Monday, June 12, 2017

XXX:U2 and Kendrick Lamar

I have been meaning to give a serous listen to Kendrick Lamar for nearly two years, and who do you think finally managed to pull me all the way in? Bono, naturally. In the months leading up to David Bowie's release of his last album, "Black Star," a lot was written how Lamar's "To Pimp a Butterfly" was an inspiration for Bowie. He appreciated the jazz-like structure of Lamar's work and looked to do the same for his new songs. Apparently, Bowie was spending a lot of time in a small jazz club in NYC and poached a few of the musicians to record with him to make the new sound, for what I would argue is his best conceptual album. I had always appreciated Bowie, but "Black Star," to me, showed his real genius. And being Irish, the morbidity of the fact that he wrote his own requiem, not unlike Mozart, is pure poetry.

My niece saw Kendrik in Miami recently and called to tell me how awesome he was. And I thought, oh yeah, I have some homework to do. And in checking out his new album, "Damn," I saw that U2 guested on one of the tracks. I belong to the U2 fan club ... you would think that they would send the notification that they did a song with Kendrick Lamar! I immediately found the song and album to hear what I had figured was going to be really powerful. I read that Bono met Kendrick's producer at a Jimmy Iovine lunch. The producer didn't recognize Bono, but liked his groove. When he was told that he was the lead singer of U2, the hook-up was decided. 

Here is what Billboard had to say about the strange bedfellows ... it will take some of my bias out: 

"Just writing that sentence makes it seem weird all over again. Yet listening to the politically charged "XXX," you're struck by how smooth the unlikely meeting of the minds is, how jarring Bono's dulcet voice sounds sliding into the song whose first half uses a police siren on loop amid lyrics about fame and violent revenge. "It's not a place/ This country is to be a sound of drum and bass," Bono croons, "You close your eyes to look around."

Lamar then doubles down on themes U2 has mined for decades: faith, greed and the duality of America as a place that both welcomes and turns away. Like any musician whose ears are influenced by anything and everything they hear throughout their lives, Kendrick's connection to rock is clearly not as distant as it may seem. 

Getting back to U2, though: Kendrick's years-long deep dive into the heart of jazz also has parallels into U2's Joshua Tree-era exploration of American soul and blues, their attempt to find a common thread that binds us and spans oceans and knocks down barriers between race and background. In looking backwards to sounds from a different genre and an earlier era for inspiration, Kendrick is seeking out the links that connect us even as he sings about the things that divide us."

I'm going to give "Damn" a good hard listen before I move on to "To Pimp a Butterfly." I will get there, but I'll savor this first.

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