Stray Shots: Wale's Radical Honesty & Has Kendrick Lamar Ruined 2015?

On today's "Stray Shots," we discuss Wale's raw brand of emotional honesty and whether or not Kendrick Lamar's "To Pimp A Butterfly" has ruined rap in 2015.

Once upon a time in a universe far, far away, HipHopDX used to host blogs. Through Meka, Brillyance, Aliya Ewing and others, readers got unfiltered opinions on the most current topics in and beyond Hip Hop. After a few years, a couple redesigns and the collective vision of three different Editors-In-Chief, blogs are back. Well, sort of. Since our blog section went the way of two-way pagers and physical mixtapes, Twitter, Instagram and Ustream have further accelerated the pace of current events in Hip Hop. Rappers beef with each other 140 characters at a time, entire mixtapes (and their associated artwork) can be released via Instagram, and sometimes these events require a rapid reaction.

As such, we're reserving this space for a weekly reaction to Hip Hop's current events. Or whatever else we deem worthy. And the “we” in question is myself, Andre Grant and Ural Garrett. Collectively we serve as HipHopDX's Features Staff. Aside from tackling stray topics, we may invite artists and other personalities in Hip Hop to join the conversation. Without further delay, here’s this week's “Stray Shots.

Is Wale’s Sensitivity Just Him Being Distinctly Human In Hip Hop?

Andre: After Wale called up Complex HQ like a crazed tea partier at the tail end of 2013 I was bemused but not surprised. He’s always been a radically open vein in a scene where everyone is covering their scars with tattoo’s, money and women. All three if you’re good. Tack on culturally relevant, fulfilling art if you’re great. I’d raise a brow and carry on. He was always railing against something or the other, and his music? It was a cavalcade of Pop culture references and genres of black music thrown into a great, giant pot and boom (!), something magical would come out sometimes and then sometimes not. I couldn’t call him experimental (his work was soaked in the tones of D.C., a Go-Go montage of Funk, R&B, Hip Hop and Blues), but what fascinated me about him was his world-view. He seemed, at least through music, like a man constantly fighting two wolves and one of them was winning only slightly. There was a tension to him, like loose string suddenly taut, and you could find him being simultaneously arrogant and heart wrenchingly childlike about his art in the press, in the world. He seems to answer everyone who reaches out to him on Twitter, and treats all of their opinions equally as if he never got the lesson about how not giving a fuck is the right way to roll.

In an open letter to Complex he wrote these words, “I am not superhuman but super human.” And, beyond the puzzling lack of a hyphen it struck me as particularly prescient. That kind of honesty, that kind of vulnerability is what we love about artists like Kanye West, so why not Wale? He’s made great music, and The Mixtape About Nothing is one of my favorite mash-ups of Go-Go, attention to detail and Pop culture. With him moving back toward that concept on An Album About Nothing, I thought he’d have resorted to that kind of hyper-local Go-Go sound sprinkled with Pop culture, the temerity of existence and mourning. I swear that with Kendrick and Thurz damn near bringing Funk back it was a no-brainer. He had other plans, and the album was full of deeply affecting lyrical lament, but not balanced by the quirkiness of his many influences.

"I was depressed... I wasn't sleeping. I was drinking all day and I didn't have anyone to go to. I couldn't fight it," he said in an interview with Billboard. He was mourning the loss of an unborn child -- a loss that I cannot fathom. And he came for us, that he did, for a review that he thought didn’t reflect the wizardry of his new music. Fair. That’s really, really fair. Drake might be the most emotional, on the pulse emcee, and Kendrick might be the oddly humble genius, but Wale is certainly the most human, the most openly raw emotionally. That’s why I appreciate him, and that’s why he’s as impactful as he is. He’s boldly here despite his flaws, and with today’s contrived media driven dalliances, it’s honestly just a breathe of fresh air to have someone be radically honest. It’s the last artistic revolution left.

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Ural: During the red carpet event for Furious 7 Wednesday evening, I actually got a chance to interview Wale (along with a plethora of other media outlets) for a couple of seconds, which were viewable in yesterday’s DX Daily. I told him I liked the album, asked him a few questions and kept it moving. The same morning, I saw Wale shoot off some tweets pretty disappointed with Marcus Dowling’s fair review of his recently released An Album About Nothing. Unlike most media outlets racking up the page numbers HipHopDX acquires normally, our freelancers and core staff have a wildly different opinions on everything. It just works pretty well and could be the reason why there’s such a level of independence here. With that in mind, though some in the office sort-of disagreed with Dowling’s review, it was respected and backed. That’s just how things work here. However, there was an inkling feeling the D.C. native was going to have an issue and become very vocal because historically, it’s just who he is. The MMG soldier is an open book for better or worse. Sort of like a double-edged sword. Honestly, it’s pretty interesting to see the scope of his career. Especially next to peers he started with like Drake, Kid Cudi and J. Cole among others. Those guys have essentially eclipsed him both critically and commercially by miles. With that said, the frustrating feeling of under appreciation is completely understandable.

Regardless, singling out a few publications (including Pitchfork) isn’t helping as bigger publications like Billboard rated the album around half-a-point higher. The general consensus on Wale’s An Album About Nothing? It was an above average album that fans of Wale will obviously enjoy. Everyone else, the mileage may vary. The Tweets to DX, Pitchfork and even a few random accounts with less than one hundred followers is everything that makes Wale such a fascinating figure. His history with Complex to even members within MMG proves that the unfiltered attitude at least is fairly consistent. In an era where media and artist relationships are blurred when the next exclusive is needed, Wale deserves respect for at least voicing his opinions.

Has Kendrick Lamar’s TPAB Ruined Hip Hop For 2015?

Andre: I think maybe Kendrick Lamar has ruined rap in 2015 for me, and I mean that in the best possible way. Action Bronson’s debut was convex and bluesy, hilarious, and the full mettle of the Albanian king’s godliness. I could literally feel within myself the rumbling metal of the 7 train casting dusty shadows as I listened to it. Joey Bada$$ made an impressive debut album as well, dark and earthy like a thunderstorm of billowy clouds and damp soil, and no one can forget what the embattled Lupe Fiasco did this year. His album was complex, ethereal ambrosia, a worthy addition to his catalog, and a complete return to form. Drake’s surprise; I described Wale’s effort above, and Ludaversal was a welcome return for Luda. Then there were the indie’s I loved, Open Mike Eagle’s EP, Ibeyi’s eponymous mysticism and Phony Ppl’s run through the sun. But, will there be anyone that can come up with the sort of ambitious, deliciously referential and soulful cinema that was Kendrick Lamar’s sophomore record? I’m not sure. I don’t go looking for it, but it lingers behind me in elevators and beside me at stoplights. It irks me as I dig through stacks at libraries, and read essays about on my timeline. Here we are, most of us, giving this album some of the best words of our careers because it somehow enabled us (well, me) to cut through the noise and get back to the complex, lush machinations of reality.

It’s a matter of proverbial fact at this point that Kendrick’s record is a magical fruit you bite into and it reveals to you a different, separate flavor each time. That magic wanes and you long for it. Longing creates great music, but it ruins everything. So until this post To Pimp A Butterfly haze swerves into the left lane and zooms past me, I’m stuck. For good or for ill, Kendrick Lamar has made it very difficult to enjoy something in the same way that I enjoyed his turn of the screw, but maybe this will be like 1994 and we’ll get an Illmatic and a Ready To Die in the same year, right?

Ural: Let’s keep things completely honest and simple here folks. There isn’t an album released this year that’ll even remotely touch To Pimp A Butterfly. Outside of that, everything else will be bad, good or great. *Drops Mic*

Andre Grant is an NYC native turned L.A. transplant that has contributed to a few different properties on the web and is now the Features Editor for HipHopDX. He's also trying to live it to the limit and love it a lot. Follow him on Twitter @drejones.

Ural Garrett is an Los Angeles-based journalist and HipHopDX's Senior Features Writer. When not covering music, video games, films and the community at large, he’s in the kitchen baking like Anita. Follow him on Twitter @Uralg.

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  • AK DON

    Now, one of the services you provide is giving them something to talk about. let 'em talk. it makes 'em happy, it makes 'em feel good. they don't believe half the shit they say. people wanna talk. Yeah, it's fun to talk #fuck all wale haters

  • jg

    i respect kendrick 100% hes nasty but hes not the GOAT right now.

  • HipHop Head

    Kendrick is NOT the king of hip-hop. To Pimp A Butterfly is hardly revolutionary. Thousands of artists incorporate Funk and Soul into their albums ( with much better results) and yet Kendrick is getting credit for dong this? And in terms of concept albums, Lupe absolutly blew this album out of the water. This CD has very little substance compared to Tetsuo and Youth and yet, the people here at Hip-Hop DX are dismissing it. Also, the concept that Kendrick is going for has been done by Lupe Fiasco in the past. Do we not remember FNL2? That album literally had the same EXACT concept, and Hip-Hop DX shitted all over that album. I am seriously considering never returning to this website. I feel like over the years, the quality of the writing has gone down considerably. I feel like this used to be a site that was more dedicated to Artistry, not commercial success.Next thing I will read on this site is "Drake ACTUALLY is a Legend."

    • Real Hip-Hop Head

      Fair enough. I hear exactly where you're coming from. Peace.

    • Hip-Hop Head

      Look, I am not a "bitter" Lupe stan. not in the least. I will admit he is my favorite rapper, but in all honesty, Kendrick is my second favorite artist of all time. That is not bullshit. But I still think my opinion is valid. Everyone's opinion is valid and i think you are making good points. When dude just stops the instrumental and starts talking about the word "Negus" and where it originated, I was impressed. He is risking a lot by doing that because people hate to learn. But as you pointed out yourself, he isn't the first rapper in the game to try and uplift his people ( you stated 2Pac did the same). I am no Kendrick Lamar hater. I probably know more of his music and lyrics more than 90% of people who are listening to him now. I have been listening to dude since his name was K.Dot before he changed his name. I loved section 80, I really liked GKMC, and i do like TPAB. But even after listening to the album more than ten times straight through, I still just don't like it as much as his last two major albums. The reason I came off bitter is because I am sick of hearing about how this is a classic album, how its the best album of the decade and so on and so forth. It pretty much discredits any other artist making music. It hasn't even been out long enough m=for people to absorb the message of the album so how can they call it a classic? It just seems like nonsense. And you said name one person who who has the following and influence that kendrick has had without poisoning his people? 2Pac? that's about the only rapper I can think of though.

    • Real Hip-Hop Head

      You sound like a bitter ass lupe stan. There's no way you actually listened to Kendricks album. Not taking away anything from lupes album but you're the one "dismissing" Kendrick's album as if "it's been done before" Kendrick has put out the better album thus far hands down. Whether you can comprehend it or not that is your own fault. Don't come on here trying to shit on writers because you don't agree with their OPINION. What Kendrick is doing is revolutionary. Name ONE person with the influence and following that Kendrick has that is not poisoning his own people? Some one who actually tried to shed light on the word "Negus" and where it derives from. Someone actually trying to open peoples eyes to the oppression they face today and how to deal with it (much like pac did.) Someone trying to show the people who the REAL enemy is. You can't. & That's why Kendrick's album is revolutionary and YES Kendrick is the KING of hip-hop. If not him then who? Lupe? Ha, no disrespect to lupe but YEAH RIGHT. The truth is most people don't even understand how deep the album is. Most rate it by how many beats knock and not the substance. I don't think you understand how hard it is to put your life at risk and say something that might get you killed on record for the sake of helping others wake up to reality. (again, much like pac did) This album might not have the newest sound, catchy hooks, knocking beats but the message that is being delivered is much more powerful than any of those. When it's all said n done everyone will remember it as a classic masterpiece.

  • TRG

    I'm keeping this short and simple. To Pimp a Butterfly is a great album and this may not be a popular opinion, but coming from someone who has listened to all the albums considered this year's finest so far, it's the number 2 on my list. Tetsuo & Youth is superior in my eyes and to my ears.

    • Hip-Hop Head

      100% AGREE WITH THIS STATEMENT!!!!! Come on now, Prisoner 1 & 2, Body of Work, Mural, T.R.O.N, Adoration of the Maggie, etc. I mean, this album was literally a masterpiece. Far ahead of it's time. Plus, Lupe pretty much made TPAB years ago (FNL2). In my eyes, Lupe had a very similar concept as Kendrick. But hey, who am I to say anything. Obviously if everyone is calling TPAB a classic and the best album of all time, then it must be true!!

  • Metathon

    Sorry guys, normally you talk a lot of sense, but this is nonsense. It's a genuinely silly opinion that has no place being presented. I loved the album. Kendrick is amazing and i understand it's made you feel the way you have, but you're going from praising Kendrick to simply insulting other artists with that opinion. What does it mean for 2015 to be ruined? On what grounds? Is it simply because you can't imagine hearing anything else as good? Have you heard every project to come this year? If so, why just 2015? Where's the logic that holds it to one year? If you're so sure 2015 is ruined why not 2016? 2017? Wale can be honest about the way he feels but he's just projecting his insecurities as vague support. It's kind of pathetic. Kendrick's album is special, but we're in April and people are writing off 2015. It's kinda silly to do that and it's insulting to so many artists who offer something different. Hyperbolic language for the sake of it. Smdh

  • FuckHater

    I really don't understand the Kendrick haters. Now, he may not be the GOAT, but he's important to the culture. He has the potential to open the flood gates for more artists that make good music. He's restoring the balance and raising the bar. I get it, there are guys out there than can rip him to shreds lyrically. So why aren't you spending time spreading word of all their work? If you don't like Kendrick Lamar, that's fine. Stop wasting your time commenting on every article about him then. I don't waste my time commenting on an artist that I don't like.

  • getright

    tpab so far ahead of its time, its crazy. never heard better jazz than this album, I had to go back to the 50s to see something as good

    • Megan Levitt

      I looked at the bank draft 4 $4718 , I be certain father in law was like actualy bringing home money in their spare time online. . there mums best friend has done this 4 less than 23 months and at present cleared the morgage on their place and bought a new audi . Read Full Report >>>>>>>>>

  • azrethd

    I don't think tpab will be topped this decade. and I'm not even a fan

  • zeerax

    yeah TPAB is officially the highest rated album since the year 2000. its crazy its composition is far ahead of everything else that dropped these last 10 years... greatest album of the last 15 years in any musical genre

  • WTC

    I appreciate what Kendrick did, TPAB is in it's own right a great album. But let's not get carried away with dropping to our knees in front of Kendrick. This shit is seriously getting out of hand, but I will say Kendrick's hype train is moving so damn fast that albums like Dirty Diggs' "Rodman", Lupe's "T&Y", and Mello Music Group's "Persona" are getting lost in all the white noise. It's a damn shame because some really good albums have been released this year but tunnel vision has taken hold.

  • roy

    hip hop originated in USA but we know and appreciate hiphop more that you guys, i'm from SA but we loving kendric album and rating it as a classic without any debate, but you still debating whether its dope, you busy buying young thug and 2chainz's albums

  • Robb Watts

    Damn niggas really hating on K.Dot's TPAB. Someone finally drops an album that brings true essence of hip hop and delivers a great message to the youth, brings positivity, and the best part he's uplifting African Americans to stand against anyone that don't like us or our culture. And u got dumb ass niggas saying it's weak that everybody dick riding.. I bet u the same niggas that listen to Chief Keef, Bobby Shmurda, waka, lil b, list goes on. U niggas live in a box and need to wake up and get out of it.

  • MIkeSe

    I read HIP HOP DX reviews to laugh cause ya'll never really get it rght. Ya'll are super biased to who/whats poppin. Kendrick's "TPAB" is tough but it takes a lot for it to grow on you. Ya'll can't undermine other projects such as Lupe's "Testuo and Youth" because Kendrick is what's ringing bells at the moment. Check ya staff.

  • WTF

    Clearly Someone paid HHDX for these insane TPAB reviews that got most yall Stan'ing to this lame joint! Big Sean - DSP Wale - TAAN Joey Bada$$ - b4 da $$ Are way better than that album of farts by Kendrick.

  • Jack

    Tetsuo and Youth is a masterpiece of art. Just because TPAB is also fantastic doesn't take away from that.

  • kendrick gay

    yall just dick riding on kndrick suck his dick then

  • Soui

    I'm a fan of pretty much all the albums you mentioned. TPAB included. But you're showing dick riding at its finest. To say no other album will even touch it is stupid. Comparing albums that have been made for different purposes is sucker move anyway, most artists will tell you that.