Thursday, January 14, 2016


Yesterday AM picked the best of 2015 and in retrospect it's emaciated at best. Had Bowie's  been release 8 days earlier, the choice would have been clear. The chosen set was, instead, reliable alternative pop, yet when one compares 2015 to 1967 or '72 or 2013, for that matter, there is little comparison (2013 brought us Bowie's The Next Day, Vampire Weekend, Arctic Monkeys' AM, Lorde's Pure Heroine, NIN's Hesitation Marks, Sky Ferreira's Night Time, My Time, and even Justin Timberlake's 20/20 Experience and Kanye's Yeezus). '15 was lame enough for AM to acknowledge Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly. That's not a comment on the Lamar's stellar contribution (keep in mind that Bowie's  was inspired by Lamar), but a reflection on a mediocre year.

Interestingly, the Butterfly inclusion led to many a comment on google+; from additional praise for the LP to blatant racism. It was quite a shock to the AM system. Let's explore. The AM inclusion stated that "[To Pimp a Butterfly] certainly isn't AM friendly, but to find real musicianship and a positive, contemporary note in rap is refreshing and promising." The inference by many was that this comment was racist and naive, but AM remains firm. If "racist" is meant to imply bigotry, there is no evidence; but should the term imply that the racial make-up of the LP doesn't reflect the AM theme, then there may be a valid point.

In my circle of friends over the years (and in yours as well, I would imagine), there is a like-mindedness that establishes the parameters of those relationships. My friends and associates over the decades have been Laurel Canyon hippies, jazz enthusiasts, 70s stoners, New Wavers, New Agers and Hipsters. We've shared Joni and Kate, Joy Division and New Order, Nine Inch Nails, Radiohead, Bowie and Roxy and Lou. That circle crosses racial and cultural boundaries. Like-mindedness, not race, is a key to any relationship.

AM is a forum for that like-mindedness. AM's criticism of Rap (which has never been extolled on the site), is its lack of musicality; there is no denying the lack of musicianship when a genre of music lacks instrumentation. Rap instead is a poetic form, often a remarkable one (Kanye, Kendricks, Tupac), if based solely on one monochromatic poetic styling, the couplet. The musicality and lyrical diversity of To Pimp a Butterfly, therefore, surely grasps one attention, but while the musicality garners like-mindedness, the lyrics do not.

Dylan's lyrics seek out a like-minded soul. "You've got a lot of nerve, to say you are my friend," from "Positively 4th Street" qualifies volumes for my circle. Zeppelin's "Good Times, Bad Times" does likewise: "In the days of my youth, I was told what it means to be a man./ Now I've reached that age, I've tried to do all those things the best I can." Even Journey exemplifies AM like-mindedness: "Just a small town girl, livin' in a lonely world/ She took the midnight train to anywhere." More often than not, my affinity for the California lifestyle and days of old are never more clear than with Andrew McMahon: "Are you home, tonight?/ Are you laying in bed watching black and white movies?/ All alone tonight,/ Do you ever rewind to the summer you knew me?" (From "Black and White Movies). The lyrics ring true to our lives, both good and bad. 

That is rarely, if ever, the case with Rap or Hip Hop. Kendrick Lamar's lyrics follow commonly along these lines instead: "When I get signed, homie, I'mma act a fool? Hit the dance floor, strobe lights in the room/Snatch your little secretary bitch for the homies/ Blue eyed devil with a fat ass, smokin'." This represents my like-mindedness in no way, indeed is derogatory and sophomoric at best. "She be like: Fuck them other niggas, cause I'm down for my nigga," is blatantly unrelateable. As a white American, I can't even say those words. There is no association, no like-mindedness, indeed nothing remotely appealing about the language or the sentiment. Lamar's statement that "I don't do black music. I don't do white music. I do everyday life music," is absurd. Ho's and bitches and filling a swimming pool with liquor has nothing to do with me or with anyone I know. In essence that like-mindedness may seem racist or closed-minded. Instead, I question a genre that degrades women as bitches and ho's, propagates language that I can't even use and has a bottom line that simply put says, "But motherfucker you." That's not racist; it's a like-mindedness that I cannot share. 

Not being able to immerse oneself in a mindset doesn't precludes ones ability to recognize the brilliance of a work. Virtuoso bassist Thundercat, pianist Robert Glasper and sax men Terrace Martin and Kamasi Washington make for a formidable back up band. The result is an incredible soundtrack to Kendrick's lyrical passions, and Dre's production expertise is top notch. With that in perspective, this is an album worthy of AM's AOY acknowledgment. It's just not on my playlist. 

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