RAVEN MACK is a mystic poet-philosopher-artist of the Greater Appalachian unorthodox tradition who publishes zines & physical books & electronic books & music & photography & digital art & just generally whatever feels necessary to survive this deluded earth thru Rojonekku Word Fighting Arts survival systems (Version 69, establish 14 Feb 1973). Comments encouraged.

Wednesday, June 21

[HH3os] The I Don’t Like Butterflies, I Don’t Pimp Compton trio

(2nd round match-up 8 of 9)

Too dumb to quit, the dirtgod story…

Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
(released March 15, 2015; #1 on 2015 Pitchfork Albums of the Year list)
Feels pointless to include a Pitchfork quote still, but that has been the method thus far for second round match-ups in this, so I will stick to protocol:
Despite all this, he’s still toying with a narrative on the sly: Just beneath the surface lies a messianic yarn about avoiding the wiles of a sultry girl named Lucy who’s secretly a physical manifestation of the devil. Kendrick refuses to dole out blame without accepting any, however, and on the chaotic free jazz excursion "u" he turns a mirror on himself, screaming "Loving you is complicated!" and suggesting his fame hasn’t helped his loved ones back home.
Pitchfork reviews are funny to me because it’s similar to a respectable business attempting to recreate street art with a mural on the side of their building – it sort of appears to be truly liberating and free form (in Pitchfork reviews or even any official music review place) prose, but in actuality it’s mostly just trying to give that effect while working towards selling shit. I’m not really sure the point even of music reviews, because nobody is ever truly critical if they’ve achieved an official capacity as music reviewer, because they don’t want to burn their inlets to inside bullshit. So you never have real hard criticism, since everything is attached to the immediacy of consumption, not the timelessness of true criticism. But you get wonderful crap like explaining the very obvious metaphor of Lucy as Lucifer with a phrase like “messianic yarn”. That is simultaneously wonderful and ridiculous, which I guess is late capitalism itself in a nutshell (either “wonderful and ridiculous” or a “messianic yarn”).
If one is in the official capacity of music reviewer, I don’t think it’s possible to give Kendrick Lamar a negative review. He is critically accepted Illuminati, and early on into his attempted establishment as industry force. An interesting snippet of this is the Wesley Snipes references in the beginning track, but also Dre phone call talking about how it’s easy to get the big house, but can you do what you got to keep it? I imagine that’s where the sketchiness and soul-compromising comes into play, where you go from being an “artist” to being an industry heavyweight. There’s not so much art involved at that level as there is exploitation of others. And as Kendrick Lamar stands at that door, I perhaps project the sense that he struggles with accepting that change, because to do so is to become a pure capitalist, and accept there is something about you that makes you deserving of wealth than all those you grew up with and around who are left behind and fell through the abundance of cracks along the way.
As for the album itself, I enjoy it, but it’s also very much about that transition from artist to entity, as this is the most obvious example of mass consumer slam poet album you’ll probably find from the past decade. The artistic concept behind the album is essentially drilling down between the lines of a poem he’s ostensibly reading to resurrected spirit of Tupac (or time traveling, it’s hard to tell nowadays if we are utilizing cyborgian technologies to bring back to life the dead, or nuts and bolts time machine technologies to move through the fourth dimension). I read a lot of old poetry, which truly is timeless, well beyond the immediacy of a BEST NEW ALBUM OF THE WEEK music review on a digital website driven by advertising dollars (generally from the same sources you are critically reviewing, which seems… complicated), so perhaps I am too hard on artistic creations. I know I am with myself. This is not an amazing album in context of actually amazing, but compared to most things that are released now, it certainly has all the trademarks of something artistic. Kendrick is not (yet as) heavy-handed about his artistry as someone like, say, Kanye is, and he’s also not into that formulaic robot artist stage of Eminem, where everything sounds “amazing” but mailed in on the way to Whole Foods (or one of those local ultra-rich people Whole Foods type markets). Because of that, and because of the grading curve on artistic creations manufactured by music reviewing in general, as well as this project specific to my purposes here, I am forced to give this FOUR STARS (****).

Earl Sweatshirt – I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside
(released March 23, 2015; #25 on 2015 Pitchfork Albums of the Year list)
A Pitchforkian yarn:
From the first bars of the swaggering organ-driven opener "Huey", it feels like the realization of a voice that, in some sense, he's had an APB out on since his first record: one that is both fluid and all angles, vacillating between naked introspection and pushing us as far away as possible. He sounds deadly serious and self-effacing at the same time, and his rocky, withdrawn psychology is more visible, and easier to trace, than ever.
That’s a lot of words which kind of say something but I don’t know if I agree with any of it, even though to be honest I’m not sure I understand what they’re going for. I will say this though – two things cause me to expect a lot from Earl Sweatshirt: a) his early shit before his mom sent him off to Samoa or wherever the fuck, and b) his dad is a fucking West African poet. Poetic semen is powerful stuff, and not only impregnates the next generation with the beauty of language (all languages… it recognizes no linguistic walls with barbed wire in its truest form) but those around as well. So why the fuck doesn’t Earl Sweatshirt have a better crew by now than ragged ass Odd Future remnants? Earl got to step his game up. This is not to say he sucks, because far from it – he’s one of the few young dudes coming out that I would want to scope out any new project without a single doubt about doing so. But he had that out of left field but with unlimited potential hype back in the day, like Steph Curry coming out of Davidson. But Earl’s still on Chris Paul level. That’s great and all, but it’s not what it could be. Or something. THREE STARS (***)!

Dr. Dre – Compton: A Soundtrack
(released August 7, 2015; #32 on 2015 Pitchfork Albums of the Year list)
From Pitchfork:
If there's a surprise here, it's that Dre, a 50-year-old near-billionaire long suspected of drifting out of touch, sounds charged-up, nimble, and relevant. Dre has always relied on other rappers and producers for inspiration and his own legacy is tied up in showcasing talent, lifting and rearranging it for his own cause. On Compton he's taken the approach and doubled down, and while the album is frequently personal, it's also communal, pushing his own voice towards the margins in favor of other vocalists.
Aging billionaires in entertainment industry remain relevant by always discovering new talent, aka exploiting young naives. To some extent, it becomes a Ponzi scheme (as detailed in that intro phone call to Kendrick Lamar mentioned above) where once you exploit someone else, promising to establish them, if they become established, they then become more successful by repeating the process. This is how Aftermath becomes Shady/Aftermath. So Dre went through his first self-supporting cycle of exploitation (after two previous cycles of this where he didn’t get paid, first for Eazy-E, then Suge Knight, which is pretty amazing actually if one was to study capitalist pigs in great detail, to be able to successfully remain hungry enough to do that three times over because you got ripped off the first two times, that’s wild), and then had to take the background role as those dudes started exploiting a fresh crop of naives, with Dre still getting his points on the artistic package kickback.
But at some point you become bored I guess. Or you want to make people stop saying you’re not an artist when that’s a pretty big part of your manufactured image. So you have to step out the kickback shadows back into the spotlight and do it again. I don’t think it’s any coincidence this happened for Dre around the same time the Straight Outta Compton movie got made, as it likely reminded him of good exploitable naïve kid behaviors, as well as how he himself was exploited the first time. So he got fired up to do it again.
The album itself works like a soundtrack, as designed, but could just as easily work as a really expensively produced (where you pay for beats) datpiff mixtape if you removed the couple of famous people verses (like Snoop and Eminem). Or maybe the mixtape is so expensive they bought high dollar features. (Also, why is there no internet dork Fantasy Feature thing where you pick different rappers at different dollar levels to make your own mixtape? I imagine Rap Genius dorks would waste hours arguing over that type of shit.) TWO STARS (**).

THE WINNER: An interesting trio in the context of the artist to entity path, because we have the young artist full of potential unreached (Earl), the artist who appears to have reached potential but wonders what is next (Kendrick), and the entity who (according to capitalist metrics) can’t really achieve anything more other than adding on to what’s already accomplished (Dre). It seems obvious if you didn’t consider the actual albums that the Kendrick one would be tops because it is the bridge between the sides of the spectrum. Real life listening agrees with this (for me at least). But it’s also sad, because a reality of systemic corporate capitalism (which the music industry has always been), if you are a good worker who enjoys your work and does good work, there is no profit in that alone. The only way you increase your value is to become a manager of others, and find good workers or motivate less-than-good workers to work better. The problem is you move away from doing the work you enjoy by taking this promotion in order to increase value. It means that ultimately the industry does not actually encourage greater art necessarily, which likely we’ll see play out in Kendrick just as we’ve seen in so many before him (though he has fought this off better than most.) Let’s say there are 30 rappers hoping for a deal, and only one will be of good enough potential to be Earl Sweatshirt. Then out of those 30 with the good enough potential, only one will actually establish themselves as a “recording artist” like Kendrick Lamar. But even then, out of 30 established recording artists, only one of them will move into an industry titan role, an entity like Dre. This is the pyramid scam, the Ponzi scheme, the shitty side to the structure of capitalism as we know it. Take solace in the fact that for those 29 who have the potential like Earl, who fail, and to a lesser extent the 29 who establish themselves like Kendrick who go off the rails into their own worlds, there are people making music just because they fucking want to make music. I guarantee you the best rapper alive probably doesn’t even have a record out right now. But within the constraints of this stupid project of mine, Kendrick advances out of this trio of albums.

No comments: