There’s been plenty written about how great Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar’s album, good kid, m.A.A.d. city is. So much that I’m left with feeling like I have little of value to add to any conversation about it. But the video for “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe,” came out today and it inspired in me a thought(!) First of all, it’s really good. Watch it. Secondly, jumping back and forth in tone as it does, it makes a nice point about how complex everything is — death, religion, fashion, mourning, partying, solitude, unity, nature, all this stuff. All sorts of paradox. Which starts to come as close to truth, I think, as our little human brains can muster. Anyway, sorry for getting a little carried away there. That’s three cups of coffee talking. And probably largely nonsense. But it made me think a lot of an old favorite album of mine that I haven’t listened to in a really long time. Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s Blacknuss.
Rahsaan Roland Kirk was a jazz saxophonist famous in the ’60s and ’70s for being able to play multiple wind instruments at the same time — like, really at the same time, like with two horns stuck in his mouth at once. It’s something to see. And his music was often chaotic and “out” in the free jazz meaning of the term. But then, Blacknuss, released in 1971, is a fusion album (jazz fusion: that beloved genre that has aged so well in the minds of music critics!) It’s Kirk leading his band through a bunch of the pop hits of the time. Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine,” Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On,” The Temptations’ “My Girl,” etc. I imagine some people thought it was pretty cheesy when it came out. I bet others didn’t listen to it because it sounded too weird. (Kirk sings the words to “Ain’t No Sunshine” through his horn while he’s playing.) So like, it’ll probably appeal to some people, and then piss other people off for the same reasons. And for lots of different reasons. But I like the paradox: how for a great artist, compromising — finding a way to fit in a little something for everyone — can be the most uncompromising stance at all.
Here’s Rahsaan doing Aretha Franklin’s “I Say a Little Prayer” in 1969. Confused and wild and all over the place and gorgeous.