is mostly geared toward a black audience, and many (most?) of its writers are black. Notice that To Pimp a Butterfly is still number one, but look for the hip hop album that on “white,” or perhaps better stated, mainstream publications, is almost always the #2 hip hop album of the year, Summertime ’06. Here it’s 31st overall, making it 12th among hip hop albums, behind Lamar and these (only some of which show up on the “white” lists):

                Ty Dolla $Sign Free TC
                Mac Miller GO:OD AM
                Earl Sweatshirt I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside
                The Game Documentary 2
                Lupe Fiasco Tetsuo and Youth
                Drake If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late
                A$AP Rocky At.LongLast.A$AP
                Big Sean Dark Sky Paradise
                Rae Sremmurd Sremmlife
                Future DS 2

                By the way, Future remains one of the most fun shows I’ve ever been to.Report

              • Avatar Glyph in reply to Chris
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                Again, though, I’m not sure how much of that is a black/white thing, and how much of it is a “musical subculture” thing.

                It’s a pretty well-known phenomenon that one (MAYBE two) metal records will usually place very highly on P4k’s year-end list – Maybe it’ll be Deafheaven (who I liked musically, but couldn’t get past the vocals) or Mastodon or something. But no more than two.

                And the “true” metalheads, though they might like those bands (and they will likely place somewhere on metal best-lists too), will sneer about “hipster metal” and “tokenism” and wonder why the more representative popular metalhead choices didn’t make it.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Glyph
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                says:

                That’s part of it, though the mainstream pubs have a lot of hip hop this year. It’s the ordering that’s different, and in particular, Staples doesn’t seem to be nearly as high in hip hop-focused pubs as he is in mainstream ones.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Glyph
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                says:

                @glyph

                I’m confused… in this situation, which list is the “hipster” list and which is the “true” list?Report

              • Avatar Glyph in reply to Kazzy
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                says:

                Depends on where you sit, right? 😉

                What I meant was that the metal fans will complain that Deafheaven sold out to appeal to hipster scum like Pitchfork, or that Pitchfork are engaging in metal tokenism or posing. And who knows, maybe that’s true.

                But from another perspective, Pitchfork readers are just causal fans – it’s the metal true fans who are being sniffingly dismissive of any metal band that would make Pitchfork’s list.

                Everybody’s a snob and nobody is. Nobody’s a poser and everybody is.

                And this is why I’m probably not cut out to be a critic, when the critical conversation gets heavily focused on who likes what and why, rather than the what.Report

              • Avatar Glyph in reply to Kazzy
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                says:

                if the “Blackest” hip-hop music is more appealing to white aficionados than Black fans

                There was an interview with…I can’t remember. Either Chuck D or Ice Cube, probably, I’ll have to see if I can find it. Anyway, they were talking about how they had noticed that when white music fans went looking for rap, they wanted the “hardest”, most uncompromising/extreme stuff, the most “gangsta” of the gangsta stuff.

                Is that seeking “cred”, or is it looking for the strongest possible examples? You want the strong stuff, yeah? Moonshine, not lite beer.

                You see this also in things like Fat Possum Records, who in the ’90s went looking for all these old, near-unknown hardscrabble juke-joint Missisippi black bluesmen like RL Burnside and Junior Kimbrough – hard men who’d lived hard lives, not some Eric Clapton wannabe.

                Speaking for myself, most of the hip-hop I know is from the eighties and early nineties, with even a lot of gaps there, and I will fully admit to being a tourist. Rock-related stuff is far and away the bulk of my listening/collection, followed by electronic stuff, with hip-hop coming in a very distant third to those (and I buy almost nothing new in hip-hop; the last few records I bought were classics I missed the first time around).

                But I am a tourist in a lot of genres (notably metal, for example) – my time is limited, so unless it’s a genre that I really, really love, I’m probably not going to “waste” time listening to anything there but the consensus critical cream of the crop.

                A true metalhead is going to listen to almost anything as long as it’s metal – I mean, that is an exaggeration, but certain quirks or flaws that would make a record or artist a non-starter for me, will be overlooked or even enjoyed by them.

                This doesn’t mean that they are being non-discriminating, at least not in a bad way – I’m the same way with a lot of ’80s/90s alt/indie/underground stuff, where the second- and third-string artists may still have something interesting to offer me; a feeling that is valuable to me, despite the flaws.

                And the metalhead, should he dip his toes in my pool, would probably just stick to the A-listers; and why not?Report

              • Avatar Vikram Bath in reply to Kazzy
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                says:

                Kazzy: liking KL gives certain white folks in certain circles “cred”… hence the high regard for an album that makes little sense to them.

                Note: I’m not ‘accusing’ anyone here of being any of these sorts of listeners… not that there would be anything wrong with being one of these sorts of listeners either.

                I realize we differ here, and I respect your view, but personally I think it’s pathetic for anyone to like a type of music because of how it makes them look to others.

                I know there are some unavoidable representational aspects to music. If I were to share some albums I like, I’d probably leave a few off the list that I felt wouldn’t reflect well on me, but as much as possible, I think one should like an artist’s music because they actually like the music.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Vikram Bath
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                says:

                We know from years of research that people use music to both learn about others’ personality and to express their own. It’s no wonder that people consciously choose the music they share to project an image. While you and I might just be a little bit selective with what we share from what we like (though see the Spotify playlist; it ain’t selective), some people will inevitably use music to project inauthentic images of themselves: who they want to be, or at least who they want to be seen as, but are not.Report

              • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Chris
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                says:

                You do, however, project something about yourself by identifying your heroes.

                If Kendrick Lamar is a hero to you, then that may not be diagnostic of who you are, but it probably is diagnostic of something about Lamar which you admire, diagnostic of something that you at least aspire to be.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Vikram Bath
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                says:

                Interesting point, @vikram-bath . I’m not sure we disagree though? I mean, I think “posing” — which is the umbrella under which I’d put the behavior I described — is annoying and lame… but I don’t think it is wrong in any sort of meaningful way beyond that.

                Oh… and I like Nickleback and am not afraid to admit it.

                @chris

                “We know from years of research that people use music to both learn about others’ personality and to express their own.”

                This interests me. What research? How was it done?

                What does it mean if I listen to music that makes me want to shake my ass while I drive the car?Report

              • Avatar dhex in reply to Kazzy
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                says:

                “Oh… and I like Nickleback and am not afraid to admit it.”

                one must follow one’s bliss. and one’s bliss is someone else’s nightmare.Report

              • Avatar Vikram Bath in reply to Kazzy
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                says:

                Kazzy: I think “posing” — which is the umbrella under which I’d put the behavior I described — is annoying and lame… but I don’t think it is wrong in any sort of meaningful way beyond that.

                OK, I guess we do agree then.

                Though now I want to ask: Is there nothing wrong with being annoying and lame? When the context at issue is what music you like, I think there are relatively few ways in which your tastes can be Morally Wrong.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Kazzy
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                says:

                I’ll see if I can write something about the research. Lots of good stuff on music and psychology.Report

              • Avatar j r in reply to Kazzy
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                says:

                There is a bit of a paradox here in that there is black and then there is black. By one set of measures French Montana might be the blackest rapper of 2015. Montana didn’t release an album in 2015. He rarely raps. Half of the dudes on his label are in jail or dead and he was, maybe still is, a suspect in the death. And oh yeah, he was dating a Kardashian. To a certain extent, that’s what hot in these streets right now.

                I’m being a bit facetious, but only to make the distinction between what I’m talking about above and the blackness of To Pimp a Butterfly. The latter is self-consciously so. And that may be one of the biggest differences between the things that fans like and the things that critics like. Critics love meta.

                As @chris points out, Kendrick Lamar is a bit of a unicorn. He’s got street cred. He’s got critical acclaim. He’s got commercial success. And he’s respected by other MCs. To Pimp a Butterfly is not an album that makes a rapper great; it’s an album that someone gets to make after already being in the great rapper conversation. The Beatles wouldn’t be the Beatles if they skipped A Hard Day’s Night and went straight to Sgt Pepper’s.

                And that reminds me that as much acclaim as …Butterfly and Good Kidd… get, Section 80 is one hell of an album. The first verse of “Ronald Reagan Era,” is what takes you from XXL’s freshman class to everyone in the game wanting your features. “Welcome to vigilante. 80s so don’t you ask me/ I’m hungry. My body’s antsy. I rip through your fuckin’ pantry… You ain’t heard nothin’ harder since Daddy Kane/ Take it in vain. Vicodins couldn’t ease the pain/ Lightening bolts hit your body; you thought it rained.”Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to j r
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                says:

                So if KL’s debut, never-been-heard-by-anyone-outside-his-personal-circle album was “Pimp A Butterfly”… how would it have been received?

                Or what if Ma$e… or Nelly… or someone like that made the album, exactly as it exists now?Report

              • Avatar j r in reply to Kazzy
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                says:

                Counterfactuals are hard. Who knows? Maybe someone could drop a debut like …Butterfly and have it be as commercially successful and critically acclaimed as it was, but i doubt it.

                For shits and giggles I went and read Pitchfork’s review of Section.80, Kendrick’s first album. They liked it, but what strikes me is the extent to which they want to corral Kendrick into the indie rapper pen:

                Kendrick Lamar is a weird kid, and rap music could always use more weird kids. The 24-year-old is a Compton native with a budding and mysterious Dr. Dre connection, but there’s little-to-no link to his hometown’s gangsta-funk legacy in his music… If one of the Bone Thugs guys had a dorky, overly sincere younger cousin who was really into Afrobeat and Terrence Malick movies, it’d be Kendrick.

                Lamar does exist within a strong West Coast continuum, but it has nothing to do with Dre. Instead, he’s very much within the tradition of 90s groups like Souls of Mischief or the Pharcyde….

                Hindsight is 20/20 and I won’t fault the writer for not being able to predict in which direction Lamar’s career would go. And Lamar did come up with a crew that calls themselves Black Hippy, but Black Hippy ain’t Souls of Mischief. And Kendrick Lamar is not Childish Gambino.

                In short, I see a whole lot of projection going on in that Pitchfork article. It reminds me of the David Lee Roth quip about why music journalists liked Elvis Costello. The author is smuggling the idea that Kendrick is too thoughtful to lump in with the regular rappers, which is… if I were the kind of guy who used the word problematic, I’d probably use it here.

                To bring this back to the original question, part of the current phenomenon that is Kendrick Lamar right now is critical acclaim, but that’s just one part. The bigger part is that fans of the music and other rappers consider him to be one of the best doing it right now and that comes by virtue of everything that came before … Butterfly.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to j r
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                says:

                Not that I’m deep into the music scene, but when I see this tendency to shoehorn artists — rappers in particular — into a legacy they may or may not have interest in being a part of, it feels lazy.

                Why compare KL to Dre? Because they grew up in the same part of the country? That’s lame.

                If I were to talk to a music critic and was told I don’t really get/enjoy KL, I’d probably be criticized. Which feels annoying. Especially because I bet that guy *NEVER* recorded a Ma$e song of the radio onto a cassette tape.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Kazzy
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                says:

                In fairness to the author of that review, the L.A.-Dre connection is just part of the business reality of hip hop, and Lamar is a very West Coast rapper. Your boy YG included the line “only one that made it out the West without Dre” in a track in 2014, well after Lamar was household name in hip hop, and he wasn’t completely full of it.Report

              • Avatar Glyph in reply to Chris
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                says:

                Beyond business reality, it is kind of one job of criticism, in a way, to place artists, art and events into a narrative continuum.

                Not that this can’t be lazy or a crutch, but doing so accomplishes two things: one, it prevents the artist from pretending, as many would love to, that they are completely sui generis (can’t tell you how many times I had to roll my eyes at Interpol claiming that Joy Division wasn’t a big deal to them – dude, you’re actually quoting lyrics!)

                Two, we kind of need these narratives, in the same way we need to believe there are objective qualities there, and some art can in fact be “better” than other art (paging Sam) – without it, what we are left with is, “some people did some stuff, some other people did some other stuff, and I liked some of it.” That’s not satisfying, because it’s not how humans treat history or life; we’re storytellers, and we need narratives to make sense of reality – even if those narratives are spurious or highly-suspect.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Glyph
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                says:

                There is a weird parallel in sports where young/up-and-coming athletes will almost always been compared to prior athletes of the same race… and sometimes of the same country of origin.

                Why does every mobile Black QB get compared to Vick or Cunningham? Why is it never Young or Elway or Tarkentan?

                Every Dominican player gets Vlad or Pedro or Manny or Ortiz… never Rod Carew or Griffey.

                It’s lazy. But beyond that, it is problematic because these comparisons can dictate a guy’s career arc.

                It isn’t the same thing… ballplayers may be influenced by their predecessors and idols (who may skew towards those who they identify with), but not to the degree that an artist is often a continuation of prior work.

                I don’t know enough about music to say which comparisons are apt and which are not. My objection to the quote there was less the link to Dre and more highlighting the lack-of-link to his hometown’s musical legacy (at least at the time). It’s not a huge issue but it is ultimately one of those things where we allow narrative to drive our response to things instead of evaluating them on their merits.Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Kazzy
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                says:

                Yeah, I think that’s what j r was getting at, and I think you’re both right, though of course The Pharcyde are from L.A. as well, and are part of a distinct alt-rap West Coast tradition (as opposed to the East Coast version exemplified by, say, A Tribe Called Quest).Report

              • Avatar j r in reply to j r
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                says:

                For clarification, I do not fault that writer for trying to place Kendrick within some specific rap vein. When he references the thoughtful and introspective nature of Kendrick’s lyrics as a reason to place him in the alt/indie rap tradition, however, that implies that the other rap tradition is neither thoughtful nor introspective.Report

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