Selected notes on recent rap music moments (excerpted from e-mails/texts to my sister).
Okay, so, the new Kendrick Lamar is 100% certifiably the balls. And, just incidentally—did this m.f. just get U2 to pop into a song like 2/3 of the way through, have Bono croon a chorus ONCE and then just stop tape and peace out before the second chorus is even OVER? Did he just HIRE the most giantest band in the world to be some jobbing session guys like he’s some kind of new-era monster boss the likes of which Kanye is sweating so hard Kim’s telling him to towel off beFORE he comes to bed?
Seriously: It’s a 4-minute song. U2 don’t even get to step in until Kendrick’s been going for like 2:30. Lamar lets Bono do a chorus (which, I mean, incidentally—“drum & bass”? That’s your “heavy, man”/insightful cultural touchpoint for America in 2017? Okay; catch you at the Apple Store, granddad👌), kicks it a little while longer, then cuts Bono off before he can finish the second chorus. I take pride in having a U2-free household, but this baller-ass, boss-ass move makes me proud to add this exception to my library.
Overall: TPAB was a big deal, high-impact statement of a rap album. It was iconic, large-scale and loaded with meaning and purpose. It was intentionally a moment and it succeeded in being all that as well as a lastingly engaging, listenable and powerful record overall. DAMN. is the perfect followup: nothing momentous; just a really great rap album. There’s a lot going on lyrically, but it’s not the moment/statement record TPAB was; and that’s fair. Why should it (have to) be? It’s just a skillfully crafted album that, in its deceptively effortless expression and execution, actively raises the bar for what we can (and should) expect from rap music/ians in this era.
And now: The new Hov.
Verdict: Surprisingly good! It’s actually genuinely interesting throughout. I wasn’t sure he had it in him to put out a non-Jay-Z album (i.e., exploring/experimenting along the lines of Kanye or Kendrick, say); and he truly may not. But he does know his role/lane better than anyone and, within it, has put something together that sounds like a Jay-Z album (beats, flow, production), but lyrically has a lot more going on than anything I’ve heard from him in years.
Plus, at 36 mins., it’s a tight, cozy little package.* No dead weight, minimal guests and concise tunes that make their point and don’t overstay their welcome. It’s not rewriting anything in rap, but it does add some new pages and depth to the Jay-Z persona/icon/character/corner-dealer-to-corporate-hustler mythos. I’m honestly impressed at the level to which he allows himself to concede ground to recognizing and grappling with emotion and status in some of these lyrics.
I mean, it’s not Elliott Smith or Joni Mitchell or anything (ugh, I should pick examples I actually like), but he’s clearly taken some cues from people like Frank Ocean and Kendrick Lamar (I assume, just for example; along with various other new jacks) and integrated them credibly into his own creative aesthetic while maintaining its own integrity.
All very flowery, but the tl:dr version is: Good record! It’s no Butterfly, or anywhere near it, but it’s not trying to be—and it’s also nowhere near that Magna Carta garbage fire, either. Conducive to summertime drive-/dick-around enjoyment and with a ratio of riches to rags that lets the floss highlight the humanity as the earnestness/sincerity frames the grandstanding more appealingly, all while leaving the listener with food for thought beyond Jay’s familiar tropes.
(Now, if only these new-era “business models” supported actual album credits, I could talk about who did what beat, etc.; but that kind of effort/awareness/importance/obligation has officially plummeted over the cliff. Started with iTunes and continues to be the m.o., despite the deep lack of respect and common courtesy it reflects back on the artist(s)/label(s)/streaming service(s) who present these albums to listeners.)
And with all those thoughts poured out into your eyeballs, I have to get back to work. Because, yeah: Procrastination don’t keep the lights on and there ain’t no late pass to the hustle.
Keeping it real af up in these Berkshires,
* See also: Natalie Portman