After hearing Jay Rock’s ode to LA on 90059, or the funk-soul leanings more recently on Anderson Paak’s Malibu, it seems not only was Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly steeped in afro-centric empowerment, but it was one of those landscape-shifting albums that inspires a new era. You don’t need to look further than the Donald Trump rally a fortnight ago where protesters chanted ‘Alright’ for proof that Lamar’s lyrics have seeped into culture.
And with such a profound impact, it’s hardly surprising that a B-sides album from K.Dot will leave people scrambling for headphones on a Friday afternoon in the office. untitled, unmastered is not only spontaneous, but it feels like a backdoor into TDE studios where you glance over to a bunch of demos on Kendrick’s laptop. And through a somewhat haphazard construction, it provides an anatomical insight into Kendrick’s creative process, with songs like ‘07’ comprising of three demo’s stitched together. The third of these is a jam session of early scratchings that would eventually become ‘04’. Kendrick cracks up over a chunky bassline, as he sings “head is the answer, head is the future”. He turns to the band in the closing stages of ‘02’ and asks ‘who’s on the drums’ – before appointing someone to ‘Mortal Man’ and ‘King Kunta’. This project we see him transcend past from just the frontman, to assume his spot as conductor of the whole show.
He comes through lurching and heaving with the same kind of angst on ‘01’ that inspired Butterfly- creating subtle dissonance over a double-bass backing to immediately get under your skin. The track is a dialogue between Kendrick and God- which these days has become a hackneyed feature of rap music (ie. every Kanye song ever). As it unfolds though, it seems while Kendrick’s world remains faith-centric, he seems to have a fractured relationship with God- and verses on ‘04’ are needed to exorcise some of those doubts.
Pimp, pimp! Hooray! Appears on various tracks across untitled, in what appears to be a roundtable clinking of glasses to what Butterfly has amounted to, as well as being a signature thread of all Kendrick projects. It can be akin as a lighter equivalent to the spoken I remember you was conflicted poem at the end of each track of Butterfly. The celebration must also extend to all the other accolades he has received in the last twelve months- getting the keys to Compton and sweeping five Grammy’s from eleven nominations.
Despite the tense flicking between album and post album sessions, a creative restlessness translates across much of the album. He is creating for the sake of creating, unwilling to stand still, not only to fully capitalise before the window closes, but to put the stake down that somehow, he is scarily getting better. Chopping and changing his flow from frenetic, to inebriated, to silky and solemn- but all the while in total control.
The news gets even better for those lucky enough to see Kendrick TONIGHT at Rod Laver in Melbourne, or Sydney or Blues Fest over the weekend on his world tour, bringing special guest jazz extraordinaire Kamasai Washington and his latest shoulder popping creations to life.
Last year Melburnian songwriter/ producerYeo spent a copious amount of time clocking up numerous music appearances. From festivals,supporting Sam Smith, dropping Triple J favourites ‘Icarus’ and ‘Quiet Achiever’, 2015 served a long list of accolade that even found Yeo collaborating on Hermitude’s ‘Searchlight’. In hindsight, all have helped cast a dazzling light on his latest full-length project, Ganbaru. The nine track album is both unassuming and a sparkling ode to late ’80s synth pop. The complete immersion of ’80s style is reminiscent of localmullet-masters Client Liaison, who are similarly dedicated to the analogue aesthetic.
Picking up this album straight from his breakout single ‘Girl’ – which, keep in mind was released in 2013 – you will notice a distinct change in sound. His vocals still have that indie garage filter, but he has shifted away from a hazy electronica to a more synthetic, polished production. It poses perfectly as a poolside DJ set, with each track purposefully transitioning into the next, without any blank space, interspersed with cuts of crowd noise or white noise. Yeo delivers strongly on those poolside summer vibes without sugar-coating, particularly on synth pumpers ‘VCR Play’.
It’s difficult to not be taken with ‘Quiet Achiever’ from the opening bars, as he lays down an infectious combination of steel drums and hypnotic drum patterns before turning it into a summer banger. It acts as a clear headline for the album alongside opening track ‘Icarus’, which help set the sundazed scene for the rest of the album. There are funk inflections that stem later on tracks like ‘1 for the Team’ and ‘Promise / Secret’. He closes with the charming ‘Jet Cooler’, with the hook pleading to “cool your jets” as if this album could be any more chill.
The album title itself is a Japanese expression that loosely translates to ‘doing one’s best through tough times’, which is an interesting revelation for an album which seems impossibly bright. Digging through tracks like ‘Got No Game’, the 8-bit production is as bubbly as ever; Yeo himself voicing a relatable anguish in letting a “girl walk over me” and not being able to act the part, no matter how hard he tries. Even though the production fits the clear mandate he has cast for it, this track reveals that Yeo himself is struggling to fit in.
‘Ganbaru’ humbly stands out as Yeo’s best body of work; a distinct coming of age moment for the songwriter/ producer as he finds his penchant for an 80’s groove. He is steadying himself for the Ganbaru national tour, kicking off later in the month.
Society has this habit of making outdated fragments of culture relevant. Just look at the vinyl record, or the ’50s combover making a resurgence.
Earlier this year, rapper Kanye West released Only One and FourFiveSeconds written with Beatles icon Paul McCartney, leading a flurry of teens to Wikipedia who this Paul McCartney fellow was.
A few weeks ago A$AP Rocky released the single Everyday, which he lifted both lyrics and arrangement from the 1973 Python Lee Jackson song, In A Broken Dream. The original features vocals from UK super-vocalist Rod Stewart, who A$AP lists as a contributor on the track. He used Miguel to sing the hook and Mark Ronson to produce the track.
Both Ye and A$AP are using these guys because they have the power and connections to reach out to any musician they want to. They are also trying to expand their fanbase beyond the realms of hip-hop and challenge who those who see hip-hop as a one-dimensional industry. Using producers and influencers outside of hip-hop has long been seen, but never has the talking point around the track been as prominent as it is with these two collaborations. Now these guys have done it, with great success- it is surely going to become integrated into the genre more often.
You could almost guarantee that neither Rod or Paul are doing it for the money, but they would be enjoying resurfacing in the public arena.
Below I have linked Rod Stewart and Python Lee Jackon’s track In A Broken Dream:
And of course here is A$AP Rocky’s single, Everyday:
The digital disconnect was an interesting exercise in self-awareness.
The snapchats piled up. The Facebook notifications came in. Not surprisingly, no Tinder notifications came in. Each app flashed that inviting red number in the corner, flagging someones interest in connecting with me – and my obligation to check the notification.
Beyond those awkward moments between class where there wasn’t anywhere to look other than down at your phone, being disconnected from social media was so refreshing. I was completely aware of all those times I would ordinarily be checking to see if something dramatic had happened. I even extended the 24 hour lockout by another three hours, in a smug act of defiance against social media.
Music is probably one of the few legitimate reasons for me to check social media. One week ago, Kendrick Lamar released his second record a week early. Social media blew up about it. The internet, in general, blew up. It was a rare moment where I validated my persistent checking of social media. But other than taking suggestions from music publications on the latest underground to check out, I should really try and find excuses to disconnect more often.
Sharing content on ‘Who’s On Bass’ engages the fans, or the consumers of particular artists.
The blog is mode of creative expression, that converts very derivative forms of music journalism such as album or gig reviews, into 100-word snapshots, sharing forgotten music, or expansive artist features. In just under 12 months, the blog has had over 3000 hits. The location settings tell us we have small bands of followers in the USA, Canada and Western Europe.
It’s difficult to measure the influence the blog has on the reader and the artist. Hopefully being a penchant for local music- and exposing those artists to overseas readers, there is the potential for those artists to benefit from the blog.
Sites like change.org provide an almighty platform for the consumer. In days gone by they would hush the consumer, and sweep the issue under the carpet. They often justify their power, because they believe all the power is monopolised by government and large insititutions.
The digital age has savaged and revived the music industry in the last 20 years.
However, music has been in a constant state of re-invention and transformation for longer than 20 years. Vinyl became cassette, cassette become CD before CD gave way to MP3. Vinyl has had life breathed into it, by audiophiles searching for the warm wholesome quality it gave the music but that is a limited segment of the market.
The latest transformation of the music industry is the transition from MP3 to streaming. An innovation aimed at reducing the illegal downloading that plagued the MP3 age, it has divided the public, with some championing it, whilst others like Thom Yorke calling Spotify declaring it “the last fart of a dying corpse”.
For upcoming artists, they don’t enter an industry where their music will by those they can physically reach (with the exception of giving the EP to a radio station), but a digital environment where a single Soundcloud track upload could land them a record deal. Already established artists have released themselves from the traditional methods of releasing music in album formats, to developing elaborate marketing campaigns to generate interest. That is an aspect of the landscape, with infinite opportunity and one I would like to pursue in my professional career. The power now belongs to the listener, their expectations have changed. They want to treated like individuals instead of being told what is current. It’s difficult to envision an era where universal phenomenons like The Beatles or Michael Jackson could ever exist again. Whilst some artists may try to reclaim the power, or deny that it was ever transferred to the listener- the successful ones will adapt. Listeners aren’t restricted to only listen to the music they can afford to buy on CD or MP3, but they can find their next favourite song on YouTube before sharing it with 450 friends on Facebook.
With prolific databases like Spotify now freely accessible online paired with suggestion radio services like Pandora now prominent, it raises questions about what the next chapter of the music industry has in stall. Do we listen to fewer or more artists than the pre-digital era? Will the innovation continue to lead the listener, or will the listener lead the innovation?
Music plays a major part in the digital narrative, and the digital world plays a major part in the narrative of music.