Watch this right now. Just do it. You don’t need to thank me.
If you want to see an artist at the peak of his powers absolutely nailing the zeitgeist, click play.
Kendrick Lamar dropped To Pimp A Butterfly just a couple months ago, and it’s already one of my favorite albums of all time.
The brazen mixture of politically, socially, and psychologically aware lyrics with an incredibly nuanced and evolved delivery; the dark and deeply funky production, shot through with an entire jazz band’s worth of all-star live players; the live-wire theatricality of the entire endeavor… all of these parts coalesce as Lamar’s ambition and talent meet in in the stratosphere.
It’s both incredibly audacious and earnest to a fault. The album feels embarrassingly personal at times, the rapper spilling his demons in a drunken crying jag. At the same time, everything’s wrapped in a sense of universal struggle, the intrinsic knowledge that we’re all in this together. There’s no wonder that it’s proven as divisive as it is beloved.
It pays to heed recommendations. Today I clicked on an artist that my last.fm decided I should hear. Afrikan Sciences turned out to be a grand adventure, filling my Saturday afternoon with some kind of space-age techno funk. I fell in love.
I’ll get this out of the way: I love this album, Circuitous, already. It combines so many favorite elements in a fresh way: weird jazz, alien techno, Afrofuturism, synthesizers, sci-fi atmospherics, and a radical approach to percussion and rhythm. Most of all, I’m reminded of a purely instrumental cousin of visionary hip-hop duo Shabazz Palaces, one of my favorite projects on earth – and creators of the best album of 2014.
The titular single is easily one of the most approachable tracks on the lengthy album, but perfectly showcases the quicksand-shifting drum sampling and humming analog synthesizer patches. It’s only a hint of how far deep the material goes. Try for yourself; click play below:
It’s hard to describe to a newcomer exactly what Arther Russell does that’s so ineffably unique. He’s a cellist, composer, and otherworldly disco producer who crafted some of the strangest and most deeply affecting music the world has ever known. His singing is deeply felt, vulnerable, and nothing like any classic vocalist.
Arthur Russell was unforgivably ignored in his lifetime, but I am so thankful that the massive body of work he kept to himself has been thoughtfully collected and released in the years since. He may have died before I was 10 years old, but he’s now one of my favorite musicians ever.
The man’s brief career began in the 70s collegiate avant-garde scene, collaborating with Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Rhys Chatham, and most notably, Allen Ginsberg, accompanying the beat poet’s live work on cello. He moved into the gritty New York disco scene and crafted some of the most alien dance singles of the era before finally crafting his own masterpiece. World Of Echo, a solo journey of vocals, cello, soft percussion and electronic effects, is the only full album released during his lifetime, as Russell died of AIDS in 1992, nearly broke.
I just heard the sad news that pioneering jazz hero Ornette Coleman has died of cardiac arrest at age 85. The man left an astonishing legacy of progressive and experimental music that has influenced forward looking artists of all stripes for decades.
More important to me, he’s crafted some of the most innovative and profoundly affecting jazz albums I’ve ever heard. I’ve shared a few key moments from his epic discography below.
With an alien flow, unnerving production, and stream-of-consciousness lyrics that ping pong from Looney Tunes to Fourier, this song owes as much to out-there jazz and experimental music as it does to Kendrick Lamar‘s more traditional hip-hop tunes.
Yesterday I crashed my bike. A kid skateboarding with headphones swerved in front of me. Hooked on a railroad track, I flipped and hit my head, destroying my glasses and shredding my hand. It was kind of terrible.
I woke today with my entire body aching, needing something gentle on the ears to go with my pain pills and coffee. I remembered a friend telling me that Annabel (lee) sounded “like a cross between trip-hop, smokey old-time jazz/Billie Holiday, and a bit of Matana Roberts.” He was right on the money. Thanks to Bandcamp, you can listen for yourself; the entire album is streaming below.
Because I was an idiot without a helmet on, I’m now writing as a measure to track my faculties, in addition to the fact that I am quickly falling in love with this music.
Inspired by a friend’s reminder, I cued up one of my favorite albums of all time: Blowout Comb, the underrated second and final release from Digable Planets. For those who aren’t familiar, they are jazz-inspired contemporaries of A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul… but far, far better.
This album is the real deal. Here’s the second to last song, a kind of manifesto:
68 inches above sea level / 93 million miles above these devils
With the recent release of Kendrick Lamar‘s colossal album To Pimp A Butterfly, there’s been a lot of talk about jazz roots flourishing in the world of hip-hop again. Folks mention Three Feet High And Rising and The Low End Theory repeatedly, and if Digable Planets are mentioned at all, it’s about their sole big radio hit, Rebirth Of Slick (Cool Like Dat). Since my hip-hop tastes at age 13 centered on Beastie Boys and Coolio, I didn’t have a chance of knowing this album when it was new. It seems most of the world didn’t, either.