A great title, probably not the first time it's been used, and rather ambitious for what I am about to do, which is just say a few things and then duck out again.
I've been meaning to write about To Pimp A Butterfly for a week or so now. But, the thing is, it's a dense album, one of the few albums as of late where I feel like I don't even want to consider my own impressions until I feel like I have fully come to terms with it. There's a lot of words, a lot of sounds, and it's not an album seemingly meant to be understood fully upon the first listen. Whether I end up caring about it, I'm glad to have a new piece of music that may actually reward the effort it takes to digest, that even requires effort to digest.
(Man, can you tell I haven't been writing much lately?)
I have to admit, though, that I am a bit bothered by something. Something that I hope is mere nitpicking and not my "unique insight" into a profound problem, one that I am going to fail to explain adequately, so bear with me.
I don't like street rap/trap that much. The lyrics are a bit same-y and there is a limit to how creative one can be discussing the same subjects over and over again (you know what they are). When everyone is talking about the same shit, that limit is first pushed back by the collective creativity, but, as so many people steal all the possible options, those options run out and become tired real quick.
But I do love the sound of the music. A friend sent me a CDR last year of mostly DJ Mustard productions and some of them sound like Cybotron-reborn. Not as in an exact replica of 1980s electro, but rather a contemporary update. Impossible senses of space, weird whisps of reverb, a great starkness. Almost, even, futuristic. But because of the lyrics, I couldn't get as excited as I wanted to. 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.
So that's last year. And then Black Messiah, which I haven't gotten around to yet, and To Pimp..., and I had already been thinking about what I am about to talk about, when, of course, Simon went ahead and beat me to it. For once I thought I would be able to say something interesting without having to link to his fucking blog (no offense, mate)! So now we add the new Jam City, improbably enough, to this list of possible protest records under discussion.
I'm at risk of losing my ideas by trying to write well. An isolated paragraph or two follows:
The new Kendrick - jazz musicians and lineage back to the 1970s and older forms of black protest music and etc., a sound completely unlike your average Mustard or Mike Will Made It cut. Most, likely, very much on purpose.
And here's a quote from the FACT review of the Jam City album that Simon links to:
...the whole album feels like a rejection of the precision-tooled, steel-and-glass urbanism of Classical Curves and a re-insertion of the living, breathing, fucking, shitting, failing human into its antiseptic landscape...
See some parallels? Maybe, maybe not? OK. I wasn't done anyways.
I just have to skip ahead. I keep losing my point building up to it.
Perhaps the highest expression of Capitalist Realism is the concession of the contemporary, the new, the modern, and, especially the future, to Capitalism. To make your protest album sound more human, more chaotic, more whatever, is to not protest at all, but rather to buy into the ultimate lie that the future can't be "yours". Remember that both the grit and the glamor are products of the same system; they don't exist in opposition. Pick the one you actually want to live in and claim it as your own.
I wish Kendrick had gone off into one of Jam City's skyscrapers with nothing but a bunch of digital synths and Timbaland and Egyptrixx in tow. I wish Jam City had added some "steel-and-glass" lyrics to his "steel-and-glass" sound. Instead.
But here's where I have to worry.
Why did the twentieth century suck? Simply put, all of the mass murder could be described as coming from one single idea: new worlds need new people, or at least the right ones. But that was also why the twentieth century was awesome. No, not the mass murder! But consider. Do you remember? When people used the word "poseur" without irony? There were actual value systems from which to deviate. Something was at stake.
I don't know where I am going with this. Certainly not calling for the death of everyone who isn't in to Model 500, or something like that.
I think it's just.
Failure of imagination, a protest whose response is totally mediating by that being protested against:
...a re-insertion of the living, breathing, fucking, shitting, failing human into its antiseptic landscape...
Failure of imagination, an inability to claim the future that could exist:
...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...
We humans will always breathe and fuck and shit. Most living things, um, do the exact same thing! But what else? As long as we consider it "protest" and "progress" to bring ourselves back to our most uninteresting characteristics as a species, as long as we don't aspire to something more, as long as we don't recognize that our antiseptic landscapes could just as much be the manifestations of dreams as opposed to nightmares, it's just going to be the same breathing fucking shit forever.
Edit - from an incomplete essay that may always remain as such, related more to the argument I can't get out of my head than the one I've managed to spit out above - I may be jumping the gun a bit - need to listen to Kendrick's lyrics like thirty more times: If poverty is authenticity and authenticity is good then poverty is good. Poverty isn't good. So now what... ...I think there has been some sort of a projection of those old Romantic notions (or are they Christian?) of the noble, suffering artist onto the black populace generally, and black artists specifically... ... within the context of the liberal version of this romanticization, the poverty, the suffering, provides an automatic legitimacy that others must actually attain through their work... ... it's not just white people who do it; go watch Ken Burns Jazz again and see Cecil Taylor and the Art Ensemble getting dissed for being "uppity"... not by crackers... ...but whereas the average French artist's exile in a Parisian garrett in 1893 was most likely self-inflicted, the black artist, facing structural and systematic exclusion, can only suffer from or profit by the the Romantic ideals projected on to his or her skin, without ever being able to truly control that Romanticization or claim the majority of the capital the exploitation of that ideal creates... ...there is an inherent conflict: the young black male of "our" worst stereotypes can't be both in defiance of white America and its most cherished fantasy... This sucked. My ideas couldn't survive my typing speed. Someone tell me just what the fuck I was trying to do here. Please induce labor. The idea is overdue. Thanks for reading. Back to random videos.
1. The Racquetball Incident - One I came up with well before Vampire Weekend existed. I remember the night. Well, not distinctly. I was in a cab. It was either 2004 or 2005. With a drummer who still has my 14" Zildjian Quick Beat brilliants. I never got them back. Because he really plays and I don't. But still, he owes me $144. Anyways. The RI. A band name for a non-existent band whose MO would be to chronicle the follies and foibles of post-Ivy League social life. All members would wear Ralph Lauren polos at all times. Sky blue for the men, pink for the women, and black for me, the detached and miserable observer/singer/involuntary eunuch.
2. The Mail Gays - ultra-femme gay boyz chronicle the pitfalls of breeder relations from the perspective of ultra-radical Feminism whilst dressed in USPS uniforms as reimagined by Gaultier circa 1995. !They put the "fag" in "fag hag"!
3. tornutopia - a pun on "cornucopia", the name of a band filled with righteous political anger. Who happen to wear eyeliner. And who sound like a bad (redundant), nu-metal version of Rage Against The Machine. Still, a good name for an album, well, no, but at least a track. A track. No more.
Retromania done right, and the only guilty pleasure I actually feel guilty about. Still. Guilty? I dunno. I tend to think that the late 1980s/early 1990s are too often maligned. One of the last flourishes of urbanism within "white pop music" if you ask me, the sound of going out into the city back when the city wasn't a mall. Where do flaneurs go nowadays?
Non-guilty because it's a masterpiece but one not meant to be listened to with other people in the room...
The Blue Nile touches me on such a deep level some times that even if I were to marry someone who loves the just as much as I do, I'd still probably ask my wife to leave the room before listening to the first three tracks off of "Hats" just so I could touch upon a moment where I am everyone else alive could actually measure up to the grandeur inherent. I still dream, at night, that there is an actual city, and a moment of life within it, that corresponds to that which is imagined in the music. Does that make sense? Sorry. I am a bit tipsy. It's been a while. How you?