Kendrick Lamar

From Drake’s surprise mixtape to Kendrick Lamar’s highly anticipated three-year project, To Pimp a Butterfly, it’s been a notable few months for rappers. If you need to catch up, here are four rappers producing boundary-pushing content in 2015. 

Kendrick Lamar

With the release of his third album, To Pimp a Butterfly, Lamar bridges the gap between rap and social commentary better than anyone in the game. 

Lamar draws attention to social injustices in the music video for the record’s first single, “i,” and then tells listeners that his name is Uncle Sam in the album’s first song, “Wesley’s Theory.” One thing is for sure about this album: It’s different. 

It’s different than his mixtapes,differentthan Section.80, different than good kid, m.A.A.d city. Seventies funk influences are most apparent in tracks such as “King Kunta” and “These Walls,” but groovy melodies and electric bass are present throughout. 

To read a full review of Lamar's newest album, click here.

Artists you might like — Schoolboy Q, A$AP Rocky, SZA

Listen now: “i,” Kendrick Lamar

 

Wale

Wale deserves his self-assigned title, “Ambassador of Rap the Capital.” The District of Columbia native has been recording rap anthems for his fans since the early 2000s but didn’t release his first album, Attention Deficit, until 2009. His time in the industry boded well for his latest project, The Album About Nothing. The impressive track list features contributions from J. Cole, SZA,   Usher and, most interestingly, Jerry Seinfeld. Seinfeld’s narration is a particular highlight.

A good number of these connections were likely made with the help of British producer and DJ Mark Ronson — the man behind Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie” and Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk”  — who discovered Wale’s MySpace account and subsequently produced his 100 Miles & Running mixtape.

Artists you might like — J. Cole, Drake, Lupe Fiasco

Listen now: “The White Shoes,” Wale

 

Little Simz

Little Simz ranks as the youngest and most vibrant rapper on this list. Winner of Snoop Dogg’s most recent Underground Heat MC battle, the rapper, whose real name is Simbi Ajikawo, packs her verses with material that seems to be straight from her diary. She rarely sings beyond the necessary hooks, and it’s the experimental nature of her tracks that keeps listeners coming back.

Ajikawo, 21, is no stranger to the spotlight. Ajikawo starred in two BBC TV series, “Youngers” and “Spirit Warriors,” before pursuing her rap career on a full-time basis. With six mixtapes and a full-length album dropped in five years, Little Simz established herself as a compelling lyricist with a distinctive British accent who isn’t slowing down.

Artists you might like — Estelle, The Weeknd, GoldLink

Listen now: “Intervention,” Little Simz

 

Earl Sweatshirt

If you attended South By Southwest, it’s likely you or someone you knew saw Earl Sweatshirt. He performed two official shows and a number of unofficial ones to promote the release of his latest album, I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside: An Album by Earl Sweatshirt. Earl is one of the most enigmatic characters in the rap industry,  and this album certainly reflects that.

Fair warning: You won’t find a single clean track on this album. The beats are as dark as the lyrics, leaving you slightly concerned for Earl’s well being. It’s easy to write off a melodramatic 21-year-old, but it’s obvious he’s pushing boundaries and enjoys questioning authority.

Artists you might like — Tyler, The Creator, Frank Ocean, MF Doom

Listen now: “Grief,” Earl Sweatshirt

 

Waiting another week for Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly would have been torture. Whether Interscope Records accidentally released the album early on iTunes, or the album was somehow leaked and Top Dawg Entertainment responded by releasing it properly, the most anticipated record of 2015 is in our hands.

The album’s title seems to be a play on words of Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.” In the novel, the mockingbird symbolizes the black man wrongfully accused of rape and the other characters that, as Maude Atkinson said, “sing their hearts out.” Like mockingbirds, butterflies cause no harm; they’re just innocent animals. Over the course of the album, Lamar insists it is horrible to characterize innocent black men as hustlers rather than human beings. That theme — the
unjustified persecution of black men — is carried throughout the entire album. “King Kunta” is the first heavy-handed track to feature an angry Lamar. The funk-infused beats and production fit perfectly with the style of the entire album. This song sounds nothing like Lamar’s previous work, such as good kid, m.A.A.d city. “King Kunta” is all about feeling “in the moment,” and, in this moment, he’s pissed.

In the context of this new album, the previously released “The Blacker the Berry” manages to be uplifting yet menacing. Back in February, the track sounded groundbreaking. Surrounded by other tracks, it feels oddly simple; the beat is a straightforward drum loop, and there’s a fairly standard verse-chorus structure. It really says something about the adventurous spirit of the entire album when this song feels predictable. The radicalized self-hatred throughout the song — especially in the last lines —  still hit me every time.

Although the entire album is quite heavy, it’s not the emotional lyrics, but rather the beats and production, that stand out and set the entire feeling of the record. To Pimp a Butterfly is far from the style you’ll hear in most hip-hop records created today. “Institutionalized” features appearances from Bilal and Snoop Dogg, but Lamar doesn’t need a supporting cast to put on a great show. The complete beat switch in this song is a sign that he doesn’t want the listener to ever be comfortable. It took a while to understand, but the flow on this song feels amazing.

“Momma” features a beat smoother than anything on the entire album. The elements of soul and funk just pour out into every crack and seam of the song. Listening to Lamar’s story is hypnotizing, but, when the beat changes, it’s just another reminder that he doesn’t want the listener to establish solid ground. “Hood Politics” is a fascinating breakdown of how people communicate. Lamar returns to form, dropping heavy lines, such as “Critics want to mention that they miss when hip-hop was rappin’ / Motherfucker if you did, then Killer Mike’d be platinum.”

Yet again, the first 10 seconds of this song sound nothing like the song a minute in — and again, the lyrics always give the listener the impression there’s a deeper meaning waiting for those ready to dig.

Let’s not forget “i”, which did a complete 180 and became a standout on an album full of amazing performances. The album had me scrambling when this track began as a more electrifying version of the upbeat single Lamar released last September. The spoken word/freestyle Lamar uses to end the track is impeccable. It feels more like a scene from a movie than a song.

“Mortal Man” closes with a return to form as Lamar “interviews” 2Pac. This track stumbles, but by this point, it doesn’t matter. Lamar doesn’t seem to care about competition in rap anymore — his sights are set on conquering all of music.

When good kid, m.A.A.d city came out, it seemed as if it was going to be a classic. It might have been hard to get through, but, after a little time to digest the album, many of the songs were clear and invigorating. I may never understand To Pimp a Butterfly. Even if you’re not a fan of rap, To Pimp a Butterfly is a must-listen. The path Lamar chose to take is a difficult one, and the album itself is a challenge to follow and understand. Almost nothing about Lamar’s future is certain, but one thing this album establishes for sure: Kendrick Lamar is one of the greatest creative minds alive today.

Horns Up: University recasts ‘In The Heights’ Musical

In November of last year, the College of Fine Arts promised to recast its upcoming production, “In the Heights” — a musical that follows the lives of 12 Dominican-American teenagers living in New York — after receiving backlash for casting professional guest actors instead of students. In the original casting, nine of the 12 lead roles were given to professional actors, as the outside creative team felt there were not enough qualified students of color in the theatre department to fill the need. On Friday, The Daily Texan reported that the theatre department both recast the production with minority students and hired an entirely new creative team to oversee the play’s production. Not only are we pleased that the college has made good on its casting promise, but we are glad that it has chosen to start fresh with a new director, musical director and choreographer, signaling that they aren’t afraid of making drastic changes in response to well-deserved  criticism. 

Photo: Debby Garcia, Daily Texan Staff. Theater department officials have a discussion with students about the casting of "In the Heights" in November. 

Horns Down: Macklemore beats out Kanye and Kendrick

On Sunday, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis won three Grammys for Best Rap Album, Best Rap Song and Best Rap Performance, effectively sweeping the rap categories at this year’s ceremony. And while Macklemore is certainly a talented artist worthy of the accolades he’s gotten over the past year, it’s both disappointing and disheartening the awards didn’t go to Kanye West or Kendrick Lamar. Sure, The Heist is a great album, and “Thrift Shop” will go down in history as the first single to reach the top of the Billboard Hot 100 without the support of a major record label. But at the end of the day, Macklemore’s fun, accessible pop pales in comparison to the heartfelt and deeply meaningful music of the other nominees. The intense racial commentary of West’s Yeezus is definitely harder to listen to than The Heist, and the harsh narrative of Lamar’s Compton upbringing on Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City is less accessible than a silly song about buying second-hand clothes. But the path of least resistance is seldom the most worthwhile, especially when it comes to art. Horns down to the Grammys for overlooking two veritable hip-hop masterpieces in favor of Macklemore’s easily digestible pop.

Horns Down: Students don’t know much about recycling

Though Austin continues to encourage recycling efforts and reduce wastefulness, information on how and where to recycle properly is not reaching UT students living in high-capacity dorms and apartments, according to an article by The Daily Texan released Friday. The city requires complexes with more than 50 units to allow 25 percent of waste disposal space for recycling, but the city’s policies and ordinances are not well enforced. Property owners and managers, consequently, don’t put in the effort to inform student tenants, who are often unaware of these recycling opportunities. Any student who has gone grocery shopping since last March is aware of the city’s stance on limiting wasteful plastic bags, and many students make an effort to utilize the recycling containers on campus. Educating students about apartment recycling options could lead to a similar surge in compliance. Property owners should take the time to point students in the right direction, instead of assuming that they already know their recycling options.

 

Photo Credit: Stephanie Vanicek | Daily Texan Staff

Of all the experiences I had at ACL this year, the strangest by far was seeing three young, unsupervised children in the middle of a crowd going wild for Kendrick Lamar, a rap artist known mainly for his rhymes about the palliative effects of “Pussy and Patron.” Beside the kids, a college-aged man lit up a joint just above their heads. The moment made me pause and ask: What exactly, if anything, is wrong about this situation, and what am I supposed to be doing about it?

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with enjoying explicit music. It’s possible, too, that these kids couldn’t tell the difference between tobacco smoke and marijuana smoke, and even if they could have, they may not have known that they were witnessing an illegal activity. What frustrated me, then, was that the young man besides them was completely ignoring his duties as a role model.

Cristine Legare, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology, has researched the ways in which children imitate others. Her research has shown that when a child sees two individuals engaging in the same activity, they may conclude that such an activity — for example, sharing a toke at a Kendrick Lamar concert — is an acceptable social convention. Contrastly, her research also indicates that a child’s prior knowledge plays a large role in determining whether or not that action is socially acceptable.

So do college students have a duty to serve as role models when in the presence of children? College students as a group, admittedly, don’t have the greatest reputation. Type in “College students are” to the Google search bar and you’re prompted with the words “stupid, annoying, lazy, idiots [and] snobs.” Not quite a ringing endorsement. But the evidence points toward how college-enrolled millennials are actually quite admirable as a group, especially when it comes to civic engagement and volunteering. 

For example, a Spring 2013 poll by the Harvard Institute of Politics showed that nearly 53 percent of college students volunteer on a regular basis. According to the Longhorn Center for Civic Engagement, 75 percent of UT students volunteered last year, for a total of 1,000,000 hours that year alone.

Just by being enrolled at UT, a world-class institution of higher learning with a recognizable brand, we may already be seen as role models, whether we are aware of it or not. To the kids who visit campus throughout the year for events such as Explore UT or Ready, Set, Go, the campus and its constituency represent what the future could hold.

Ultimately, we enrolled at UT for a reason:  To learn how we can best transform lives for the benefit of society. We attend university to become virtuous contributors to civic society, be it through the accumulation of technical skills or the development of critical faculties. In both cases, the goal is to contribute to progress in society. In this sense, by gaining a university education, we not only contribute to our own self-betterment but also to the betterment of society.

While I’m not advocating that we stop enjoying ourselves as we see fit, I do think we need to be aware of how we project ourselves to those around us, especially easily-impressed-upon youngsters. On principle, I don’t think that smoking marijuana is an impermissible act, but I do believe that breaking the law in public sets a bad example for kids who see us.  As contributors to civic life, we should be mindful of how we interact with the youth in our community and try to personify the values we wish for our society — at ACL and elsewhere.

Sridhar is a Plan II, math and economics sophomore from Sugar Land.

ACL Weekend Two: Teenagers at Kendrick Lamar and running to Moody Theatre

Friday 

The first time I went to ACL in 2004, the festival was way smaller. This year was my fifth time attending, and being a part of the first two-weekend format felt very special.

As soon as I walked through the gates, I was lured all the way across the field by Savages’ bewitching performance. Their performance was as dark and thunderous as the rain clouds looming overhead, making me nervous for how the rest of the day would go. I couldn’t help but wonder why Savages was playing directly adjacent to Austin Kiddie Limits and chuckled to myself as I imagined their reactions.

I left Pinback’s set at the Bud Light Stage early to get a good spot for Local Natives. The five of them came out on stage dressed in clothes that looked like they were all from Urban Outfitters. The band informed the crowd that the night before that they invited their touring bassist, Nik Ewing, to join the band and that this was their last United States date on tour. After watching my favorite song of theirs, “Colombia,” I headed off for some much needed relaxation and whiskey.

After seeing one Depeche Mode song that was super boring, I went to Muse. Even though I have seen them twice before, I’ll never miss a Muse show. Front man Matthew Bellamy channeled Jimi Hendrix in a surprisingly ballsy, but only semi-cool, rendition of the National Anthem. 

Saturday

Day two had a lot of potential but sacrifices had to be made. Seeing Kendrick Lamar up close was my only objective for the day.

I got to the festival later than I had expected because of a massive hangover. I tried to power walk past slower attendees, but despite my efforts, only managed to catch half of Portugal. The Man.

Determined to see Kendrick Lamar, I forced my way to the front of the crowd at the Honda Stage, only to find it occupied exclusively by a pack of high school kids asking me for alcohol. I waited in that sweaty, preteen crowd for an hour, praying to the rap gods to send me the prophet Kendrick Lamar. Lamar opted to use a medley approach instead of performing full songs. He played most of last year’s Good Kid, m.A.A.d city, to the delight of myself and the teenyboppers alike.

I pushed my way out of the children’s playground a wiser man, though I was covered in sweat and germs. I saw The Cure play a few songs before I decided that I didn’t want to look at a fat, old man with goth makeup anymore (sorry Robert Smith). Kings of Leon was killing it at their stage and I managed to get surprisingly close to see the last 30 minutes of their set. They closed with “Use Somebody,” as the clouds broke open and poured rain on the huge crowd. It’s the moments like that which make ACL worth all of the struggles.

Sunday

I woke up at 10:30 a.m. on what should have been day three of ACL and stared at one of the most devastating text messages I’ve ever received: “Omggg they cancelled ACL.” 

ACL had never been cancelled before, it just didn’t seem possible.

I laid in bed in nonviolent protest until 3:00 p.m., when my roommates were determined to get me out of my funk with the one thing that always cheers me up: Chinese food. Things started looking up. Then I remembered the ACL Official After Shows and that, most importantly, Waka Flocka Flame would be playing with Borgore and Steve Aoki. 

I entered Austin Music Hall a little late and saw Flocka’s huge frame in the crowd, pushing his way around just as his DJ started playing “No Hands.” I yelled and offered a prayer to the Based God for giving me this opportunity. 

After Waka Flocka Flame’s performance, another revelation hit me: Atoms For Peace was playing right down the street.

I ran the four blocks to the Moody Theatre through a light mist and could hardly breathe, more from excitement rather than exhaustion, and I threw my money at the ticket clerk. I ran up the stairs and burst into the venue to witness Thom Yorke, Flea and three other, less-notable musicians perform their strangs, rhythmic alternative rock. The performance was incredbile. 

In spite of the weather taking my dreams of day three away, I had a great day. I had one of those nights where you think the city is built just for you, and that the entire world revolves around your happiness.

In the past decade, rappers were influenced by and compared to ‘80s acts such as Ice-T (“pioneers of gangster rap”) and Run-D.M.C. (“pioneers of sampling”). Eighteen-year-old rapper Jon Walter, also known as Jon Waltz, has already been compared to Drake and Kendrick Lamar — quite possibly proof of a new generation of hip-hop artists.  

“It’s cool because to me [Kendrick Lamar and Drake] are like two of the best to ever do it,” Waltz said. “It’s crazy to me.”

The Memphis native has been spending his summer in studios, working on new songs and experimenting with the genre. He started rapping two and a half years ago at age 15, when someone outside of his main friend group approached him.

“He was like, ‘Yo, you should get on this song with me,’ and that’s just kind of how it started out,” Waltz said.

Although his SoundCloud account has a modest 433 followers, his song “Bang (Left My Home)” has more than 16,000 plays. The notable feature of the song is that the hook is not only radio-friendly, but can stay in your head for hours. Song structure and chorus writing is the biggest loss when it comes to the underground hip-hop game, but Waltz has nearly mastered the art already.

“I want to make something catchy enough to stay in your head, with like meaning to it,” Waltz said. “But I also want to spit crazy ass verses.”

It is common to see producer-rapper teams, such as Killer Mike and El-P who released R.A.P. Music and Run The Jewels, have almost a best friend relationship with both working on bettering the other. On his freshman EP Airways Blvd., Waltz teamed up with producer Cypress Austin, known as Zayd, for five of the six tracks, including “Bang.” The production is sample-based, mellow and hi-hat heavy.

“Well, Jon is like blood to me; I’m probably with him more than I’m with anybody else,” Zayd said. “So naturally working with him is very easy, everything comes very fluid. We’re both on the same page almost all the time and we’re constantly working, so just I’m excited to see what comes next.”

Currently, Waltz is working on a new label with rapper Skizzy Mars called Penthouse. They are keeping the project under wraps — in fact, Google yields almost no results until you add “Skizzy Mars” into your search.

“It’s still in the works,” Waltz said. “I’m the first artist on it minus Skizzy Mars. I want to keep it as minimal as possible — I’m in the process of removing all the photos of me on the Internet.”

Both Waltz and Mars are hesitant to reveal very much information about the label, however, they are clear about one thing: It will be big.

“[Penthouse is] everything. Youth, culture, vibrance, the future,” Mars said. “[You] definitely will be hearing a lot more about it soon.”

In the meantime, Waltz does not plan for music to be his only accomplishment. He will be a freshman in college this upcoming year at the University of Missouri, and has plans to complete college before thinking about going full time as an artist.