Is Kendrick Lamar A Genius?

…and other mysteries of the universe that I am still coming to grips with!

by T. Patrick Carrabre  ¦   January 11 2018

During the pre-holiday period, I was struck by how many times Kendrick Lamar’s musicLamar popped up on my radar. A number of my students professed his genius in their term papers and the BU Big Band adapted one of his pieces for their term-end concert. When my son came home for the holidays I asked him what he thought, and his quick response was “Kendrick Lamar is a genius.”

I don’t get much time for exploratory listening when I am trying to finish a new piece, but as I shift into part copying mode (which has consumed my last month), I often search for new music. Spending hours and hours formatting page turns in orchestra parts and making sure that all of the minute visual details are taken care of, seems to leave at least a portion of my brain power “free,” so I took the opportunity to dig into Kendrick’s last two albums: To Pimp a Butterfly and DAMN.

At first I wasn’t really paying attention to the lyrics (so maybe less brain power than I thought!). On a purely acoustic level, I found Kendrick’s music to be rich – rhythmically sophisticated and filled with colouristic allusions to the past (I hear everything from Marvin Gaye to George Benson). But every once in a while his language would rip through my concentration. It was impossible to ignore phrases like “slap a pussy-ass nigga” and “this dick ain’t free” – especially when they repeat over and over. His world is a million miles from mine, so it took some real effort to get past the surface and focus on the message – which I think is ultimately about empowerment and responsibility in the face of societal violence and oppression.

That got me thinking about the recent controversy over the Victoria Secret models rapping along with Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow” – specifically the line “cut a n***** off.” Check out Ta-Nehisi Coates discussion of words that don’t belong to everyone:

There is a sea change coming and while it might not look like it if you watch the evening news, I really hope that we are poised to turn a positive corner on a whole number of issues, from Time’s Up to Truth and Reconciliation.

But based on the research I did in preparation to write my new choral work, “Just Society,” the concepts at the foundation of building a good and decent society have been well articulated for a couple of thousand years (Cicero wrote his De Officiis in 44 BCE)… and we still haven’t managed to make them work on a sustained basis. I’ll be working with the wonderful group Polycoro to bring this piece to life at the Winnipeg New MusicPET Festival. It’s based on speeches and writings by Pierre Elliott Trudeau, as well as texts from Cicero and Louis Riel. If you are in the Winnipeg area on January 29th, I hope I will see you there!

Much of the early part of this year’s NMF will be devoted to the music of Philip Glass – another composer whose work has challenged me over the years. I will always remember an evening at the Banff Centre, back in 1981. Fortified with scotch and cigars, a group of us set out to listen to the newly released recording of Einstein on the Beach. I didn’t get very far. At that time my developing modernist aesthetic just couldn’t deal with Glass’s minimalism. In those days, musicians from different styles didn’t listen across genres – at least not across partisan lines. It has taken me quite a few years, but thanks to the ongoing inclusiveness of the WNMF programming, I have come to admire and enjoy a number of his works, especially the First Violin Concerto:

Sometimes Glass’s music still eludes me though, so I’ll be interested to see how I do with a whole evening of his Piano Etudes. It’s going to be hard to top the impact of Meredith Monk’s shows from last year.

Sadly, I won’t be able to stay in Winnipeg for the whole NMF and I am especially sad that I will miss hearing the WSO perform Samy Moussa’s Symphony No. 1, Concordia. Here is a very impressive clip from the OSM premiere:

As this is our first post for 2018, let me wish you all a happy and positive 2018. If you have comments about

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