A COLLOQUY ON MUSIC WITH D. FELTZ, PHYFE DOUG, AND THICK TEE BONE PART III
DF: Well, it's time to look at the development of the modern song.
TTB: This sounds tiresome.
DF: No, actually I think you'll enjoy it. And I'll try to remain as objective as possible, though I will be taking apart Kendrick Lamar in just a little bit...
TTB: What do you have against these top artists? You must be getting old.
DF: Well, clearly I am, but to me this is more about maintaining the musical standards that have been a fundamental part of a culture for more than 150 years.
TTB: And Kendrick Lamar has rubbed you the wrong way?
DF: He has.
TTB: The Grammy Award-winning Kendrick Lamar? The former Hottest MC? The much lauded creator of To Pimp a Butterfly?
DF: The very same.
TTB: But even those people who dismiss Kanye or Jay Z love Kendrick.
DF: Not my fault.
TTB: Well, make your case.
DF: Okay, let's roll the first video. Let me remind readers that some of the lyrics are of an adult nature and might be considered offensive.
DF: Well, to be fair, I consider virtually all aspects of this song offensive. It's "I Do This" from Lamar's introductory album. If it's pulled, you can reach it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yiel4RTZ-tY
TTB: Well, why this song of all possible hip-hop songs?
DF: Because it was in the news yesterday.
TTB: I thought you said it was part of a release from a few years ago?
DF: It was, but Kendrick got sued yesterday for this song.
DF: Yeah, because he "sampled" the melody, such as it is, from a song by Bill Withers from a long time ago.
TTB: Come on. Lots of popular songs sound the same. They're always picking on rap artists for ripping off songwriters. It's about the money.
DF: You tell me whether he just wrote a similar sounding song. Here is Bill Wither's "Don't You Want to Stay" from 1975. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SHHazxv1R0s
TTB: Um...That was the exact same song except Lamar rapped a lot of obscene stuff over it!
DF: I believe that's my line, Tee.
TTB: Did he deny ripping Bill Withers off? DF: At first. He said there were no similarities! Then, in fact, it was reported that he pretty much acknowledged that he did it, kind of intimating that it's cool. You know, like "You caught me. Guess I have to pay."
TTB: So, what point are you making?
DF: That it is not at all uncommon in the hip hop world to borrow catchy melodies (though to be honest, this is hardly one of Withers' best) and then rap execrable lyrics to that melody.
TTB: Execrable? That's a little harsh.
DF: Well, I can't print them on this site because they are so vile, but it suffices to say that they are incredibly degrading, demeaning, and offensive to women for one thing. And thus it follows that they should be seen as incredibly degrading, demeaning, and offensive to men as well. There are some legitimate rhymes but there are also some that are a joke. I will give him credit for one thing though...I can't think of another popular song that uses the word "bunion"! And references to Subway stores! Here are the lyrics, such as they are: http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/kendricklamar/idothis.html
TTB: Maybe you are just out of touch with modern music.
DF: Maybe, but let me point something out. For the better part of two centuries we have come to appreciate great vocal ability or virtuosic skills on an instrument of some sort. Not everyone has a "beautiful" voice--Bob Dylan comes to mind--though his nasal plaints can be deeply affecting. But Dylan's musicianship and landmark lyrics helped us cut him slack on the voice. We grew to like that voice, though it was easy to make fun of.
DF: So, let's say that Lamar has a beautiful singing voice. Who would know from this song? I know that Bruno Mars, say, has a wonderful voice. I know that Christina Aguilera has "the pipes". I may not like their songs, but I recognize talent when I hear it. If I listen to the much praised To Pimp a Butterfly, I hear a lot of rapping but no actual singing. Some of my hip hop-loving students could read those lines to that rhythm and produce a reasonable facsimile. I dare say that I could find people with no vocal skills who could replicate those raps effectively. So, let's cross off singing ability as a draw. And let's remove lyric-writing as well. Oh, I know. These lyrics provide "insight" into the "urban experience" of which I sadly know little. I get that. But no one has pointed out yet why lyrics about "b------" and "h---" and Michael Jordans and bunions make Kendrick Lamar "the cutest" and "the truest" or, more important, how these lyrics are going to inspire or elevate or move or inform me...or make me ever want to hear the song again. So, no beautiful voice and no meaningful lyrics... which leaves...."
DF: The melody. The construction of the song itself. And how was that? It was pilfered from an old Bill Withers song because Lamar didn't want to do the work of coming up with his own original melody. Too much like work I guess. I believe that's strike three.
TTB: That's cold, Bro. Say, where is the Dawg this week?
DF: I sent Phyfe out for some pastrami sandwiches at Katz's. I need lunch before I get to the Great American Songbook.
TTB: I hear you.
DF: While we wait, let's hear a really lovely song...recorded by one Bill Withers a few years back. Kendrick Lamar should see if he can produce just one song this universal in appeal. I'll even throw in another one that has been popular for television commercials the last few years. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E6emVq0RZec