My brother and I were discussing A$AP Rocky’s latest album AT. LONG. LAST. A$AP when he began to compare it to Kendrick Lamar’s recent album To Pimp a Butterfly. Without a doubt, both are definitely quality albums, yet comparing them is rather difficult to do. It isn’t common that any album is called perfect by a major publication, let alone the second album of someone whose debut album is already considered by some a classic.
A$AP Rocky has had an enormous progression since his career start and become a much stronger artist in nearly every regard, but comparing him to Kendrick is like comparing James Joyce to any of his contemporaries who may have written more popular works, yet have as of now faded to obscurity. This means no offense to A$AP, who I have tremendous respect for and his story, but the amount of artists who are widely remembered past their era are very few and generally ones who create amazing works that are considered classics and create a new way of creating.
Both Joyce and Lamar had a semi-autobiographical works that were considered their first completely great works in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and good kid, m.a.a.d. city, respectively. These works were harder to get into than the average popular work at the time, yet considered masterful works and incredibly important to their time periods. Joyce’s work made him a leader of literary modernism while Lamar’s gave him a reputation as the creator of the first incredible story-oriented album, rather than a collection of related songs.
Another two works that I think are related between these two creators are Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake (FW) and Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly (TPAB). Finnegan’s Wake is considered one of the most difficult novels to read in the English language. Despite it’s difficulty, it holds an incredible place in literature, sometimes causing comparisons between Joyce and the likes of Shakespeare and Dante. Similarly there is TPAB, an album demonstrating the nature of being black in America. It’s themes are strong and its structure is incredibly complex. Both make it a very provocative piece that holds more meaning than most hip hop albums released in the last year combined. Yet, in a world where hip hop is frequently an escape and a way to relax, TPAB is extremely difficult to listen to. I would listen to A$AP’s album any day over Kendrick’s just due to the sheer simplicity. However, just like FW, To Pimp a Butterfly already holds regard as one of the greatest works of hip hop of all time.
The arts all seem to come together in some ways or another. Parallels between people from different eras doing completely different things arise regardless of time or place. Who would’ve thought how similar the works of an Irishman from the early 20th century would parallel those of a black man from Compton in the 21st?