Initially, I struggled to figure out what Kendrick’s To Pimp a Butterfly meant to me.
I went back and forth with myself on a couple of points: The content was pretty heavy, so playback value could be low. The few Black on Black crime-y aspects rubbed me a bit in the wrong direction. And, honestly, at times I just had no idea what the man was talking about. What cannot be speculated upon, however, is Kendrick’s connection to the music itself. Within this last year, especially, he’s taken every opportunity not just to receive the torch from the old heads but also to sit up under them and glean. One of the biggest components of artists and music that lasts is finding a way to make the music and the subject matter intergenerational. It is of paramount important to be relevant and to ring true in more eras than one, to appeal to young and old alike. It goes so far beyond sampling alone– it’s Kendrick sitting at Quincy Jones’ feet and featuring Ronald Isley on a track. It can even be Chance the Rapper and the Social Experiment welcoming Busta Rhymes– a former Leader of the New School– on a track. It’s D’angelo even, channeling his own 15-year-old Voodoo and an old funk feel in Black Messiah.
In the world of truly GOOD music, there is no instant classic. There is only what is timeless. There’s familiarity, but not in a complacent sense– it’s how 1981 born Kamasi Washington calls upon Herbie Hancock in The Epic, it’s how Frank Ocean calls upon Stevie Wonder in “Sweet Life.” It’s how Big KRIT picks up elements remnant of early Outkast records and how Outkast gave us so much funk from decades back.
A few artists now are going a step or two beyond what Kanye jumped his career off with; instead of reworking samples, they’re bringing entire jazz, blues, and soul aspects back live and in living instrumentation. It’s not just an insertion anymore, it’s a total saturation and decades of music encapsulated into 3-minute, 5-minute, 7-minute songs.
I’m not only excited to discover more young soul artists, I’m excited about the rock and country elements making themselves known. I am an aggressive proponent of the idea that most music in existence is essentially “Black” music, reworked and made more palatable for majority consumption. There is no part of the art form that we have not created or evolved in a major way. So imagine my elation hearing Black people dabble in music we thought was “white” when we were younger (hopefully, not anymore… right?).
Please, please, please support this music– artists old and new alike, who are genuinely interested in covering and making music from deep of in their musical roots. Folks like Kamasi Washington, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, Esperanza Spalding, Gary Clark Jr., Brittany Howard, and Kimberly Nichole make my world go round. Any musician who insists on making connections with their roots is to be respected and revered. And anybody insisting that music has no merit or integrity in 2016 just isn’t listening hard enough.