2018 Pulitzer Prize for Music--Kendrick Lamar????

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jserraglio
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Re: 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Music--Kendrick Lamar????

Post by jserraglio » Mon Apr 23, 2018 4:36 pm

The Iliad has its roots in a distasteful warrior ethos of mayhem, dismemberment and pillage, as well as the abduction, enslavement and rape of women. One can acknowledge that and still admire how its stunning artistry transcends mere thuggery. So too Lamar's thuggish roots, insofar as they exist, are not the issue. It's what he does with them that constitutes whatever artistry he achieves. I don't pretend to understand his latest album except to say that it is unlike any other rap music I have heard. It may not deserve a Pulitzer, but it does deserve a fair hearing.

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Re: 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Music--Kendrick Lamar????

Post by Belle » Mon Apr 23, 2018 6:09 pm

jserraglio wrote:
Mon Apr 23, 2018 4:36 pm
The Iliad has its roots in a distasteful warrior ethos of mayhem, dismemberment and pillage, as well as the abduction, enslavement and rape of women. One can acknowledge that and still admire how its stunning artistry transcends mere thuggery. So too Lamar's thuggish roots, insofar as they exist, are not the issue. It's what he does with them that constitutes whatever artistry he achieves. I don't pretend to understand his latest album except to say that it is unlike any other rap music I have heard. It may not deserve a Pulitzer, but it does deserve a fair hearing.
I disagree with all you've said except the phrase "it does deserve a fair hearing", since I'm pro freedom of speech.

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Re: 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Music--Kendrick Lamar????

Post by lennygoran » Tue Apr 24, 2018 6:02 am

jserraglio wrote:
Mon Apr 23, 2018 4:36 pm
I don't pretend to understand his latest album except to say that it is unlike any other rap music I have heard.
I have to say that when I started listening to the the songs I previously mentioned --Blood, DNA, YAH and Element--they sounded different to me-that's about all I can say about it-I wish I could find the time to give it more study but spring is here and I'm pulled in other directions. Regards, Len

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Re: 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Music--Kendrick Lamar????

Post by jserraglio » Tue Apr 24, 2018 6:59 am

lennygoran wrote:
Tue Apr 24, 2018 6:02 am
jserraglio wrote:
Mon Apr 23, 2018 4:36 pm
I don't pretend to understand his latest album except to say that it is unlike any other rap music I have heard.
I have to say that when I started listening to the the songs I previously mentioned --Blood, DNA, YAH and Element--they sounded different to me-that's about all I can say about it-I wish I could find the time to give it more study but spring is here and I'm pulled in other directions. Regards, Len
I'm with you on that, Lenny. This work was not something I was able to fully grasp even after three hearings. The numerous online track-by-track analyses did help: problem for me was the allusions they identified often needed explication in their own right.

I am pretty sure that Lamar's work transcends its street origins, but rap is only the latest innovative contribution African-Americans have made to American roots music. As I recall, jazz (jass) and the blues were similarly denigrated in their early manifestations, and not just by the mainstream culture. So too early rock-n-roll. I keenly recall how the few friends I had and I were ostracized in elementary school for being fans of the likes of Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis. Seems laughable today but back then we 'racks' were on the receiving end of various forms of punitive action, verbal and otherwise: the reigning powers, which included the 'populars' in my class, had their own take on Entartete Musik.

Dress British, Think Yiddish? Well, I did just the opposite.
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Re: 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Music--Kendrick Lamar????

Post by lennygoran » Tue Apr 24, 2018 7:58 am

jserraglio wrote:
Tue Apr 24, 2018 6:59 am
So too early rock-n-roll. I keenly recall how the few friends I had and I were ostracized in elementary school for being fans of the likes of Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis. Seems laughable today but back then we 'racks' were on the receiving end of various forms of punitive action, verbal and otherwise: the reigning powers, which included the 'populars' in my class, had their own take on Entartete Musik.
I grew up with Rock and Roll-In The Still of the Night, Come Go With Me, Buddy Holly, etc. :D BTW I admit I had to look up Entartete Musik. Regards, Len

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Re: 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Music--Kendrick Lamar????

Post by IcedNote » Tue Apr 24, 2018 12:00 pm

jserraglio wrote:
Mon Apr 23, 2018 9:52 am
John F wrote:
Mon Apr 23, 2018 9:45 am
Why does it signify, compared with the example I gave? . . . It's so obvious that I shouldn't have to say it again.
If I read him right, what's bothering IcedNote, and me, is the dismissive tone about rap adopted by some here.
Yeah, you're reading me right. Maybe I'm bringing the baggage of other similar conversations I've had on this topic into this thread, but it seems a widely held belief among non-producers that producing hip hop is easy...which leads to dismissing it as not being worthy of artistic merit. "If anyone can do it, who cares?" That kind of thing.

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Re: 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Music--Kendrick Lamar????

Post by IcedNote » Tue Apr 24, 2018 12:15 pm

diegobueno wrote:
Mon Apr 23, 2018 12:50 pm
Garrett, it might be productive if you would clue us in as to what talent goes into a hip-hop track, and Kendrick Lamar's tracks in particular. I'm not trying to dispute you, I just think there are some people here, myself included, who might benefit from an explanation of just what it is that has been given such a prestigious prize.
A few related things:

1) Production is an art form. Yes, there is a lot of technical skill involved in mixing, compression, reverb, etc., but you still must be able to apply these skills artfully. Producers have their own signature sound in large part because of how they choose to use their tools, and avid listeners of hip hop are able to identify a producer simply by the beat (i.e. without hearing a more easily identifiable rapper's/singer's voice). And taking a step back -- it is incredibly difficult to acquire the technical skills necessary to make a hip hop beat that's "radio ready." Unfortunately, this is almost impossible to understand unless you've tried. (Hint: you can't use Apple's GarageBand. :mrgreen: )

2) Then there's the mysterious ability to make a beat that's memorable -- i.e. the hook. How was Mozart able to write incredibly simple yet exquisite melodies while hundreds of his contemporaries could not given the same set of harmonic rules? I have no idea. But this same thinking should be applied to Kendrick and his contemporaries.

3) Kendrick is an innovator. However, unless you're completely immersed in the music, you're probably not going to hear it. And that's no knock on your abilities, just your awareness. I mean, I surely wouldn't expect my layman brother to be able to identify the innovations in Beethoven's middle period anymore than I'd expect a non-hip hop listener to hear the innovations in Kendrick. Which leads me to....

4) A whole lot of people in the hip hop community assume, rightly or wrongly, that the Pulitzer was in no small part given to Kendrick because of his previous album, To Pimp a Butterfly. (Of course, handing out an award for someone's previous work is hardly anything new.) I'd encourage you to listen to this if you're at all interested because Kendrick's innovations are much more present, and, I believe, more recognizable. Does this mean a non-hip hop listener will hear them? Maybe not. But I believe this person will have much more of a fighting chance at doing so than by listening to DAMN.

Hope that helps,

-G
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Re: 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Music--Kendrick Lamar????

Post by jserraglio » Tue Apr 24, 2018 2:17 pm

IcedNote wrote:
Tue Apr 24, 2018 12:15 pm
Hope that helps
Thanks, that helped me a lot. And Pimp a Butterfly is on my listening schedule. I have been listening to rap off-and-on for 25 years and can understand why its detractors want to lump it all together for convenience's sake. Classical-music haters often rationalize their bias similarly.

But I think Kendrick Lamar's latest work transcends the genre. And though he often adopts a profane, judgmental Eminemesque tone, the album is not simplistic, not misogynistic, not gangsta and decidedly not cretinous, as some here have charged.

What it IS I have not fully determined yet, but after a couple hearings its music strikes me as lyrical in some respects, percussive in others, multifaceted and polyvoiced. Its words are rooted in but heighten American street vernacular. The work deserves to be heard and taken seriously as a whole, not nit-picked contemptuously nor dismissed out-of-hand as dumbed-down trash.

As for knocking its creator for already having achieved fame and wealth commercially, when has the Pulitzer ever been means-tested?

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Re: 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Music--Kendrick Lamar????

Post by diegobueno » Wed Apr 25, 2018 9:07 am

IcedNote wrote:
Tue Apr 24, 2018 12:15 pm
1) Production is an art form.
2) Then there's the mysterious ability to make a beat that's memorable -- i.e. the hook.
3) Kendrick is an innovator.
4) In To Pimp a Butterfly Kendrick's innovations are much more present, and, I believe, more recognizable.

Hope that helps,

-G
Garrett, that helps very much, and I'm glad you articulated your thoughts so well. This provokes a few thoughts in me, mostly about point 1).

Most of us who deal with acoustic music intended to be consumed in live performance don't even consider production as part of the music. Production is seen as something that gets applied to the finished composition as it is prepared for audio distribution. Among Pulitzer Prize winning compositions, only Wuorinen's Time's Enconium and the acoustic works including electronics (Davidovsky's Synchronisms no. 6 and Adams' On the Transmigration of Souls) could be expected to deal with production as part of the compositional process.* My guess would be that Lamar's production values are much more sophisticated than those of any of these three. His eqiupment is more advanced than what was available to Wuorinen and Davidovsky, and production is much more intimately bound up with music making than Adams, or any of them, could ever imagine. All this is a long way of saying that there's an aesthetic element in hip hop that a classical music listener can't even hear much less appreciate.

This highlights the "apples vs. oranges" nature of the comparison between Damn and whatever else might have been considered for the Pulitzer. It also raises questions about how we can judge between one work and another when the points of comparison become ever more remote.

Point no. 3) has been corroborated by those here who have noticed that Lamar's music sounds different than other hip hop. Garrett, I'm wondering if you could indulge us in telling us what exactly these innovations are. As you point out, I lack the experience with the music to be able to tell.


* ("Band pass filter invariants as compositional determinants", as Babbitt might have put it)

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Re: 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Music--Kendrick Lamar????

Post by jserraglio » Wed Apr 25, 2018 9:48 am

Very enlightening, diegobueno, and I too would very much like to hear a musician's explication of the innovations in either one or both of Lamar's latest albums. Can't seem to find much online about that apart from the words. I know I am hearing something new but je ne sais quoi.

Another thing that fascinates me about Lamar, indeed about rap generally, is how he might be understood in the main current of traditional Western oral performance art from the Greek singers of tales thru the medieval French and German singers down to the modern epic singers found in isolated Balkan communities—also how he might relate to African storytelling performance forms and even some of the conventions of African art and sculpture.
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Re: 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Music--Kendrick Lamar????

Post by John F » Wed Apr 25, 2018 9:50 am

I mentioned Philip Glass as a major American composer who has been passed over for the Pulitzer Prize for decades, it would seem almost systematically. His new oratorio, "The Passion of Ramakrishna," a large-scale work premiered by the Pacific Symphony Orchestra under Carl St. Clair who just now did it at Carnegie Hall, may change that. James Oestreich, an important reviewer (he was once editor of High Fidelity and Opus magazines), calls it "a big, beautiful piece, written more or less in the style of Mr. Glass’s Gandhi opera “Satyagraha” (1980), Mr. Glass at his best."

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/23/arts ... phony.html

I've never been much of a Philip Glass fan, but the absurd prize for Kendrick Lamar is pushing me in that direction.

For those who wonder, as I do, who sat in judgment this year, a list of the board members is here:

http://www.pulitzer.org/board/2018

Not one has any apparent connection with music of any kind. Here, too, is the list of the five nominating jurors:

Regina Carter, jazz violinist, Maywood, N.J. (Chair)
Paul Cremo, Dramaturg/Director of Opera Commissioning Program, The Metropolitan Opera
Farah Jasmine Griffin, William B. Ransford Professor of English and Comparative Literature and African-American Studies, Columbia University
David Hajdu, Music Critic, The Nation and Professor of Journalism, Columbia University
David Lang, composer of "The Little Match Girl Passion" which won the Pulitzer in 2008.

I notice that one of the nominating jurors and one of the board members is a professor of African-American studies (though not of music) at an Ivy League university.
John Francis

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Re: 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Music--Kendrick Lamar????

Post by jserraglio » Wed Apr 25, 2018 10:03 am

John F wrote: I've never been much of a Philip Glass fan, but the absurd prize for Kendrick Lamar is pushing me in that direction.
indeed, my struggle with Lamar's DAMN. reminds me of what it took to acclimate myself to Glass's Einstein on the Beach. I gave the vinyl box away three times but kept asking for it back to listen again. After that, Glass's other operas fell into place for me.

No musicians on the Board? Members of which were chosen, I assume, as much for overseeing judgment as for special expertise. Board chair Eugene Robinson is one I am familiar with that combines nicely the traits of cultural generalist with journalism specialist. The required professional musical chops were on the nominating committee.

A surprisingly diverse Board too. Nice to see how they did not fight shy of making a selection that they must have known would discombobulate the cognoscenti.

Good job, guys. Give it to Glass next year. A choice that would shine all the more brightly now that the music prize has unshackled itself from the dead hand of tradition.

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Re: 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Music--Kendrick Lamar????

Post by Lance » Wed Apr 25, 2018 12:05 pm

I, too, would favour Philip Glass on many fronts.
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Re: 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Music--Kendrick Lamar????

Post by Belle » Wed Apr 25, 2018 3:00 pm

My rule of thumb in life is this; 'a belief in everything is a belief in nothing'.

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Re: 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Music--Kendrick Lamar????

Post by jserraglio » Thu Apr 26, 2018 3:18 am

Belle wrote:
Wed Apr 25, 2018 3:00 pm
My rule of thumb in life is this; 'a belief in everything is a belief in nothing'.
Fortunately, in the USA at any rate, life does not imitate art, so let a hundred voices blossom.

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Re: 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Music--Kendrick Lamar????

Post by lennygoran » Thu Apr 26, 2018 5:29 am

IcedNote wrote:
Tue Apr 24, 2018 12:15 pm
A whole lot of people in the hip hop community assume, rightly or wrongly, that the Pulitzer was in no small part given to Kendrick because of his previous album, To Pimp a Butterfly. (Of course, handing out an award for someone's previous work is hardly anything new.) I'd encourage you to listen to this if you're at all interested because Kendrick's innovations are much more present, and, I believe, more recognizable....Hope that helps,
Before going to friends for dinner I had about 40 minutes of spare time so I put on Pimp--your suggestion helped me although I also heard something in the background with his Damn songs--I don't know if its melody or something else but there's something there that appeals to me. I listened to 36 minutes of the youtube-problem for me is I couldn't understand most of the words-I was just listening for the music. Regards, Len


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Re: 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Music--Kendrick Lamar????

Post by Belle » Thu Apr 26, 2018 9:12 pm

jserraglio wrote:
Thu Apr 26, 2018 3:18 am
Belle wrote:
Wed Apr 25, 2018 3:00 pm
My rule of thumb in life is this; 'a belief in everything is a belief in nothing'.
Fortunately, in the USA at any rate, life does not imitate art, so let a hundred voices blossom.
A bogus refulgence.:roll: And I'm not sure that life doesn't imitate art; why would it be that so many people emulate what they experience in popular culture?

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Re: 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Music--Kendrick Lamar????

Post by jserraglio » Fri Apr 27, 2018 6:44 pm

NBC News Opinion — With Lamar's Pulitzer, rap comes into its own as the most influential music in the world today.

by Jeff Slate

I voted for Kendrick Lamar’s “DAMN.” for Album of the Year in the latest round of Grammy voting, but I wasn’t surprised that he was beaten out by Bruno Mars. My fellow Grammy voters are rarely an adventurous bunch. In fact, they’ve only awarded a hip-hop record the year’s highest accolade twice. Plus, Bruno Mars is a consummate entertainer and palatable to a broad cross-section of the voting community, while Lamar’s art is more, well, difficult.
Pulitzer juror David Hadju told The New York Times that he and his colleagues had listened to more than 100 “pieces of classical music that drew upon hip-hop as a resource” during the selection process
It’s been nearly 50 years since the modern rap genre grew out of the urban landscape of the late-20th century and the stew of music and political urgency, not to mention the DIY ethic, so prevalent during those times. Yet the mixed reaction to Lamar’s historic Pulitzer Prize for Music award was predictable, if nothing else. (He is the first non-classical, non-jazz winner in Pulitzer history.)

There’s an easy argument to be made that the Pulitzer committee actually needs Kendrick Lamar far more than Lamar needs its accolades. But ultimately, this moment feels bigger than Lamar in so many ways.

“You know, you’ve got to take care of what you say you love,” Public Enemy’s Chuck D told me last year of his crusade to have rap and hip-hop regarded in the same way that the Golden Age of rock is in popular culture. “What's the reason for a 16-year-old wearing a Pink Floyd t-shirt? What's the rhyme and reason? Rock has a whole machine around it that perpetuates these legends, and it began at a time when the culture was obsessed with music. But I think there's been this neglect or absence of accountability by rappers in hip-hop to say, ‘Hey, look man, this thing is a wonderful art form that can go for 50 to 100 years. It can be revered as much as The Beatles if you look deeply enough into it.’”

Chuck D may have been unimpressed by the Pulitzer board's formal announcement, which called “DAMN” a “virtuosic song collection unified by its vernacular authenticity and rhythmic dynamism that offers affecting vignettes capturing the complexity of modern African-American life.”

The board's language smacked a bit of feint praise, especially in these hyper-woke times. But there was also no mistaking that Lamar’s win elevated his genre into the same realm inhabited by classical, jazz and Pink Floyd and The Beatles. The message was clear: Rap and hip-hop are art forms of staggering and universal importance, not just to those who love them, but to the world at large.

And that, my friends, is bigger than any Grammy win could ever be.

It’s been a long road, to be sure. I remember all too well the bottles hurled at Grandmaster Flash and Kurtis Blow when I saw them open for The Clash in the early-1980s. But that was nearly 40 years ago. So the often unintentially hilarious, yet still heartbreaking, chorus of anti-Lamar and hip-hop comments on Twitter last week — especially those compiled by @NewMusicDrama — were a reminder that even after all these years, some of the old battle lines are still in place.

There are a few things going on here, of course. First, there’s the antediluvian trope that rap and hip-hop isn’t “music.” But considering that the genre has long since put rock and roll in its rearview mirror as the preeminent cultural signpost, this argument feels more tired and racist (yup, I had to go there) than ever.

And while it has to sting for lovers of classical and jazz, the world — and art, especially — is moving at a remarkable clip. Bob Dylan’s Nobel prize last year is just another example of that fact. The musical bonafides of rap and hip-hop can no longer be denied. Moreover, how long has it been since rock and roll had anything close to the impact Lamar and company are having on the cultural conversation?

In the other corner are those who argue that irrespective of genre, Lamar and “DAMN.” aren't worthy. For these critics, it’s not that hip-hop isn’t music, but rather that there’s a laundry list of artists who arguably deserved the award more. Indeed, among Lamar’s fellow finalists were special talents — artists also seeking to comment on the world around them in their art. These finalists included people like Michael Gilbertson, whose string quartet was rewritten in the wake of the 2016 election, and Ted Hearne, whose “Sound from the Bench,” a cantata for a chamber choir, electric guitars and drums, includes texts from Supreme Court decisions.

While both would no doubt have been worthy winners, “DAMN.” is just as beautiful and just as thoughtful in the way it comments on and presciently reflects our times in surprising and clever ways.

It’s also true that Lamar is hardly a household name at thing point. The general public was blissfully unaware of his debut album “Section.80,” or even its astonishing follow-up “Good Kid, M.A.D.D. City.” His remarkable, genre-straddling follow-up “To Pimp A Butterfly” gained mainstream traction in part because Tony Visconti, the producer of David Bowie’s final album, “Blackstar,” mentioned that the ailing legend had found inspiration in the album’s extraordinary sonic mélange.

In fact, you could argue that “To Pimp A Butterfly” is a superior album to “DAMN.” It certainly has all the hallmarks of a classic work of art — strong melodies, artful collaborations, piercing lyrics. But what’s so amazing about “DAMN.” and what most of the commentary in the immediate aftermath of Lamar’s win failed to acknowledge, was that it was written and produced by an artist who had already made it. While no longer the same artist who burst out of Compton with staggering wordplay and a palpable hunger, Lamar was still able to produce a work of stunning musical inventiveness, as well as the sophisticated and historic lyrical content found in Dylan’s early, earth-shattering works.

Pulitzer juror David Hadju told The New York Times that he and his colleagues had listened to more than 100 “pieces of classical music that drew upon hip-hop as a resource” during the selection process, which in turn led the committee to “put on the table the fact that (rap music) has value on its own terms and not just as a resource for use in a field that is more broadly recognized by the institutional establishment as serious or legitimate.” There was no dissent when “DAMN.” was chosen as the winner, according to Hadju.

“It shines a light on hip-hop in a completely different way,” Dana Canedy, the administrator of the prizes, told The Times. “This is a big moment for hip-hop music and a big moment for the Pulitzers.”

She was half right.

Jeff Slate is a New York City-based songwriter and journalist.

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Re: 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Music--Kendrick Lamar????

Post by jserraglio » Sun Apr 29, 2018 2:25 pm

NPR
Best Music of 2017
The Prophetic Struggle of Kendrick Lamar's 'DAMN.'
December 12, 2017
by Rodney Carmichael


"Do you pray at all?"

It may as well have come in all caps, the way it landed like an accusation instead of a question. It wasn't the first time I'd received a text from my mother dripping with good ole Christian guilt. The only sin greater than letting God down is allowing your parents to find out your faith walk is no longer patterned after their footsteps.

Her text wasn't about Kendrick Lamar's album, DAMN., per se, but without knowing it she'd just triggered an existential debate I'd been having with myself since its April release. I was in the middle of laying down some definitive thoughts about the LP when the realization hit me. Just like her nagging text, the Compton MC had spent the better half of a year forcing me to reckon with my doubts about the wrath of God.

I've developed a love-hate relationship with DAMN. In some ways I suspect this is the response Lamar set out to provoke. I imagine I'm not alone. In order to have your LP debut at the top of the Billboard 200 chart — then remain in the top 10 for more than 25 consecutive weeks, while racking up double-platinum sales and seven Grammy nominations to boot — all of God's children, or a close approximation, must be listening hard.

Between its chart-topping success and cultural dominance, DAMN. is easily the most celebrated album of the year. It snatched the top spot on NPR Music's list of the best albums of the year by a long shot. It's clearly made for such a time as this — one in which politics and personal accountability are colliding with unprecedented force. The question is whether or not we're grappling with DAMN. — and being convicted by it — like Lamar no doubt intended.

This is an album that requires much of faithful listeners. It suggests even more about his relationship with his audience, and the ways in which he envisions himself as a prophet more than a pop star. Like a lot of fans, I've found myself meditating over DAMN.'s verses like scripture, dissecting the text forward and backward in search of holy discernment. Lord knows I'm no biblical scholar. Hell, I can't remember the last time I set foot inside a church. (Trust, my mother reminds me of this often.) But Lamar's magnanimous LP has me wrestling with the nature of my supposed cursed existence as a black man in the bowels of Babylon — and the ways in which I may be complicit in it.

Like Ta-Nehisi Coates laying out America's legacy of racial plunder with an atheist's realism, Lamar's faith walk is no cake walk. It often borders on the fatalistic. His futility is echoed across a present-day hip-hop landscape awash in suicide ballads, drug abuse and mental health issues. Steeped in the black prophetic tradition, Lamar is less interested in the glory to come in the sweet by and by. He's also no prosperity pimp, pushing a gospel of good-and-plenty in the here and now. Rather, it's God's judgement, and our collective failings, with which he's most concerned.

Yet, for all the religious overtones in which the Compton native shrouds his fourth studio album, the real revelation of DAMN. is that faith no longer feels adequate enough to sustain America's masquerade. And when a country tosses its moral compass aside, all hell tends to break loose.

What good is a prophet, anyway, unless he's come to level total condemnation?

The Old Testament is full of prophets trying their damnedest to save the world. More often than not, the first obstacle they must overcome is self: self-doubt, self-loathing, even their personal aversion to self-sacrifice. Moses the deliverer was a murderer with a speech impediment. Noah the ark-builder was a documented drunk. Elijah the resurrector was straight-up suicidal. All were broken vessels, but vessels for their God, nonetheless. Then there was Jeremiah. He suffered depression so badly — likely from carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders — that students of the Bible refer to him as the weeping prophet.

I've recently taken to calling him something else: the patron saint of Kendrick Lamar Duckworth.

Like Kendrick, Jeremiah was pretty prolific in his time. He penned the longest book in the Old Testament, Jeremiah, as well as Kings and Lamentations. Think of them as his three major-label studio LPs, the same number contained in Lamar's TDE/Aftermath/Interscope discography. His most personal LP, Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City most easily aligns with Jeremiah's self-titled accounting, while his follow-up and most political album, To Pimp A Butterfly, might be seen as his Book of Kings — Jeremiah's 400-year history of the upheaval of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah.

But DAMN. is Lamar's Lamentations, bleak in tone and temperament, long on suffering and short on hope.

To get a sense of where Lamar is coming from on DAMN., it helps to rewind his previous studio masterpiece, 2015's To Pimp A Butterfly. Juxtapose the cover art of TPAB and DAMN. and the contrast is stark. The former is a jubilant image with Lamar surrounded by his boys from the hood as they stand on the front lawn of the White House, just outside its gates, like shirtless conquerors bearing ravenous grins and fist fulls of cash. It's a portrait of the American Dream, extended to "the least of these," in the Age of Obama. The latter, released just months into Donald Trump's presidency, features a close-up of Lamar alone in a white tee, looking defeated, depressed, possessed. His eyes are hollow and soulless; he resembles a demon with hellish intent.

Our image of prophets today is warped by history. Consider the realities they lived and the messages they espoused in ancient times: They did not bring hope and redemption. They preached apocalyptic visions, full of fire and brimstone, meant to turn the people away from ungodliness. They did not come to praise or worship, but to destroy and rebuild. With a sense of duty that compelled them to speak truth to power, they faced frequent persecution, imprisonment, even death. Prophets rarely won popularity contests, at least not without being beheaded for it later.

Lamar agonized over his own metaphoric beheading in the 12-minute opus "Mortal Man" that concluded To Pimp A Butterfly. It wound up foreshadowing the direction of DAMN., an album that finds his head swollen with temptation and righteous indignation as he calls out false prophets, fights the pull of false gods and holds up a mirror to X-rated America. Mostly, he's fighting a battle within.

That an album as unlikely as this epic conceptual narrative, steeped in Old Testament theology, has emerged as the year's centerpiece speaks to the seemingly troubled state in which we find ourselves. By making a choose-your-own adventure album, with faith and fate hanging in the balance, Kendrick's offered us a way out. It's a morality tale, to be sure, but one in which he grants his listeners free will to determine our own destiny.

"Is it wickedness? Is it weakness? You decide," producer and DAMN. contributor Bekon sings in a ghostly voice at the album's outset. "Are we gonna live or die?"

Like the prophets of old, Lamar uses a range of rhetorical devices to convey the urgency of his message. His lessons come steeped in allegory, hyperbole and metaphor. Above all, he uses himself. Just as Jeremiah once bore the yoke of an ox in public to illustrate the impending yoke that God would allow Babylon to place on his chosen people, Lamar spends the majority of the album alternating between protagonist and antagonist in a psychodrama of his own undoing.

The Old Testament is packed with stories of God's chosen people cyclically falling out of favor with the Lord, only to be defeated by their enemies, thrown into slavery and forced to worship foreign gods as divine retribution. It's a narrative that bears more in common with the Transatlantic Slave Trade than coincidence.

For too many centuries in this country, black Americans couldn't afford to harbor doubt. When the powers that be are whip crackers, a relationship with a higher power is not optional. It's bare necessity. Like an old patch quilt, Christianity got handed down from one generation to the next. If it was good enough to get your great-great grandparents through slavery, it was good enough for you. And so the logic went, even though our ancestors were legally prohibited from learning to read the biblical text white evangelicals used to justify their enslavement.

Kendrick Lamar's focus on God's heavy-handed judgement comes straight out of that same biblical bag historically used to oppress African-Americans on these shores. Which begs the question, what does it mean when your liberation tool, the key to your spiritual redemption, is the same tool your oppressors wielded to marginalize you for hundreds of years?

It's a trick bag, no doubt, one that black America has wrestled with since pre-emancipation. Even as the black church became the primary site for progressive political leadership in the late-19th and 20th centuries, we found ourselves othered and outcasted within the scope of our own theological worldview. More than anything, it highlights the absence of a westernized framework, or cosmology, to center the black experience. So we learned to adopt and adapt, taking old models and reclaiming them as our own.

Herein lies the appeal of the Hebrew Israelites, the black nationality Lamar lyrically aligns himself with on DAMN. "I'm an Israelite / Don't call me black no mo' / That word is only a color / It ain't fact no mo'," he raps on "YAH." — a double-entendre of an exultation meant to simultaneously evoke Yahweh, the ancient Hebrew name of God. Dating as far back as the early 1900s, the Hebrew Israelites have proclaimed themselves direct descendants of the 10 lost tribes of ancient Israel. "We are a cursed people," Lamar's cousin, Carl Duckworth, says on the album via voicemail. "Until you come back to these commandments ... we're gonna be under this curse because He said He's gonna punish us — the so-called blacks, Hispanics and Native American Indians are the true children of Israel."

Like Black Liberation Theology before it — which rejected the image of a white European Jesus and remodeled Christianity under a black power rubric — Hebrew Israelites center black folks within the biblical lineage. But, ironically, being God's chosen people in this context also means being cursed, which puts African-Americans back in the same position where the old Christian enslavers once relegated us.

When it comes to the Judeo-Christian tradition, black folks are literally damned if we do and damned if we don't.

It's part of what makes listening to DAMN. a somewhat agonizing, if enlightening, experience: Are we damned by our existence in America? Or are we damned by our reliance on a theology that paints us a cursed people? Is it the inherent wickedness of America's racialized politics or our weakness as a people that we must overcome? Or is our faith predicated on a false binary that only feels like free will while leaving us judged by our nation and cursed by our God?

While Lamar makes clear that he's "not 'bout a religion" on "YAH.," his conceptualization of God reflects a western dichotomy that prizes good over evil. What if the very thing he's relying on for salvation is the thing that's killing him?

More than anything, I hear him searching throughout this album for answers. Maybe he realizes the faith he's been armed with is inadequate to quell his fatalistic urges. Like the protoypical Old Testament prophet, he's a tortured soul. When he wails out, "Ain't nobody praying for me," he sounds like a modern-day Jeremiah, pleading on behalf of his people, "Is there no balm in Gilead?"

If suffering for the sake of our sins is Lamar's cross to bear, then the personal truly is political. In that, he's not alone. Whether your beliefs are being assailed or your very being, we live in a time of increased domestic extremism, with many paying the back taxes on America's transgressions. Like the mythological Garden of Eden, the origins of our nation are wrought in a self-deception so deep that strange fruit, it seems, is our destiny to bear.

Interpreting an artist's intentions is always a tricky thing. But I don't think Kendrick's hung himself out to dry for his sake alone. He's dying for us to grapple with DAMN., in the same gut-wrenching way he has.

The best exegeses of DAMN. have come not from elite publications with access to Lamar, but from hip-hop blogs with dedicated writers obsessive enough to keep turning the album over in their heads — figuratively and literally.

Two weeks after the LP dropped, Lamar penned a response to an essay written by DJBooth.net scribe Miguelito, who drew a sharp distinction between Lamar's heavily-burdened displays of his Christian faith in comparison to the praise-and-uplift put forth by mainstream peer Chance the Rapper. In an email thanking the site for its "accuracy" and "respect for the culture," Kendrick summarized the profound distinction between New Testament redemption and his Old Testament-rooted discipleship: "I feel it's my calling to share the joy of God, but with exclamation, more so, the FEAR OF GOD," he wrote. "The balance. Knowing the power in what he can build, and also what he can destroy. At any given moment."

It was Ambrosia For Heads writer Parfit who decoded the duality of DAMN. upon discovering it to be two albums in one if played backwards from finish to start. After Parfit wrote about it in April — debunking the short-lived theory that Lamar had planned to release a second album titled NATION. on Easter Sunday to bookend the Good Friday release of DAMN. — Lamar went on to confirm the double-play concept four months later in an interview with MTV News.

"You listen from the back end, and it's almost the duality and the contrast of the intricate Kendrick Lamar," he said. "Both of these pieces are who I am." Last week, Lamar's label released DAMN. Collector's Edition., with the tracklist reversed.

Played from beginning-to-end, DAMN. is introduced with an allegory of a blind woman Lamar approaches to offer help finding something she's lost. The woman — presumably, Lady Justice — proceeds to take his life with the bang of a gun that resembles the sound of a gavel. It also feels symbolic of the sacrifice one makes upon accepting a calling to give one's life to God. Kendrick follows that intro ("Blood") with the Mike WiLL Made-It-produced "DNA.," on which he goes on a lyrical warpath, taking personal inventory of his heritage of human contradiction.

"I know murder, conviction, burners, boosters / burglars, ballers dead, redemption / scholars, fathers dead with kids / and I wish I was fed forgiveness," he raps.

The internal battle continues with the album counting the wages of sin and sacrifice, as Lamar vacillates, track-by-track, between vanity and humility, lust and love, vengeance and peace. "I'm willin' to die for this s***/ I done cried for this s***, might take a life for this s***," he raps, reveling in his "Element." "Put the Bible down and go eye for an eye for this s***." "Feel" finds a self-absorbed, egotistical Kendrick bemoaning the fact that "the whole world want me to pray for 'em / but ain't nobody praying for me," while the climactic "Fear" features Lamar's cousin Carl Duckworth quoting Deuteronomy to explain the generational curse that's given him "that chip on [his] shoulder." But Lamar is unearthing more than his personal fears here. His struggles serve as proxy for the human condition, a mirror image of America's own dark soul. "But is America honest or do we bask in sin? / Pass the gin, I mix it with American blood / Then bash him in, you crippin' or you married to blood?" he raps on "XXX."

DAMN. resolves itself with "Duckworth," the autobiographical parable in which he illustrates how his own destiny, that of the "greatest rapper," stems from his father (Kenny "Ducky" Duckworth) and TDE label founder (Anthony "Top Dawg" Tiffith) exercising free will many years ago to avoid a tragic fate for all three. Through karmic law, they overcome wickedness.

But that's only one side of the story. On the reverse listen the narrative subtly switches from insufferable but gradual enlightenment to one that seems to devolve deeper into frustration and spiritual degradation over the course of the 14 tracks. In this opposite playback sequence, Lamar succumbs to his weakest emotions and base character traits before meeting the same fate that started the original listen.

Most prophets die misunderstood, their pronouncements discarded by the rulers of the day and their followers, only to be paid credence in hindsight. That DAMN. has garnered the fanaticism to warrant a re-release, despite the only difference from the original being a reversed tracklist, speaks to the degree to which his message is being heard. Whether we, as individuals, a people and a nation, are prepared to take heed remains to be seen.

Despite the album's biblical context and the Christian faith that has long been explicit in Lamar's work, his relationship with the church sounds about as testy as mine. Just listen to him recount a service he attended in his April letter to DJBooth.net: "I went to a local church some time ago, and it appalled me that the same program was in practice. A program that I seen as a kid the few times I was in service. Praise, dance. Worship. (Which is beautiful.) Pastor spewing the idea of someone's season is approaching. The idea of hope. So on and so forth.

"As a child, I always felt this Sermon had an emptiness about it," he continues. "Kinda one sided, in what I felt in my heart. Fast forward. After being heavily in my studies these past few years, I've finally figured out why I left those services feeling spiritually unsatisfied as a child. I discovered more truth. But simple truth. Our God is a loving God. Yes. He's a merciful God. Yes. But he's even more so a God of DISCIPLE. [sic] OBEDIENCE. A JEALOUS God. And for every conscious choice of sin, will be corrected through his discipline."

I find it hard to believe in a God who would create me and curse me in the same breath. Even Pope Francis recently advised overhauling the Lord's Prayer so it no longer reads in a way that suggests God's the one who leads us into temptation. "A father does not do this," the pope explained in Italian. "A father quickly helps those who are provoked into Satan's temptation."

Our concept of the divine is a reflection of how we see ourselves. And it makes sense that black America, despite being the moral compass in the country, still feels the weight of a cursed fate. But I also hear DAMN. as Lamar's revelation that evil is not something that only exists outside of us. The same way we proclaim ourselves gods, in the metaphysical sense, we are inhabitants of the darkness. So maybe it's as important to confront the evil and the fear within.

From the birth of the Old Negro Spiritual, black America has crafted hymns to get over the confounding hardships of this world. Lamar complements that tradition, but he also complicates it. DAMN. embodies a year in which hip-hop — and America at large — finds itself wrestling in public with its inner demons. He could've made another Black Lives Matter anthem like "Alright" to quell our fears. Instead he held true to his prophetic vision and laid his vulnerabilities on the line.

He's shown how hard it is to hold one's self accountable to God's word, and how challenging it is for America to hold herself to her own.

In fact, his prophecy is being echoed in some pretty high, if surprising, places as of late: "I don't think President Trump has a fear of the Lord, the fear of the wrath of God, which leads one to more humility," California Governor Jerry Brown said last Sunday on 60 Minutes. The governor of Lamar's home state was commenting on the president's position on climate change, as his state experiences its most destructive fire season on record. "This is such a reckless disregard for the truth and for the existential consequences that can be unleashed."

I'd missed 60 Minutes myself and probably wouldn't have heard anything about Brown's statement, save for an unexpected text I got late Sunday night. "He said Trump has got to wake up," my mom added, likely proud of herself for having found a way to sneak some God talk into the politics of the day. But it was obvious whose wake up call she was really praying for. It was such a perfect ending, I couldn't even be mad.

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