“The Blacker the Berry”

There was actually another significant music happening, this one in the hip hop world, I’d intended to include with my last post, but which I think deserves to be more than a footnote. Kendrick Lamar dropped something that, in my opinion, carries more weight than either Kanye’s pulling-a-Kanye or Drake’s pulling-a-Beyoncé (seriously, surprise album releases are so 2013, and they don’t even end up winning you the Grammy riiiiiight?). At this point we’re all well aware that the past year-or-so has been a tough one, to put it lightly, for race relations in our country. Ideas of fairness and progress have been challenged; notions of privilege and disparity have been given unprecedented attention.

With these challenges and new perspectives has come a whole, confusing, spectrum of emotions for people of all colors. Kendrick’s never had a problem tackling the hard subjects in his lyrics, though. Section.80 was such a powerful and insightful album for me (I’ll never forget hearing, “‘How old are you?’ She say 22, I say 23. ‘Okay, then we all crack babies.'” for the first time.), and it opens with a pretty simple, if impractical, solution to the Race Problem: fuck your ethnicity. That said, Kendrick’s proud of his. While remaining true to his heritage, he goes to great lengths to subvert stereotypes about and realities within his community. His breakthrough hit “Swimming Pools” poses as a standard party anthem but is really a scathing critique of the shallowness of a lifestyle centered around excess. He shines on Pusha T’s “Nosetalgia,” using the tale of his rejection of the drug-dealing legacy handed to him by his father and grandfather (“Pops, your ass is washed up, with all due respect… Every verse is a brick. Your son dope!“) to counter Pusha’s sentimental reflection on his own crack-slinging days. And last year’s “i,” which the Academy did find Grammy-worthy, is a celebration– an affirmation of love even when the world’s a ghetto full of big guns and picket signs.

“The Blacker the Berry,” to use a completely unoriginal comparison, may well be the Malcolm X to “i”‘s Martin Luther King, Jr. It’s aggressive and pushes buttons. You’re supposed to feel uncomfortable in parts. Put simply, it’s an honest and heartbreaking glimpse into the mindset of a black man in America, revolving around an enigmatic ‘hypocrisy’. But I’ll leave the more knowledgeable interpretations to the Pulitzer Prize winners and bow out here. Remember this: every race start from the block.

In this final couplet, Kendrick Lamar employs a rhetorical move akin to—and in its way even more devastating than—Common’s move in the last line of “I Used to Love H.E.R.”: snapping an entire lyric into place with a surprise revelation of something hitherto left unspoken. In “H.E.R.”, Common reveals the identity of the song’s “her”—hip hop itself—forcing the listener to re-evaluate the entire meaning and intent of the song. Here, Kendrick Lamar reveals the nature of the enigmatic hypocrisy that the speaker has previously confessed to three times in the song without elaborating: that he grieved over the murder of Trayvon Martin when he himself has been responsible for the death of a young black man. Common’s “her” is not a woman but hip hop itself; Lamar’s “I” is not (or not only) Kendrick Lamar but his community as a whole. This revelation forces the listener to a deeper and broader understanding of the song’s “you”, and to consider the possibility that “hypocrisy” is, in certain situations, a much more complicated moral position than is generally allowed, and perhaps an inevitable one.

(Michael Chabon‘s two cents on Genius.com)

Pitchfork Music Festival (INCLUDING MORE GIFS)

Marlon and I took a vacation a couple of weeks ago that we kicked off at the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago. We flew in late on Friday so had to miss attractive acts like Sharon van Etten (coming to the Jefferson in October, though!) and Beck, but Saturday and Sunday had plenty of good ones in store. We spent most of Saturday with Lee, an old friend of Marlon’s whose wedding we’d be attending the following weekend in Champaign; and parts of Sunday with Stephanie, a high school friend of mine, and her boyfriend Darrel.

wild beasts 2

nice 'stache

nice ‘stache

we too had such flowers...

more random crowd pictures?

we arrived early to get a good spot for pusha t and everything, and then he was late as hell.

we arrived early to get a good spot for Pusha T and everything, and then he was late as hell.

sunglass swap

sunglass swap

we like and love each other.

we like and love each other.

marlon & lee

marlon & lee

lee ang mar pitchfork ang sunglasses

we caught Danny Brown from afar.

We were pretty amped up for a few of the night shows: St. Vincent, FKA twigs, and Neutral Milk Hotel. St. Vincent’s set opened with a HAL/“Fitter Happier”-sounding voice requesting that we don’t “digitally capture” our experience and I chose to obey the robot. But hey, someone else got the whole set on tape so. Go nuts.

It was a pity to have to dip out early to catch twigs, but also worth it. Think she’s really starting to blow up.

And due to allegedly typical stage fright (or something to that effect), Neutral Milk Hotel did not have their big screens on, and the stage was poorly lit, so that experience was a mostly audio one… Played pretty much everything you’d want to hear, though. Glad to have had the Jeff Mangum solo experience last year, as well.

neutral milk hotel pitchfork

Sunday I briefly joined Ollie in foxhood:

whole foods chicago fox pitchfork

Then we saw Perfect Pussy, and in an attempt to get a picture of her armpit hair, I took a bunch of pictures, so I made a gif.

perfect pussy pitchfork gif



makin friends.

makin friends.

(click for larger image)

(click for larger image)

me & mar goofin

ang flower



grimes pitchfork2

marlon flowers pitchfork stephanie flower pitchfork darren flower pitchfork gif

Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick Lamar was fantastic as the festival’s closer.

Then we went and had a photo shoot at a nearby bar until it made sense to actually attempt to get an Uber.

marlon bar marlon bar 2 ang bar ang bar two ang bar three

don't remember what the promise was, but i hope i haven't broken it.

don’t remember what the promise was, but i hope i haven’t broken it.

Oh and I made a big playlist with songs from all the festival bands, to include the ones from Friday.