If Kendrick Lamar is the future of rap, then the future is bright.
Last night while you were sleeping, Kendrick and what is best described as the neo-soul avengers helped send off The Colbert Report in epic fashion, as the show’s final musical guests. Backed by a band of musician’s musicians, including Flying Lotus protégé Thundercat on bass, Bilal and Sonnymoon’s Anna Wise on vocals, and Terrace Martin on sax, Kendrick debuted an “untitled” track that was the single greatest thing I’ve heard in music all year.
For the record, I’m not a Kendrick stan. I’m a stan of good music, who was admittedly more geeked at the mention of Thundercat and Bilal than Kendrick himself. But the fact that Kendrick, arguably one of the hottest rappers out right now, associates with these indie soul geniuses immediately tells me that what Kendrick is doing is bigger than hip hop. He’s elevating music, musicianship, and artistry, period.
“Untitled” is jazzy. It’s soul-full. It’s conscious. It’s indicative of a few brave genre-bending artists like D’Angelo (who’s finally back), Kendrick’s avengers on Colbert, and others, who are pushing music forward—regardless of who’s listening. Like Flying Lotus, who recently told Salon that if Miles Davis were alive to hear jazz today, he’d head straight back to his grave, I think Kendrick holds himself to a higher standard, one that would make the greats proud, and make them stroke their chin (Flying Lotus’ personal litmus test). And in truth, that is exactly what music needs right now.
Now, you’re probably wondering, as Bilal and Anna Wise so jazzily sang while backing Kendrick last night, “What did the black man say?” that has me all in my feelings, singing his total praises:
“Untitled” tells the story of being pulled in different directions by the pressures of the world, who you want to be, and who society says you should be—and the conflict and cost of it all.
An Asian man urges Kendrick to find “peace of mind.” An Indian man tells him to make wise investments. A black man tells him “nookie is power.” All while, the white man “telling me that he selling me for $10.99.” Kendrick rejects that. And by the end of the song, he comes to his own profound conclusion after a rousing sax solo from Terrace Martin that “I shall enjoy the fruits of my labor, if I get free today”
And then, “what the black man say?”
“Tell ‘em we don’t die!Tell ‘em we don’t die!Tell ‘em we don’t die!We multiply!”
Kendrick rapidly chants these last lines in repetition with Bilal and Anna Wise sing-shouting behind him, like a rallying cry. It was so potent, given all the ways the world is breaking many people, his people, down. And to that I say, alright then. If I was sleeping before, now I’m awake.
Let’s get free, Kendrick. Let’s get free.