If you’re new to this series, be warned that my musical taste is all over the map, and many of the albums you’ll see here will not be covered by mainstream media. Kendrick Lamar, an artist whose album is featured this week, represents an exception. Linda Sharrock — unfairly remembered as only the wife of avant guitarist Sonny Sharrock and the vocalist behind this song from 1969 — are in my spotlight this week.
NO IS NO (DON’T F**K AROUND WITH YOUR WOMEN)
I had an unforgettable email exchange with Judy Worrell a few years ago where she mentioned how her husband, legendary keyboardist Bernie Worrell, hears music in everything he encounters.
But could the example of Brother Worrell apply to all creators — let’s say, a left-of-center vocalist whose debilitating stroke left her confined to a wheelchair and in possession of vocal chords which cannot form conventional words? Linda Sharrock’s LP, No is No (Don’t F**k with Your Women), provides a crisp answer.
The two-song release consists of the title track — in improvised live and studio versions — and is supported by a smoking-hot ensemble in Itaru Oki (trumpet, flugelhorn), Mario Rechtern (reeds, saxolin) Eric Zinman (piano), Makoto Sato (drums) and Yoram Rosilio (double bass).
I winced a few times while hearing the album not because of major artistic flaws, but for some of the striking, emotional phrasing Sharrock delivers. While fitting into the conventional category of being “handicapped,” Sharrock demonstrates a sense of rhythm and spiritual intelligence with respect to the music she hears — talents her stroke could not remove.
The album should serve as a testament to everyone who feels the need to create…
TO PIMP A BUTTERFLY
TOP DAWG ENTERTAINMENT
Compton-based rapper Kendrick Lamar could have easily made a carbon copy of the Grammy-nominated good kid, m.A.A.d. city album for his third release by calling up the usual crew of hot Pop producers, and inviting radio-friendly performers like Drake to share a few bars, but Lamar did something more daring when he created To Pimp a Butterfly—an album that shares elements of the Black creative experience which you’ll likely never see on Fox News Channel. While I wasn’t a fan of the derivative, mass appeal production in good kid, I’m completely feeling Butterfly.
I was drooling about the team behind this album before I even heard it: producer and beat creator Flying Lotus, Parliament Funkadelic’s George Clinton, bassist Thundercat, modern Soul vocalist Bilal, Jazz pianist Robert Glasper, Soul songstress Lalah Hathaway and many other shining members of the musical underground. The album’s Progressive Jazz, Funk, Future Soul, and Boom Bap flavors ensure that you’ll never hear a generic musical moment.
Since I don’t intend for this post to be an album review, I won’t provide a detailed analysis of Butterfly, but I want to mention that I think Lamar has used the album to mess with your brain on several levels. The lyricism is super dense with the “nigga” and “bitch” references naturally standing out, but the two words were never made out of endearment or a need to cast hatred. Since Lamar is exploring poetic dimensions beyond rhyming, you need to listen to the lyrics to dig his broader messages. Butterfly can be considered a concept album, but each song represents a distinct story, filled of poetic devices to describe slave masters, police brutality, black disempowerment, misguided politicians and black-on-black hatred. He also uses each song to gradually build a larger poem, which in the end turns out to be an ode to Tupac in the form of a conversation. Lamar lyrically acknowledges that most of you won’t understand or dig his change in creative direction, but decided that you need to hear it anyway.
I know it’s only late March, but I would still be surprised if this release does not make the critics’ lists of year-end best albums…