The Airing of Grievances Part 1: A Coupla Singles

Festivus PoleFestivus is about having an alternative to Christmas. What I love about it is that instead of pretending that life is all great, it includes dealing with some harsh realities. Cuz I’m that type of morose motherfucker! So, assuming that everyone completed their feasting already, I put up a Festivus pole and now it’s time for the Airing of Grievances, where I tell the world how it has disappointed me this year. I’ll stick with music, but please believe there’s a lot more that I could say.

1. Kendrick Lamar – I

Kendrick Lamar’s sophomore album is very highly anticipated because Good Kid M.A.A.D. City is one of the best albums that we’ve has heard in years! And even though I’m very worried that that album will remain a peak that he never reaches again, I still can’t wait to see him try. So I rabidly played his new single, I, hoping for some evidence that my worries were unfounded. Self-esteem was most definitely not on the short list of topics I expected him to attack, but I’m very pleased to see a mainstream rapper earnestly speaking on mental health concerns. It’s a worthy topic that needs to be addressed more often, I believe Kendrick when he talks about it, so this song again puts Kendrick at the forefront of nationally known rappers who actually have something real to say. For those things, I deserves much applause.

BUT

I wish Kendrick was MUCH better at execution!

First, let’s begin where my ears began: the beat. Sampling classic R&B is a very dangerous path to take. Jacking classic R&B might as well be classified as attempted suicide. Recognizable samples unfailingly provide a context that the new song either has to hijack or fight tooth and nail against. Kendrick’s I is terrible because it never became a song outside of the sample, The Isley Brothers Who’s That Lady. The sample is just too powerful to be jacked in so wholesale of a fashion, taking the most recognizable parts (the drums and guitar), for a song about anything other than the sample’s topic. So the sexy guitars from the original ode to a mystery woman create a cool vibe, yet here’s Kendrick talking (in such an annoyingly weird voice) and rapping (well, as usual) about loving himself despite his circumstances and external opinions. The mesh doesn’t work, because that tonal gap is too far for me to jump, so the song ends up feeling corny and sappy. I love the sentiment that went into I, but beyond that I have no interest in this final product.

2. Wu-Tang Clan – A Better Tomorrow

Actually, there’s a lot of parallels from this song to Kendrick’s latest. The next album is highly anticipated. The song is driven by one huge, classic R&B sample. It’s about issues worthy of discussion.

AND

It also fails in execution. This time, the sample is Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes’ Wake up Everybody. Just as classic, and just as weird to be used to be used in a rap song. Again, the most recognizable parts of the sample are jacked. Not sampled and chopped, JACKED. But one key difference that makes this song semi-listenable is that the mood and topic match from the sample to the new song. Making a better world is the theme of both songs, and where the original focused on general problems and gave instructions, the Wu’s song spends a lot more time pointing out what’s wrong and is focused on issues directly affecting Black people, like police brutality.

While I’m happy to hear the thematic consistency, I just don’t like the Wu-Tang using this sample this way. It’s too hopeful for everyone’s verses of aimless, nuanceless complaints. Method Man’s verse is at least delivered well but it seems that no one else could muster the energy required for the track’s faster than average tempo. I’m all for Wu-Tang’s version of consciousness. And A Better Tomorrow is a much better mainstream attempt to deal with police brutality than Rick Ross and Game’s trash-ass song. So while I’m happy that the Wu-Tang Clan is back and making more music with a message, I hope that the rest of their album is much better at getting their messages across.

So concludes the first part of the Airing of Grievances. Coming next will be the lambasting of a recent album!

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