Who will survive in America? Not the poor, the minorities, the military officers, the honest politicians, journalists, thick teasers, skeezers or weirdos. Maybe not Kendrick Lamar, hip-hop’s beatnik poet-turned-frontman of his generation. On “FEEL.”, from his fantastic new album DAMN., Kendrick raps: “I feel like it ain’t no tomorrow, fuck the world/ The world is endin’, I’m done pretendin’.” Nuclear destruction is hanging over this planet and K Dot can’t escape the doom. How did it come to this?
In a “krazy world”, all of us wear masks. Bright smiles and wide eyes veil the forbidden thoughts bubbling below the surface – and the demons that lurk further beneath. Super villains just take things one-step further. Binding a twisted piece of metal to your face hides the fractured personality within. There is power in the symbolism. You can’t hope to defeat an enemy you don’t understand.
On 2013’s Acid Rap, Chance The Rapper was the kid raised from birth to believe in the Christian god, but who skipped religion class to toke on a poorly-rolled joint in the school bathroom. He was the Sunday morning churchgoer who’d sneak out the house to spend Saturday night with his girl. Christianity has always been sewn into the fabric of hip-hop – from Tupac’s calls to hail Mary, to Biggie wrestling with the concept of heaven and hell, to The Game’s Jesus piece – and Chancelor Bennett was the latest in a long line of the perceived sinners seeking redemption from his heavenly father while simultaneously indulging in life’s hedonistic pleasures.
How do you make sense of something as perfectly formed as Gnarls Barkley’s ‘Crazy’, a song recorded in just one take by two men who’d barely had a chance to share a glass of Goodie Mob’s tropical punch? It’s a song so free-spirited, it only could have come in a moment of zoned-out, off-the-cuff genius – a juncture in time when all was right in the universe for its elements to forge so perfectly it could never be truly explained or repeated. A bit like Shogun Assassin.
The Life of Pablo begins with a prayer. ‘Ultralight Beam’ is ushered in by the sound of a four-year-old girl banishing out the demons and welcoming in only the light. The Pentecostalism cries, spiritual organ stabs, roof-lifting choir chants and thunderous drum thumps echo out with a wave of positive energy. If you believe in direct personal experience with God through baptism with the Holy Spirit, then the song plays a purifying dip in the waters of Lake Minnetonka. An early tracklisting had it placed as the album’s big finale, maybe to cleanse the soul after the chaos and disorder of everything that had come before it. Instead, ‘Ultralight Beam’ washes away some of the recent pollution that has hung over Kanye West before we even get started.
I own a small stack of David Bowie albums. Most were repackaged on CD at the same time so the spines match when they sit on a shelf. They’re all great, of course. The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars is my favourite. Then Low, then a bunch of others. I bought them all in my twenties, when Bowie already had some two dozen records to his name. The sound of his guitar, synths and voice were like something not of this world – the lights and lasers on an analogue starship hyperdriving into the outer cosmos.
Earl Sweatshirt is 21-years-old. 21-years-old. Even though most of the stories that have followed Odd Future’s most enigmatic member have tended to focus on his youth – not yet an adult, he was smuggled away from LA to Samoa by his concerned mother, prompting the ‘Free Earl’ campaign, a New Yorker profile and plenty of wild theories – it’s still hard to believe that a rapper with his brilliant body of work probably gets sweaty palms when approaching a liquor store clerk.