Kendrick Lamar – ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’
How to come to grips with Kendrick Lamar’s ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’, an album so densely layered that no one (with the possible exception of Kendrick himself) has heard the whole thing? Where cosmic funk wallows in Stygian gloom, and even Pharrell isn’t happy but merely ‘Alright’?
The largely percussionless ‘U’ – playing heads to the bushy tails of Grammy-winning self-esteem-a-thon single ‘I’ – is a good place to start. Saxophones whimper, Kendrick growls, and when the beat finally breaks so does he: ‘I know you’re irresponsible, selfish, in denial, can’t help it / Your trials and tribulations a burden, everyone felt it’. It’s among the 27-year-old’s most affecting moments, less rapped than bawled, and one that for all its substantive weight owes just as much to pure style.
On ‘U’, we delight in the skill and versatility of rap’s arch vocalist, a man with more range than Mariah’s five octaves, even while we shudder at the power of his message. And we do the same throughout ‘…Butterfly’ as it rages through race, politics, fame and consumerism.
Musically, the follow-up to 2012’s ‘Good Kid, MAAD City’ doesn’t draw on influences so much as hand them a cheque. George Clinton, Ronald Isley and Snoop Dogg all make appearances as ‘…Butterfly’ flutters from P-Funk to jazz, G-funk to soul, spoken word to straight-up hip hop. Highlights, and there are many, include the Pharrell-produced (lawsuit pending) ‘Alright’ – pushed uphill by a plaintive jazz choir – and the haunting ‘How Much a Dollar Cost’, heavily indebted to Radiohead’s ‘Pyramid Song’.
‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ makes no attempt at the charts, or even hip hop radio. Instead, it’s aimed squarely at the musical canon that inspires it. ‘I got the world’s attention so I’ma say something’s that’s vital,’ raps Kendrick. In that, and in so much else, he succeeds.
In case you didn’t know, Scandinavia is cool right now. The food, the fashion, the facial hair – plus the Vikings have invaded the British Museum. All we need next is a healthy economy, a reliable public transport system and a sense of social justice, and London will be indistinguishable from Oslo. Meanwhile in Hackney, there’s yet another Northern European-inspired incursion. Or apparently so: the website claims this bar-restaurant-club draws on ‘a Nordic aesthetic’, although it’s not immediately obvious within. Oslo occupies the previously deserted old Hackney rail station and takes on a bit of a railway theme with its luggage-rack lighting, plus there are industrial stylings that give the whole place a Janet Jackson ‘Rhythm Nation’ video feel. The restaurant part is rather fancy, its food incorporating a few of the forages, pickles, jellies and marinations of New Nordic cooking. The kitchen is regularly given over to guest chefs, and you have to book – it’s always heaving. Eat in the bar and the food is more straightforward. Where once the standard snack in pubs was a toastie, sausage roll or pork pie, now it’s the slider or fried chicken. These are served alongside frankly obscene portions of chips, slathered with the likes of cured bacon fat and bacon salt, or braised oxtail, gravy and cheese. There’s a commendable range of craft beers from the vicinity, including a couple from Five Points Brewing just five minutes up the road at the Downs.Head upstairs and you’ll find a
Venue says: “Join us every Thursday night until late for Soul Soul Soul – a night of vinyl appreciation with DJs playing soul, funk, disco and more.”