In the hours after Kendrick Lamar’s new album “To Pimp a Butterfly” was released a week early, one track, “Mortal Man,” started getting traction.
For good reason: It’s a 12-minute epic that features wondrous Lamar verses about Nelson Mandela, devotion, spiritual enlightenment and power. More important, after a postscript Lamar spoken-word piece, the artist conducts a time-travel “interview” with the late Tupac Shakur that gradually rises into a free-jazz jam seemingly beamed from 1967.
It’s a fiery few minutes in which the two “converse” about, among other things, fame, the fattening of the upper class and the lifecycle of the black man’s power, something that Shakur says diminishes at an early age. “Once you turn 30 it’s like they take the heart and soul out of a man, out of a black man in this country. And you don’t wanna fight no more. And if you don’t believe me you can look around, you don’t see no loudmouth 30-year-old [black men].” (That and other quotes via Genius.com.)
Lamar updates the dead rapper on the current situation by saying “there’s nothing but turmoil going on.”
With that, Shakur makes a (cuss-heavy) prediction, one sure to fuel right-wing fear-mongering for the rest of the year. “I think that [black men] is tired-a grabbin’ ... out the stores and next time it’s a riot there’s gonna be bloodshed for real. I don’t think America can know that. I think America think we was just playing and it’s gonna be some more playing but it ain’t gonna be no playing. It’s gonna be murder, you know what I’m saying, it’s gonna be like Nat Turner, 1831 ...”
Lamar’s response, which is followed by a parable about a caterpillar and its cocoon: “In my opinion, only hope that we kinda have left is music and vibrations. A lotta people don’t understand how important it is. Sometimes I be like, get behind a mic and I don’t know what type of energy I’mma push out, or where it comes from. Trip me out sometimes.”
The same could be said about “To Pimp a Butterfly,” currently tripping out much of the music world.
Looking for music tips? Follow Randall Roberts on Twitter: @liledit