Tuesday, March 31, 2015
FINAL THOUGHTZ ON THE RAP ALBUM THAT WAS SUPPOSED TO CHANGE THE WORLD TILL ITS TWO WEEK CONTENT CYCLE ENDED
IDK man, I like the idea of To Pimp A Butterfly more than the record itself. When I put on my critic hat and examine the album like a specimen pinned to a table, I know exactly why boners is poppin for this shit. Kendrick made the album he needed to solidify his status as rap's Serious Artist and Social Critic. He really said "something." It was very ambitious, and for that I doff my fedora.
Thing is, I don't subscribe to the theory that music has to be important to matter. A lot of the best raps of all time are entirely self-referential, conceptually ludicrous, or scattershots touching on a hundred little things but focusing on nothing in particular. Now we could rap all day about music and the Cartesian divide, but I'll leave that to the experts over at Rap Retard. Suffice it to say that critics overvalue the "intellectual" in music because that kind of person tends to favor the intellect in general. To Plump A Butterball is like the musical equivalent of The Ten Commandments. Very important and big and ambitious, and you know you're supposed to like it, but Les B. Real--kind of boring.
This is music for grad students and Whole Foods shoppers, and all the focus on the album as a sociopolitical statement disregards an obvious fact: it's not very innovative. Mos Def, Common, and Q-Tip have been flogging the same reheated soul, funk, and jazz moves for years, to a justified lack of critical acclaim. Changing direction from rap conventions to already-established musical forms does not equal innovation. Andre got the same kind of misguided acclaim for The Love Below, his self-indulgent love letter to Prince and a forerunner to Butterfly's glorified pastiche.
The most odious thing about the cult of Butterfly is its Oprah's Book Club vibe. There's an inherent grandiloquence and imperiousness that seem to have future Salon.com thinkpieces in mind. And as much as I wanna hate on that, I realize his reach transcends the rap fans and hipsters that generally consume this kind of music. He's trying to position himself next to The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and the Black Star LP on the shelves of people who kind of like rap music, but only when it wears a medallion of profundity on its dookie rope. It is what it is, and I'm glad Kendrick can legitimize the form for the NPR crowd.
Despite the furor surrounding its release, all the earnest conversation about the album's lofty intentions seems to have fallen by the wayside. The pace of today's music-media industrial complex is a nightmare and farce. In the days following its release, people talked like To Primp A Bouffant was going to cure racism and unite the world in a collective recognition of humanity. But the content machine grinds on, SXSW promotional gimmicks need coverage, and the dialogue dwindles until this landmark of rap and culture itself is resurrected for year-end lists.
I wanna say this is the last time I mention Butterfly, but that corny 2Pac interview is rife with comic potential. Still, I ain't bumpin this shit or nothing. This album is like when you was a kid and your mom says, "Eat your brussel sprouts!" except I love brussel sprouts. Shout outs to brussel sprouts. I been fuxing more with the Earl Sweatshirt joint, which is far from perfect but a needed antidote to the pompous maximalism of Butterfly. If Kendrick dropped the rap game Ten Commandments, Earl's album is what we in the biz call a "smaller, more personal project." Shout outs to projects.