Kendrick Lamar’s album release last week was an event unlike any I have seen before in the office. Kendrick Lamar’s alum, To Pimp A Butterfly, was released last Monday in the middle of the night. By the time we got to work everyone was asking, “Have you heard Kendrick yet?”
By 10AM Marcus had purchased it on iTunes, and within ten minutes the album was on a flashdrive being downloaded to my computer. Next, the album went to Jordan, Amalinda, Dori, Tarik, Sarah, Maegan, and by 11AM everyone was listening to To Pimp A Butterfly. To be honest, many of us have not stopped. Personally I have already listened to it more times than any other album released in a long time. I think it’s a masterpiece. You should give the whole thing a listen if you haven’t already.
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1. Kendrick Lamar – “Blacker the Berry”
In 2010 Kendrick Lamar released his first full-length album. It fared well. In 2011 he released a second, Section.80. Now people were talking. In 2012 he released Good Kid Mad City to universal critical and popular acclaim. He won Grammys, he toured with Kanye, he headlined music festivals. By 2015, just five years after his first release as Kendrick Lamar, he had fame. Millions of people were going to listen to whatever he said next. He had the platform. So, what did he choose?
He chose the big issues. Power, race, responsibility, history, hip-hop, identity, religion, and institution. Even though he speaks confidently, his ideas are as complex as his character. He questions authority: even his own. In doing so, he raises the collective consciousness.
I think the most important thing that this Kendrick album does is make the listener consider the black experience. It makes me, as a white man, consider the perspective of an identity other than my own. I see the world from his eyes. Through his identity. I have to see race, institution and power through his prism, and it makes me want to do something. It’s got me reading The Blacker the Berry by Wallace Thurman, listening to The Last Poets, and researching the Harlem Renaissance. If I’m doing that someone else is doing it; someone else is considering the black experience. And another person who listens is too, and another. All listeners must consider identities other than their own. With this album breaking the single day streaming record it has millions of people doing the same thing, and that is the kind of movement that raises the collective consciousness.
By listening to the new Kendrick album and considering it, we are participating in something together. We are raising the collective consciousness.
- To Pimp A Butterfly is out now.
- Listen if you like: The Last Poets, Harlem Renaissance, raising the collective consciousness.
2. Courtney Barnett – “Depreston”
This is the first song released off the Courtney Barnett album. It’s loud. It’s in your face. It rocks. And this song, “Depreston” has a completely different sound. It’s quiet. It’s downtempo. And it doesn’t rock. But it still rocks. The constant in Courtney Barnett’s music is Courtney Barnett. She’s not that girl that rocks, or that girl that sings ballads. She’s that person that makes thoughtful, insightful, and intelligent music. That’s the kind of album/artist/music that lives beyond the best-of- whatever-year-it-is album list, and endures for years to come.
- Courtney Barnett’s new album, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, is out this Tuesday. (March 24, 2015)
- Listen if you like: Laid back guitar, introspection, reflection
3. Kendrick Lamar – “King Kunta”
It’s 2015 and funk is back. To start the year we had D’Angelo’s Black Messiah, dripping in funk. Then Mark Ronson explicitly calling on the genre with “Uptown Funk,” and now “To Pimp A Butterfly” by Kendrick Lamar. The album starts off with a feature from Parliament Funcadellic bassist and alien ambassador of funk, George Clinton. Then it dives beautifully into jazz, and resurfaces at this this song.
Now dig the funk on this song. Funk is all about interlocking grooves. Most songs use instruments to compliment each other, and create harmonies. Each instrument is part of a team. But in funk, each instrument is its own player, doing its own thing. They’ll come together and then they’ll drift apart, and the song is about the groove. In this song listen to how the bass line is the lead groove, and then guitar groove comes in, and then backing vocals, and finally some horns. Get funky.
- Kendrick Lamar’s album, To Pimp A Butterfly, is out now.
- Listen if you like: Parliament Funkadelic, Kendrick with hooks, in-your-face-bass
4. Grizfolk picks Volcano Choir – “Byegone”
There is a guest every week on 5 Songs that gets to sit down and tell us about one song that they love. This week Adam Roth, lead singer of Grizfolk is our guest. You might have heard Grizfolk’s song “Hymnals” being spun by our DJs, and maybe you even saw them when they came here.
When I asked Roth what he was listening to, he said, “I bet everyone picks this song, it’s so good.” I love that thought. In his head, there is no way that anyone would pick another song because it’s just that good. And it is that good; we all love it here. (Volcano Choir is from Wisconsin, and we love that too). You can hear why he loves it in the Mixcloud link at the top of the article.
- Volcano Choir’s album, Repave, was released in 2013.
- Listen if you like: Bon Iver, a song that would sound great if it was performed in a cave, Wisconsin
5. Hockey Dad- “I Need A Woman”
I always do this. I get drawn into a song by the sound, and then I fall in love with the lyrics. I think that must happen to you too, because on your first couple listens to a song, the sound is really all you can hear. It’s this kind of wordless intangible feeling, and this is the really beautiful thing about music: each listen becomes a new experience. You hear the same song in a new way; you hear things you never heard before.
On maybe my fifth listen to this song I realized there is a tambourine in the background somewhere. Somewhere along the way, the lyrics present themselves. Maybe you even sing along with the lyrics before you actually realize what’s being said. I do that all the time. In this song I fell in love with the line, “Don’t make me cry, I need a woman in my life.” It made me think of how close to falling apart he is, and how it only takes the caring of just one person to save him. This made me realize the difference I can make by just caring for one person, and the greater difference I can then make by caring for many people. That’s the feeling that keeps me coming back to this track.
- Hockey Dad’s EP, Dreamin’, is out now.
- Listen if you like: guitars that create a space for you to live in, simple guitar progressions, dreamy sounding songs