Monthly Archives: November 2014

The Gospel of King Kendrick Lamar

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photo credit: karencivil.com

By: Justin Cook

Kendrick Lamar’s presence speaks for itself. The man is a poetic, and artistic, genius. No one else in this current formation of the universe has bars like Lamar. For a lot of hip-hop heads, he is the best emcee that has graced the mic in a long ass time; some even go as far as calling him the “resurrection of Tupac” or the “savior of hip-hop.” It’s like he’s on some Jesus-level shit, or a secret Super Saiyan, or possibly The One who will rescue us from The Matrix. I really don’t think anyone else could get away with having such an otherworldly, almost godlike, reputation. Kendrick is that dude. And in all honesty, he deserves it. The man has been laying down solid tracks since day one, when he still went under his original moniker, K-Dot. Now, I don’t like to claim anyone to be the “greatest,” but without a doubt, Kendrick is sure to be one of the greats, and I will break down why in this week’s installment of “The Poetry Of Kendrick Lamar.”

“Fuck Your Ethnicity” [Section.80]

This was the first song I heard by Kendrick Lamar, and still stands as one of my absolute favorites. The beat, the lyrics, and Kendrick’s peculiar flow: all a testament to the man’s wizardry with words. The opening lines always send a shiver down my spine: “Fire burning inside my eyes, this the music that save my life/ Ya’ll be calling it hip-hop, I be calling it hypnotize.” From that point forward, I’m straight hypnotized, rocking to the beat, awaiting the next sequence of powerful imagery. The way Kendrick moves from line to line through metaphor and double-speak is quite brilliant:

“My details be retail, man I got so much in store/ Racism is still alive, yellow tape and colored lines/ Fuck that, nigga look at that line, it’s so diverse/ They getting off work and they wanna see Kendrick/ Everybody can’t drive Benz’s and I been there/ So I make it my business to give’em my full attention, ten-hut!”

These bars are proof that Kendrick is “kicking that math, dropping that science like an alchemist.” They’re pure gold, shining like an angel. Good God Kendrick Lamar! This “business” is the scripture. I love how he flips “yellow tape and colored lines,” referring to crime, violence, and racial boundaries, with “look at that line, it’s so diverse,” referring to the people lining up to see Kendrick live; these folks break the “yellow tape and colored lines” and come together through the power of hip-hop. And as Kendrick has thoroughly “detailed” in this song, he’s about the give the people his full love and attention. Hallelujah!

“Faith” [Kendrick Lamar EP]

This song is just real as fuck, simple as that. It doesn’t use any elaborate metaphors or word play to impress the listener. It simply speaks universal truths of the human experience: struggle, death, temptation, and the power of faith. At its core, this song is all about maintaining in the face of adversity. Kendrick highlights his own struggles of gaining faith despite being “a person that never believed in religion,” but also extends out into a wider narrative: the struggle of black oppression. This oppression is intimately described in the second verse, which begins “Single black parent from Compton raising children of 4/ That’s 4 innocent bastards cause Papa they don’t know.” I love the way Kendrick blends his narrative seamlessly with the narrative of his people, or in other words, using his own experiences to speak about greater social and economic struggles. We need more of this in not only the hip-hop community, but also in the greater reality of humankind. This song is truly a beautiful piece of poetry that reminds us “the next time you feel like your world’s about to end/ I hope you studied because He’s testing your faith again.

“Cartoon & Cereal”

The whole aesthetic of this song is unreal. It’s so menacing, dark, and bleak—the feeling of a tortured existence. This aesthetic in and of itself speaks volumes. The track, aptly named “Cartoon & Cereal,” details Kendrick’s paradoxical childhood in Compton: “Now I was raised in a sandbox, next to you and her/ You was holding the handgun, she was giving birth.” Just those opening lines display the lyrical mastery of Kendrick Lamar. This “sandbox” comes to represent the whole of Compton, a small section of L.A. where life expectancy for young men is quite young, due to gang violence, lack of resources, drug addiction, and systematic oppression. These men never quite grow up, or grow out of this oppression, leaving them as children trapped in a metaphorical “sandbox.” The next line referring to the “handgun” and “giving birth” represents the vicious cycle that perpetuates this oppression. The handgun symbolisms the absent father, who is presumably out gangbanging instead of watching his child being born; the fact that it is a “handgun” invokes the idea that this violence is “handed” down from father to son, a reoccurring theme throughout the song. On the other hand, literally, we see a mother giving birth. The concept of birth, which gives life through spilling blood, juxtaposed with the notion of systemic violence, reinforces the issue that black bodies are born INTO a cycle of oppression, which they themselves did not create. Rather, it is a creation of the State and perpetuated by social institutions such as prisons, media outlets, and government. As Kendrick comments, cartoons and cereal represent unhealthy food and mindless entertainment; these are the new “Opiates of the Masses” that allow us to be continually controlled by the powers at be.

“Holy Ghost (Remix) [Ft. Kendrick Lamar]”

I’m not a big fan of Young Jeezy, but I had to include this jam on my list. Kendrick snaps on this shit right here. Similar to the menacing vibe we find on “Cartoon & Cereal,” this remix again shows us Kendrick’s dark side. At first listen, this may seem like another rap song glorifying sex, money, and drugs, but it is actually the exact opposite. To me, it reads more like the struggle of maintaining your faith and positivity while living in a Capitalist world full of temptation: the Lexus, Rolexes, sexting, and beaucoup bucks. It’s a song where we can see Kendrick expressing his anger and frustration in being a hip-hop superstar and role model. It’s a side we rarely see of Kendrick, but one I believe is just as honest, and important, as his positive side.

I also highlighted this track for its use of sound and intricate structure. First off, the assonance and alliteration carry this verse through. It’s almost unreal how slippery the sounds are: “Tee-Tee and Tiana sexting/ Teepees and mansions I rest in/ Two T’s and Top Dawg impress with/ TV’s that play their investment…” That shit is wild. It’s so damn smooth, almost like driving in the back of a Rolls Royce Phantom Ghost. On top of all that, the whole verse is syncopated the exact same way; it’s straight mathematical. To carry the same flow throughout sixteen bars is harder than it may seem. On top of that, there are four lyrical “breaks” in Kendrick’s flow, signifying the next onslaught of poetic genius, all end with the same rhyme: burn, turn, vrrrrrm, learn. Most emcees can’t even come close to this kind of artistry and attention to detail, further proof of Kendrick’s lyrical mastery.

“Poe Man’s Dreams (His Vice)” [Section.80]

“Smoke good, eat good, live good. Smoke good, eat good, live good…”

This is the jam. A song you can just chill out and vibe to. After a long day of stressing, this is the track I can rely on to level me out. Again, it’s Kendrick spitting some wisdom, and he’s not being flashy about it: “I know some rappers using big words to make their similes curve/ My simple as shit be more pivotal.” Just sit back and listen. Plus, GLC’s verse on the outro is crazy. This is the Gospel. Cathedral!

“Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst” [Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City]

This is hands down my favorite song by Kendrick Lamar. Actually, it’s one of my favorite songs of all time. It’s a masterpiece. It’s so raw. I could listen to it over and over again, all day, everyday. Within the narrative of Good Kid M.A.A.D. City, this song serves as an important, and intimate, moment. In each verse, Kendrick embodies a different voice—the third being his own—which shed light on the harsh realities of living in Compton. It’s just a beautiful song, spilling with great line after great line. And that beat! It’s so damn smooth. Plus, I love how the beat parallels the narrative, adding another layer of poetics. For example, the gunshots at the end of the first verse, which kills the speaker who can’t fully express what he “hopes” for, always tugs at my emotions; or, at the end of the second verse when the vocals fade away, despite the speaker who insists, she will never fade away. That shit is hard and gives this whole song another dimension of artistry. Plus, it seamlessly transitions into “I’m Dying of Thirst,” which illustrates the struggle of material vs. spiritual gain. Time to hop in that water and pray that it works.

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Bonus Cut Poetry: Grown (pt 1) by Abby Conklin

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This is Bonus Cut Poetry, a series that features original poems by Bonus Cut staff, artists and YOU! In this series, our mission is to bring people together in poetry, share stories and display wonderful artistic pieces. If you would like to have your poems in the next Bonus Cut Poetry installment, just email us at bonuscut@gmail.com

This installment features Bonus Cut’s own Abby Conklin.

Grow (pt 1)
By: Abby Conklin 

I miss the thing I thought normalcy
was, before I grew up and started
blowing money on booze.
On board games.  On getting
laid, and in fact failing to even GET laid.

Men do not look
at me and think “damn.”
Damn
I would like to take her home.
Damn
I wonder if she used to pull
the crusts off sandwiches.
Damn
I would like to know how her skin smells
after she falls asleep.
Damn
I would like to know the sound of her breathing
on one hundred degree days.  The way she opens
doors with sticky jambs, or answers
the phone when a telemarketer calls.

“Why does she drink without
the straw,” I want to be wondered
about. “Why is she letting it poke
her cheek every time she goes
to sip off the rim that I wish
was mine?”

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Album of the Week: “Run the Jewels 2” by Run The Jewels

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Daniel’s Thought

There was a point in 2012 when the hip-hop higher-ups decided it was in our best interest to experience a collaboration between longtime hip-hop pioneer El-P and Grind Time Atlanta legend Killer Mike.

Oh what a collaboration that was.

Killer Mike’s 2012 release R.A.P. Music was more than just a release. With El-P behind the 1’s and 2’s, Killer Mike was able to command a record that provided him the necessary tools as one of hip-hop’s elder spokesmen. On the flip side, R.A.P. Music gave El-P another notch on his belt as one of hip-hop’s most versatile artists. Long story short, both of them benefited from the collaboration, and both artists worked together like smooth butter over the perfect piece of toast.

In 2013, the two came together again–this time under the moniker Run the Jewels–to release a joint mixtape of sorts called, well, Run the Jewels. At 10 tracks deep, Run the Jewels is an exhilarating rush that’s innovative without sacrificing energy or suffering from hip-hop cliches. With Killer Mike’s baritone Atlanta cadence and El-P’s futuristic and intimidating delivery (both lyrically and production wise), Run the Jewels is a record that raises standards and snatches your jewelry all in one listen.

This year, they released their follow-up, Run the Jewels 2. As an official album release, this record feels more like an album than its predecessor. It’s distinctly split into two operating halves, and the production is cleaner without losing any of its gritty spit-in-your-face attitude. The opener, “Jeopardy,” starts off on that classic El-P space buzz–something that’ll throw you back into the Cold Vein days–and as Killer Mike cuts in, he makes it clear that nothing has changed. “Bad man chillin’, the villains is here,” he chucks. “No Jesuses here, I hear the demons in my ear.”

On Run the Jewels 2, El-P carries his own on every track. Although his flow has never been questioned (and why should it be?), there have been times throughout his career where critics treat him like second fiddle. With a very dense and metaphorical delivery about space and far-reaching fantasy stories, El-P is undoubtedly one of the most unique and talented MCs EVER. I would argue that Run the Jewels 2 isn’t one of the top examples you should use for this claim, but his moments come in bunches that clearly prove how smart he is as an artist. On “Lie, Cheat, Steal,” a haunting track that slowly jaunts like a Southern club banger, El-P opens it up: “Authorities have spoken, demanded your pure devotion/ Get magnetized to the ground while the falcons of murder close in/ I chose to go guano, yall know kinda bat shit/ The bright lights of fuckery stuck in me automatic.” Later in the verse, El-P explodes with double and triple flow bars, something he’s been doing since his Company Flow days (mind you, this is way before K-Dot’s time).

Elsewhere on the record, Run The Jewels stamp their brand all over the place. “Angel Duster” closes the album, and it moves like a trap beat that’s accompanying the Death Star. Slow boasting horns carry the flow, and in-and-out mechanics such as synths and chorus “oohs” help make the whole picture darker. With the Travis Barker-assisted “All Due Respect,” the harsh buzzes and spacey feels run parallel with a percussion mix that goes off on many vectors. “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry” follows “Jeopardy” and serves as the perfect “go HAM in your car” song that would make the predictable Diplo fancy a smile. Changing the scene a bit, if only momentarily, is “All My Life,” a track that starts with optimistic humming. The mood here is a bit more playful, with a dose of electronic organ notes that carry more of a “I could be friends with these dudes” vibe than a “holy shit they’re going to kill me” vibe.

What Run the Jewels 2 provides lyrically is intensity, maybe even more so than the debut. The downside here is that unlike their first record, there are very few instances where you see the two artists intertwining their bars in one verse, but that’s such a minute detail compared to the large picture. El-P’s characteristics are still here, and Killer Mike’s intricate methods of operation are ever present. If anything, this record provides more of a follow-up for Mike’s R.A.P. Music than Run the Jewels. On the aforementioned “Lie, Cheat, Steal,” he continues to put critics to rest:

“A revolutionary bangin’ on my adversaries/ And I love Dr. King but violence might be necessary/ Cause when you live on MLK it gets very scary/ You might have to pull your AK, send one to the cemetery/ We overworked, underpaid, and we underprivileged/ They love us, they love us (why?), because we feed the village/ You really made it or just became a prisoner of privilege?/ You willing to share that information that you’ve been given?”

If you’ve given Run The Jewels the credit they deserve, but haven’t yet picked up their second album, maybe you should get to your local music store and grab a copy of this. If you’re new to these guys, then start with their debut record–because who likes starting things out of order? All in all, everyone at some point should spin Run the Jewels 2, which is the perfect compliment to its older sibling that hits harder, gets darker and showcases hip-hop in a light where very little light is given.

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The Bump in the Night Beat Battle Recap

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By: Gus Navarro 

Hip-hop is a multi-faceted art form that can be difficult to categorize, and in my opinion, even more difficult to define. That being said, one thing that remains constant within the musical side of things is the presence of drums. In providing the tempo and rhythmic base for MCs to rap over, the beat has always been a key ingredient to hip-hop music. Hosted by the Lansing based hip-hop collective, All of the Above (AOTA), the Bump in the Night Beat Battle was a night full of on-point beats that made people holler and nod their heads in appreciation. Showcasing some of the best beat-making talent mid-Michigan has to offer, Bump in the Night brought old and new friends together, creating chances for fellow musicians to build with each other.

“It’s helping to get the creative juices flowing in Lansing,” said AOTA co-creator, Sareem Poems. “There’s artists here who don’t know about each other, and they’re getting a chance to meet and build possible collab opportunities. For us, it means the most to see this community come together and continue to build the hip-hop scene here in Lansing that people seem to forget about very easily.”

Consisting of four rounds, producers went head-to-head, each playing three beats for the crowd. Seated at the edge of the stage, four Judges, Seoul of the 61Syx Teknique B-boy crew, Matt Foust of 808 Ministries, KuriOto of the BLAT! Pack and Lansing legend, DJ Butcher, decided who moved on to the next round. These events can be difficult for judges because much of it is open to interpretation. During a pause in the competition, Seoul broke down the intricacies of judging a beat battle.

“All four judges are looking for something different. Each judge is looking for a certain thing in the beat so it changes things when it comes to judging. I’m looking for creativity and flavor,” he explained.“It’s a little bit different because my flavor isn’t going to be the same as somebody else’s flavor. So you gotta look at what appeals to everybody while also thinking about what catches your ear.”

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Nowadays, technology allows even the most average Joe the ability to make a beat. Anybody can press a button that sounds like a hand clap or kick drum, but that doesn’t make them a producer. A producer is someone who, with their percussive composition, is able to create energy and feeling from people who listen. Their beats make MCs want to rhyme and cause people to throw their hands to the sky.

Outersound Music Group producer, Young Heat, a previous beat battle champion and competitor, addressed his favorite part of being a part of beat battles: the people. “The people determine everything. We can have judges but if the crowd doesn’t like it, the judges won’t even matter.”

Young Heat may have been crowned victorious previously, but the night belonged to AOTA producer Ess Be. He climbed through the first two rounds, each of his beats seeming to get more sophisticated as the night went on. In a tense final round between Ess Be and The Sound Addict, another AOTA producer and past winner, Ess Be brought out all the stops, dropping trap beats and sampling Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and the Ghost Buster theme. Every producer brought it, but Ess Be seemed to have a little more heat on this particular night and it was clear that he’s been hard at work.

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Being in the crowd for this event was so much fun. With each beat drop, you could feel the positive energy and passion from the crowd as they erupted in cheers, always wanting more hi-hat sizzles and crispy snare hits. Behind a backdrop of pulse-pounding beats, I got to catch up with people I haven’t seen in awhile and just be around a community of people that have welcomed me and have shown me nothing but love and respect. Between each round, an MC performed as well, giving everyone a chance to vibe to some lyrics and take a break from the competition. First up was AOTA student, Evan, followed by Miles Young of Outersound Music Group and finally, Sareem Poems. DJ Choppy Blades was on hand, spinning the beats for each contestant and Ozay Moore, the creator of AOTA, kept things moving between rounds, MCing the event to perfection. There is no doubt that the Bump in the Night Beat Battle was a successful event. On a mild October night, beats were dropped and the crowd erupted with joy. It was a celebration of hip-hop and a reminder of all the good it has to offer in Lansing, and communities all over the world.

Congratulations to EssBe!

The Contestants:

Olos

IzzyOnTheBeat

KillaTuHot

Ess Be

Young Heat

Paul Psych

The Sound Addict

Studio Addicts

Y’s Council

Drelo Beats

Oj Payno

Choppy Blades

Alex Malone

Amel

 

 

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