Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Kendrick Lamar: Mirroring the energy of his music

Kendrick Lamar is a 28-year-old poet and lyrical genius whose body language during a performance mirrors the energy of his music.

Lamar's raps incorporate elements of funk, spoken-word poetry, and jazz. He prefers to label his music simply as "human music." His sense of freedom and willingness to explore many music genres, such as jazz fusion, sparked and inspired the late David Bowie as the musical icon worked on his final album 'Blackstar.'

Lamar's new "Untitled 2," which he recently debuted on NBC's The Tonight Show, explores a backstory of his life and his view of America.

"Music moves with the times. It's not something we have to consciously do," Lamar revealed in an interview earlier this month in The New York Times. "This is what's happening in the world -- not only to me but to my community. Whenever I make music, it reflects where I'm at mentally."

Lamar's critically-acclaimed concept album To Pimp a Butterfly (which was ranked by Rolling Stone as the best album of 2015) has been nominated 11 times in nine Grammy categories, including Song ("Alright") and Album of the Year (for the second time). According to Nielsen, it has sold more than 750,000 copies and been streamed 375 million times -- all without a hit single. However, it should be noted that "Alright," which garnered four Grammy nominations, has become a unifying soundtrack to the Black Lives Matter protests nationwide.

On being chosen as the best album of 2015, Rolling Stone wrote: "Musically, lyrically and emotionally, Kendrick Lamar's third album is a one-of-a-kind masterpiece -- a sprawling epic that's both the  year's most bumptious party music and its most gripping therapy session. A rap superstar at last, after years on the underground grind, Lamar wrestles with the depression and survivor's guilt that followed his fame and success by turning to heroes from Ralph Ellison and Richard Pryor to Smokey Robinson and Kris Kross to Nelson Mandela and Tupac. He lives large. He contains multitudes."

Kendrick Lamar / His 'To Pimp a Butterfly' is
part bumptious party music, part gripping therapy session.
"Being acknowledged for your work is always a great accomplishment," said Lamar, "whether it's people in my city, kids in the street, all the way up to the Grammys." The Compton, California native, born Kendrick Lamar Duckworth, and also known as K-Dot, added: "This album did what I wanted it to do. That's not necessarily to sell tons of records -- though it didn't do bad at that either -- but to actually have an impact on the people and on the culture of music."

I'll admit, I'm not a big follower of rap or of Lamar's career. However, as a devoted viewer of late-night television, I took notice when Stephen Colbert anointed Lamar to be his first musical guest when he took over as host of CBS's The Late Show from David Letterman last September, and I tuned in with great interest to see him perform. From that appearance to last week's performance on The Tonight Show, it's easy to see why critics make a point of saying "make sure you're watching and not just listening" to Lamar's raps because of the way the movement of his body relates to the energy of his message. His raw voice and self-interrogative style have its pleasure and rewards.

Kendrick Lamar / "Make sure you're watching and not
just listening." His raw voice and self-interrogative style
have its pleasure and rewards.
As I watched and listened, I warmed to Lamar's personal style of simple braided hair and attire that included non-baggy jeans, white kicks and a plaid long-sleeved shirt over a dark t-shirt that said "Faith Love." He was unconsumed by expensive chains and did not fit the mold of most hip hop artists.

As Lamar performed "Untitled 2," one could see a building intensity that one critic the next day called "absolutely mesmerizing."

To see the lyrics to "Untitled 2": http://genius.com/Kendrick-lamar-untitled-2-blue-faces-lyrics

Another critic, writing for Slate.com, wrote: "Lamar's emotion builds throughout the song and reaches its triumphant peak at the end, as Lamar repeats, 'You ain't gotta tell me that I'm the one,' and finishes with 'Yes, I'm the one'."

To learn more about Kendrick Lamar: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kendrick_Lamar

Video: Courtesy of YouTube. Photos: Courtesy of Google Images.

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