The Best Music This Month

By Sam Fleming


kendrick lamar cover

Kendrick Lamar, ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’:

The Compton MC, Kendrick Lamar has taken over mainstream rap in the past few years with two albums that have been dubbed instant classics and a mixtape. He has established himself as one of the most lyrical and versatile MCs in modern rap, as well as found his place on the radio by writing catchy and interesting hooks. After three years of relative silence, Kendrick surprised the world with a follow up to Good Kid M.A.A.d City, further solidifying his place in rap. To Pimp a Butterfly is centered on a poem that Kendrick has written and each song stems in some way from it. The album takes a more jazzy approach than his previous efforts and focuses less on being catchy or telling a story. Instead, Kendrick paints a picture of American society and what it means to be black in America. The production on this album is handled by a variety of producers and shines especially on tracks like King Kunta and Alright. The producer Flying Lotus collaborates with the esteemed bassist Thundercat to add their own spin to the album;  Much of it sounding like an extended version of  Flying Lotus’ excellent song with Kendrick, –Never Catch Me.

Behind the music on To Pimp A Butterfly, Kendrick delivers a deeper message. Throughout the album he compares his younger self to a caterpillar. He consumed everything around him because he was a product of his environment and that was all that he knew how to do. He speaks on the tracks Institutionalized and These Walls about how trapped he truly felt. At some point he realized that he could eat his way out of his environment, escape his cocoon. Eventually he does escape and emerges a butterfly. At first he is thrilled to have escaped, but he quickly begins to feel survivor’s guilt and starts to lose the people he loves most. On the song u he expresses his true regret by criticizing himself, saying “You ain’t no brother, you ain’t no disciple you ain’t no friend/A friend never leave Compton for profit or leave his best friend.” Even when Kendrick escapes his cocoon, he sees everybody that he loves still trapped in their own, and he doesn’t know how help them escape. He realizes that he’s been so caught up in the thrill of having escaped that he’s been ignoring the people that have helped him get where he is. This leads him to self-hatred and depression until he realizes that the only thing that he can do is love and give back to his community in whatever way he can. Even when he realizes that he needs to give back, he still struggles with greed and temptation which he addresses on the song How Much A Dollar Cost. Once Kendrick emerges as a butterfly he realizes that gang violence and black-on-black crime is fighting the wrong enemy. Instead of killing ourselves we should be supporting each other and trying to succeed as a race. His message is largely ignored and he finds that nobody wants to hear somebody who has escaped their situation preach positivity. On the last track of the album Kendrick opens up to his fans and the world and it is clear that he feels in a place where he is comfortable with his ideas and has embraced who he is.

Kendrick addresses what it means to be successful and black in America and spreads an important message about self-love. He doesn’t sugar-coat anything and his hatred for what white America represents is clear, especially on tracks like The Blacker the Berry. This album was not made to make white people feel guilty, or to spread hatred, but it perfectly portrays the sense of oppression and fear that comes with being black in America. He feels that he is a butterfly being pimped for his talents by people who care more about money and power than his culture. He realizes that there is no point in bragging about his talents or wealth if he can’t give back to his community. By ignoring his culture he becomes just what the people that are pimping him want.

This album is an exploration of modern and old school west-coast hip-hop and it ends up being one of Kendrick’s best. With his last few albums Kendrick has redefined west-coast hip-hop and he will likely continue to change the perception of rap in general. The great underlying theme combines with a sonically amazing album to create one of the best hip-hop albums in a decade. This album is a necessity for anybody that appreciates good music, and especially those who love west-coast hip-hop.


Death Grips, ‘Jenny Death’

Death Grips, an experimental hip-hop group from Sacramento, announced their breakup this summer via a note scrawled on a napkin. Since their “breakup” they have continued to push out music and recently announced a world tour. Their newest double LP, Jenny Death, shows two different, but equally good sides of Death Grips. Niggas on the Moon, the first half of their double LP, has sharp shouted lyrics, open beats and a Bjork sample in every track. The first half is bizarre and experimental, with MC Ride’s lyrics often dark and sparse. The second side shows Death Grips in their natural form with songs like Pss Pss and Why a Bitch Gotta Lie. On this side, they incorporate guitar samples that help the music to sound much more organic. The songs  on the second half of this LP seem to flow together, without losing their punch. Overall, this album is an excellent experimental hip-hop effort and measures up to many of their best previous projects. Jenny Death is definitely worth looking into for any experimental hip-hop fan, or anybody that appreciates great production and rage filled lyrics.


Earl Sweatshirt, ‘I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside’

Earl Sweatshirt has grown to be a musical outlier in his record label, Odd Future  . He has wandered down a darker path than many of his label mates and this album is no different. While Doris, Earl’s last album, felt angsty and like he was trying to prove something, his newest effort feels natural. Earl has never left anything up to the imagination with his lyrics, but with this album it no longer feels like he’s saying things to shock or to get a reaction, but rather speaking his mind for all to hear. On the song Grief, Earl speaks about how gang violence is the least of his issues because the police are the ones that really target him. Earl tackles issues like depression, drug abuse, and the death of his grandmother head on in a way that doesn’t alienate the listener. On I don’t like shit, Earl makes the listener empathize with the pain he’s feeling rather than act tough and push the listener away. He still rarely goes into depth on any one specific issue, but when he brushes by one he makes his true feelings clear  and understandable. I don’t like shit, is a great album if you enjoy an introspective rapper who doesn’t  sugarcoat anything and is still finding himself. It is a solid project and definitely shows a more mature version of Earl than we have seen in the past, as he begins to discover who he wants to be as a rapper.

Action Bronson, ‘Mr. Wonderful’:

Action Bronson takes an interesting approach to his major label debut, Mr. Wonderful. The Chef, turned rapper from Queens, New York, brings his goofy lyrics and his sing-song style to his newest project and attempts to tell a story. This album is great for a laugh and about half the album, with songs like Baby Blue, Terry and Actin Crazy is really solid. The last half of the album, however, really loses focus. Although it’s not terrible, it is underwhelming. Bronson usually excels at painting grand pictures with his lyrics, but in the second half of this album he emptily brags over beats that all begin to mold together. Bronson has always been goofy, but at points on this album his lyrics and beats come off as corny and boring. This is a lighthearted album and is a fun soundtrack for the spring, but its hard to take it too seriously. The first half of the album is exactly what would expect from a major label Bronson debut and I would definitely recumbent giving the first half a listen.


Tinashe: Amethys

Tinashe was brought to the broader public’s attention last year with her inescapable hit single 2 on, followed up by her pop R&B fusion album Aquarius. Her music has typically fallen  between the softer, slower side of R&B and the lighter side of pop. With Aquarius, however,  she took a different direction. She took a much more poppy approach and although it was not bad, it did not showcase her artistry. With her new mixtape, Amethys, she shows that she has not forgotten her roots. In these seven tracks she opens up and shows who she is as an artist without fancy production. The entire tape was recorded in her bedroom and it has a very DIY feel. The beats on Amethys compliment her soaring voice well without overshadowing it. Instead of this tape sounding cluttered (like many other DIY tapes), the music’s simplicity is soothing. This mixtape isn’t mind blowing, but it is a soothing and relatively exciting listen.



Pss Pss- Death Grips

All Day- Kanye West

Grief- Earl Sweatshirt

Just the way I like You- Tinashe

Baby Blue- Action Bronson

47 Bars- Ab-Soul

Ratchet Commandments- Tink

Hood Politics- Kendrick Lamar

Push It- Pusha T

Lampshades on Fire- Modest Mouse

How Could You Babe- Tobias Jesso Jr.

Photo: Top Dawg Entertainment

And The Winner For Best Passive Aggression Is: Cultural Appropriation!

There is a major difference between appropriating and appreciating a culture. I love watching anime and reading manga, I appreciate the story lines and the artistic styles. Though I do not participate, many fans attend anime conventions fully costumed which is acceptable because it is apart of the event. Outside of this space, costume wearing could be offensive because eastern culture is ingrained in anime. Therefore the line between appropriating and appreciating is very thin.  Culture is not a trend nor is it a commodity to be exploited or used out of context.  So, if the line is that thin, take it as a sign and DO NOT DO IT. So, let the rant begin:

Cultural Appropriation is not new. Exploitation of marginalized culture has existed for a long time in the USA. For example, indigenous traditions have turned into fashion, logos for professional/college sports teams, and in movies without the indigenous population present or approving.  Black culture has been appropriated many times over for American entertainment and all people around the world. Minstrel shows is a great example of a perpetuated and stereotyped culture which included the degradation a group of people in the process. Another example is Rock and Roll.  White executives hired black artist to train white artist how to dance and sing so they would be more appealing to the masses. These black artist were never given credit and did not make a dime. So instead of thinking that Rock and Roll is from the black community, it has and still is associated with white America. So instead of Elvis Presley, we should be saying Little Richard or Chuck Berry as the foundation and growth of the genre.

The worst type of appropriation is when a culture is vilified but gets accepted because there is financial gain or is accepted because the dominant group decides to “participate”. It is one thing to be familiar and understand a culture, but its another when  members of a dominant group exploits the culture of oppressed people. The dominant groups rarely understand the traditions and experience of the culture that are exploiting. For example, Katy Perry dressing up as Geisha and  saying she was paying homage or a group of Russian women teaching a twerking class with no respect to African people, or everyone creating and wearing mask during the Day of the Dead Holiday but do not truly understand the Mexican ritual. Miley Cyrus (do I even have to explain this one?). The dominant group gets credit for being creative and innovators while the minoritized groups get criticized for their culture as if it wasn’t stolen and modified.

Museums and private collectors make money off our ancestors and claim to own it. How can you own artifacts that belong to another country, city, or a people? How can you own a mummified corpse? They open caskets and have our ancestors on display. How would you like it if someone dug up your ancestor and broken the sacred ritual? What if George Washington’s corpse was on display?

This part is for the opposition: Not everything is cultural appropriation. Respecting the culture while participating is legit. I do not agree with the dominant group wearing dreadlocks or wanting to be Rastafari without understanding or just viewing it as a fad or a portion of your identity. I do not like it when black people do it either. There is somewhat of a reverse side to this such as Usher or Kanye West wearing kilts. Why are you wearing a Kilt?  I have never seen them wear traditional African clothing in public. During St. Patrick’s Day, I see so many black people claiming their so called Irish Heritage or just celebrating but I never see them celebrating Kwanzaa, Black August, or even Juneteenth.  Another issue is the acceptance of being culturally appropriate. The viral video of a White Kappa shimmying (not even dancing spectacular might I add) has gotten more love than any black Kappa on social media is a great example. Oh, you want more examples you say? Missy Elliot chose to highlight Alyson Stoner in her videos Hip Hop dancing. While she was/is talented, you mean to tell me, out of the thousands of little black girls who can dance (probably better than her) they could not be picked? Usher with Justin Bieber (who actually thinks he is black now but when the revolution pop off, which side will he choose???) and T.I. with Iggy.  This is not a black and white thing or a attack on Europeans. Though I love anime, I see a lot of racism in Asian cartoons. They portray many of their evil doers as black people or stereotype hip hop culture. In Kill La Kill, one character talks “black”, is a pimp, gold teeth, and is powered by money. On the other hand, you have responsible anime like Samurai Champloo that merges Hip Hop and traditional/Feudal japan culture.

The melting pot concept is nothing but propaganda.  Just because many different people live in a country doesn’t mean they respect or share the same culture. How can this country be a melting pot when we were slaves, the indigenous murdered and non British Europeans discriminated against during the inception of the USA?Hip Hop is the closest thing to a melting pot, created by African people and accepted properly by many people around the world.  But like Paul Mooney said, “Everybody wants to be a nigga but no one wants to be a nigga.” Everyone wants the benefits of being a person of color, but not the struggle. Cultural appropriation is a wonderful thing isn’t it?

Calling Lubitz Anything but a Murderer


By Victoria Massie


The function, the very serious function, of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being.”—Toni Morrison

I’ve been haunted by Morrion’s words as details unfold daily around the crash of Germanwings Flight 4U 9525 into the the French Alps last Thursday. This is a tragedy, more so as reports circulate about the cause. Co-Pilot Andreas Lubitz deliberately locked his co-pilot out of the cockpit, pushed the button activating the loss of altitude, ignored multiple calls from air traffic control, as he lead himself and 149 others to their end. Officials, having recovered the black box recorder, have noted the loud banging of the co-pilot to have Lubitz let him in. Lubitz did not. The background is filled with people screaming. All the while, Lubitz, can be heard breathing, in and out, normally, saying not a word, just breathing, until he, and everyone else trapped on the plane, stopped.

But what do any of these details have anything to do with Morrison’s words? It has to do with the fact that four days have passed since that crash, and I have yet to see major headlines identify Lubitz with anything that might require he, even in his death, take responsibility for his execution of a plane full of people. It has to do with the fact that the media seem to trying to figure out any and every means of making sure Lubitz is not held accountable for his actions. It has to do with why so much energy is being placed into waiting until every meticulous detail of Lubitz’ life is brought under close scrutiny before the media may begin to call him a murderer. Just as racism forces people of color to scourge every ounce of our existence to explain our right to exist, the other side of this distraction is that those unmarked by color are never expected to. Distraction, for some, operates less as means for explaining themselves and more as a tool ensuring they always has the ability to be, to do, anything, even something like mass murder.

One of the first angles taken toward Lubitz in media reports was that he committed suicide, which is not false. Lubitz did take his own life. The problem with suicide is that he wasn’t the only person on the aircraft. Additionally, as reports sought to focus on Lubitz’ “willingness to destroy aircraft” and that he “wanted to destroy plane”, we were being expected to mourn an aircraft and not the people in it. From the very beginning, a narrative was being constructed to isolate the crash to the pilot and empathy towards property loss. Despite being grossly inaccurate and disrespectful, this collectively diverts Lubitz from having to take responsibility for what he did. “Suicide” allows the erasure of the 149 deaths, and centers the problem on a pilot willing to destroy the machine he paid to fly. Here, deaths become negligible. But simultaneously, Lubitz again gets to claim all deaths as his, this time with the help of a media circus so focused on isolating his death that they deny the dignity of each of his victims to have their own, linked together by the fact that their lives were taken by his hands.

The most recent angle includes photos of Lubitz running a marathon, him sitting in front of the San Francisco bridge, and information that he had depression. Again, these details may not be false. I do not question that he ran once, that he was in the Bay Area at some point, or that he may have had a mental illness. But I am hesitant to take their truths at face value. We live in world where a Nigerian girl can have a timed bomb strapped to her chest by a terrorist organization and no one questions her being called a suicide bomber instead of, more accurately, a murder victim; we live in a world where we are more likely to see the smiling yearbook photo of a murderer than of his victim(s); we live in a world where mental illness conveniently serves as scapegoat for mass murders perpetrated by white men. That is to say, we live in a world that obscures just as much as it tells, where the same terms applied to different circumstances demonstrate the disparately unequal space given to empathize with people, to give them complexity, particularly the kind of space being given to Lubitz. And, more often than not, the space offered to Lubitz is almost exclusively reserved for white men.

Each new detail provides another opportunity to reinscribe a sacred space for men like Lubitz to make ruins of anyone and anything, even after their deaths, with the assurance they never have to take full responsibility for their destruction. And this will be relentless. Over and over again, we will read about another aspect of Lubitz that makes it impossible to connect his being with his actions, to connect his actions to crime, to a crime that he deliberately committed, even though that is what happened. Every angle will be exhausted until we forget that, at the bottom line, 149 people’s lives were taken by a man for no other reason than the simple one that he could and did. Every angle will be exhausted until we remember the world we now live in never means to find men like Lubitz completely guilty of taking anything or anyone for no other reason than it is invested in that always having already been the case.



Victoria Massie is a PhD Candidate at UC Berkeley currently doing fieldwork in Cameroon..


Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Trevor Noah To Host ‘The Daily Show’

trevor noah

South African comedian Trevor Noah will be the new host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show”

Speaking from Dubai, where he is on tour, Noah said of his selection, “You don’t believe it for the first few hours. You need a stiff drink, and then unfortunately you’re in a place where you can’t really get alcohol.”

Born in Soweto to a Xhosa mother and a Swiss father, Noah offers an unique perspective on race. “I didn’t live a normal life – I grew up in a country that wasn’t normal. My mother had to be very clandestine about who my father was. He couldn’t be on my birth certificate,” Noah told the New York Times.

As of yet, there is no exact date for Noah’s transition into full-time host.

Photo: Youtube/Screenshot


ICYMI: UC Berkeley Students Demand That Building Be Named After Assata Shakur


Members of UC Berkeley’s Black Student Union have called for Barrows Hall, the academic building that “houses Ethnic Studies, Women’s Studies and African-American Studies” to be renamed after Assata Shakur, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

That request is one of 10 demands to the college’s administration to provide safe spaces for black students. Other demands include creating an African-American resource center, hiring black administrators. and “two black psychologists experienced in racial discrimination.”

Black students account for just 3% of the population at Berkeley. These demands are designed to counteract the increasingly oppressive climate that black students feel on campus.

“Trying to excel academically is immensely difficult while coping with the issue of antiblackness on campus,” student Cori McGowens told The Chronicle.

Photo: Hands Off Assata

New Film ‘Dope’ Is Bound to Be a Hit


Dope, set in modern-day Inglewood, CA., but full of ’90s nostalgia, is the one film you need to see this summer.  The coming of age story follows Malcom (Shameik Moore) and his best friends as he descends into a drug dealer’s ring. The film is directed by Rick Famuyiwa (The Wood and Brown Sugar) and produced by Forest Whitaker, Pharrell Williams and Sean “Diddy” Combs. Dope stars A$AP Rocky, Zoë Kravitz, and Chanel Iman. You can catch the film beginning June 19.

Photo: Dope/IMDB