Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Song of the Day #284 - Kendrick Lamar - untitled 2 | 06.23.2014

Fuck you niggas, level two I'm not done

Going in to Kendrick Lamar's untitled unmastered., the thing I hoped for most was a studio version of the insta-legendary Jimmy Fallon performance of "Untitled 2"... I can remember the first time I saw it very clearly. I had been working on my 2015 albums list and thus revisiting the glory that was To Pimp a Butterfly, one of those albums you really couldn't imagine being better, an album that seemed like the absolute forefront of rap, and here was Kendrick, on TV, shouting "Level two level two, no I'm not done"... It was a statement of intent to move into wholly uncharted territory, like, I figured he was already at level 9999, y'know, but here he was saying there was a whole world behind it. And despite that being so unimaginable, it was so obvious when I heard it, that he could see that world.

On the album, where we see that this live performance was (like many of his performances) actually a combination of two tracks, which appear as untitled 8 and 2. The shift makes sense, making the social funk of the first half and the self-motivated relentlessness of the second half more powerful in their isolation. And although we lose some of the explosive energy of the live performance, the cold intensity of this calculating, methodical, understated flow makes what he's saying all the more believable - it wasn't some fluke glimpse at a further power, brought on by the moment, this is a complete evolution.

Like the whole song is just cool as hell... the opening proclamation of "pimp pimp, hooray!", so viciously sarcastic, sets a mood of an artist too good for the world, but also the world itself - that subdued jazzy landscape, feeling both fertile and blasted-out, with wandering sax and glittering piano. It's something I would have guessed too cool for words, but again, I can't see what he sees. And the way his verses move in, that sort of distant, drifting, sound... it's something I'd associate more with post-rock than hip hop.

And the structure of like... several verses and hooks and stuff, repeated bridges, culminating in one gigantic triumphant verse? That's amazing, that's gotta be my favorite. The way he goes into the success of everyone on his label, it's really motivating and inspiring, plus it just sounds cool as hell with all these strange proper names and stuff, it lends itself super well to this precise sort of flow. To follow that all up with "fuck you niggas, level two I'm not done", like, we're completely on the same page about his success, his ability, the empire he embodies, but that's not even it! That's just level one!

There's a lot more to talk about here... the actual meaningful content of his lyrics, maybe, as a starting point, lol. That's too much, though. That's too much for me, at level 0.3 maybe. More than any thing he could actually say, the meta-statement of how it is said compels me here. I really can't get over it. To have an artist at the forefront of musicality, the pinnacle of critical reception, making a statement like "level two I'm not done"... I really can't picture anything more exciting.

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