"The new album is a thicket of inspirational, historical references; you’ll find critical race theory, George Clinton, Nelson Mandela, Richard Pryor, Exodus 14, respectability politics and six separate levels of meta-analysis about the meaning of Lamar’s success and messiah status. It seems almost designed for parsing in a college classroom....
"Lamar, himself, might not quite know what he has created. There
is a hoarder’s mania to this album – he seems to have gathered every idea and
influence he could find without too much care for what all that clutter
reveals, knowing only that there is something beautiful in it. When he homes in
on what exactly that is, hip-hop will have another classic. Until then, we will
have to be satisfied with watching him make an exciting but still-unfinished
- Jay Caspian Kang, "Notes on the Hip-Hop Messiah", New York Times magazine.
Of course, there's a big difference between the atemporal maximalist archivalism of Kendrick Lamar and the atemporal maximalist archivalism of, say, Ariel Pink. The difference is that the Lamar album is about stuff that actually matters, that couldn't be more urgent or present-attuned. (In that sense not atemporal but totally timely). Whereas Pink and most other white history-bingers serve up banquets of perfect inconsequence. "Retrolicious", but not nutritious, not soul food.
(This ability to escape into havens of the jumbled-up past = white privilege? Well, it's a thought).
A negative angle on the maximalist excess of To Pimp A Butterfly from Passion of the Weiss. Not sure I agree but a sharply argued take-down:
"Kendrick parrots back all his influences, but there’s no synthesis. He’s
excessively complicating sub-genres that worked before — songs that felt vital
because of their simplicity and directness."
Listening the first time I immediately thought of the analogue maximalism of D'Angelo's Black Messiah, an album I was surprised to find myself digging quite a bit, despite being ideologically averse to neo-soul as a proposition. (I was intrigued by a comment of David Toop - who mentioned not being able to remember anything about Black Messiah afterwards because it's so dense, while being wholly absorbed while actually listening to it, on account of its "brilliance of execution").
But To Pimp piles it on even further by being both analogue maximalist and digital maximalist at the same time (all the Sa Ra, Fly Lo element)....
Another thing that struck me instantly is how "this kind of thing" is a genre now: it's a record in the tradition of Erykah Badu's New Amerykah Part One (4th World War), Common's Electric Circus, The Roots Phrenology, Outkast's Aquemini and Stankonia .... the sprawling, influence-omnivorous, conscious and/or politically charged aspiring-Masterpiece that evokes, draws on, and honors the Seventies run of musically ambitious, lyrically radical black albums from Sly, Gaye, Wonder, P-funk, Isleys, Mayfield, Last Poets, Scott-Heron, Miles et al.
Another retromaniacal / hauntological aspect to To Pimp A Butterfly, the ghost "interview" with Tupac. Kang, again:
"At the end of “Mortal Man,” Lamar finally steps out of his dense thicket
of references for a conversation between himself and Tupac. (Reviving Tupac has
become its own odd industry in recent years. This exhumation was done by taking
audio of an interview Tupac gave two years before his death in 1996 and
splicing it together with Lamar’s new interjections.) "
'Tis the season for awkward, honorable, likeably earnest if not-fully-realised attempts to repoliticise music - i.e. Jam City's Dream A Garden.
STOP PRESS: very interesting (albeit, as he freely admits, unfinished post by Aaron at Airport Through The Trees, titled "The Aesthetics of Politics", and grappling with issues related to To Pimp A Butterfly and Dream A Garden.
It contains the line of the year, when addressing the futuristic form versus regressive lyric-content mis-match that you get with Mustard style ratchet rap and modern R&B -
"It just seemed like: even if we put a colony on Mars, there'd be nothing to do there but get drunk and try and meet promiscuous women at clubs."
which serves as set-up to the important point:
"the highest expression of Capitalist Realism is the concession of the contemporary, the new, the modern, and, especially the future, to Capitalism"