KENDRICK LAMAR just received 11 Grammy nominations for the music he released in 2015. So why are none of the deeply funky jams from the greatest rap album of the year playing on hip-hop radio?
What strange world is this, where two dudes drearily chanting the word “jumpman” makes a radio hit and the joy explosion of “King Kunta” does not? Isn’t radio meant to bob heads? Is there any album better guaranteed to bob heads than To Pimp a Butterfly? Is the frequent mediocrity of radio hits not an unfortunate happenstance but an actual requirement?
Granted, good music often gets no air while crappy music gets lots. Also granted that commercial radio is marginal in today’s splintered stream-listening world. But Kendrick is atop the game, not some scrappy unsigned hype. “Swimming Pools,” “The Recipe” and “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe” were in relentless rotation when good kid, m.A.A.d city came out. And the TPAB tracks aren’t merely good; they’re magnificently choreographed gems of funkdafication with transcendent lyrical depth. And not in a cloying, undergroundy, this-is-good-for-you spinach rap way. In a wildly fun way. The 90s bumps of “You Ain’t Gotta Lie” and the cheerful affirmation of “i” seem mighty radio-friendly. And what could be more “accessible” than a breakdown with sexy lady voices singing We want the funk?
“Alright” and “These Walls” were released as radio singles and supposedly got some play this fall, but I never once heard them, despite much radio listening (in Kendrick’s home state, no less). And they’re nowhere to be seen on current Billboard charts, which track a combination of radio play and streams.
This may have been an executive decision on K-dot’s part. Perhaps he was all-knowingly aware that radio stations would fear to hear the realness in store. Perhaps he decided he did not want to cook up another “Recipe,” another sacrifice to the gods of commercial success. (One suspects he did not like “The Recipe,” which he left off the non-deluxe gkmc.)
Of course, though I’m feigning shock, the tragic Kendricklessness of commercial radio is not that shocking. To Pimp a Butterfly is a gloriously listenable album with subversive messages woven into the fun. (“King Kunta” refers to Alex Haley’s novel about slavery, lest we forget.) That may be a dangerous thing from the point of view of whatever corporate overlords run things. I doubt the overlords put out a Kendrick-banning memo per se, but maybe they don’t have to. Unwritten rules are real. Kendrick breaks them all.