September 24, 2014

Spinning Singles: Kendrick Lamar, Miley Cyrus

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Kendrick Lamar — “i”

The art accompanying “i,” Kendrick Lamar’s first single in almost two years, is a picture of a Crip and a Blood, each with their hands in the shape of a heart. Combined with the gritty storytelling that brought Lamar fame, I expected something heavy about the costs of gang violence. So when “i” finally dropped Tuesday morning, it was a bit of shock that it was such a gleeful song. Heavily sampling of The Isley Brothers’ “That Lady” results in abundant guitars, soul and a tone that, when coupled with Kendrick’s sing-song, rapid fire raps, is reminiscent of Pharell’s “Happy.”  Comparing “i” to “Happy” shortchanges the former though, as Kendrick’s lyrics remind us that simply enjoying such self-love comes with societal complications. However, references to ghettos, weapons, drugs and police do not dampen the tenor of the song, but instead turn it into an inspirational tale of overcoming adversity. “Give my story to the children and the lesson they can read/And the glory to the feeling of the only unseen/Seen enough, make a motherfucker scream, ‘I love myself!’” Kendrick emphatically concludes.

The only downside to such joy? Tuesday, Rolling Stone ran a story in which Kendrick says that the follow up to Good Kid, M.A.A.D City may not see a release until 2015. But until then, at least we have “i” to remind us that the King still holds the throne.

— Calvin Patten

Miley Cyrus — “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” Cover

Covering a classic rock song can be a daunting task, and Miley Cyrus’s attempt is fairly impressive. Though her tone is quite different from that of Led Zeppelin’s lead singer Robert Plant, she sticks to the original dynamics and emotional inflections that make the song so powerful. While it would be easy to cut some of the guitar solos and use this opportunity to showcase her range, Cyrus does not make any changes to the song’s structure, leaving purists content. It seems that Cyrus’s abilities do extend beyond pop and that she can musically express lyrics more meaningful than “La di da di di, we like to party.”

However, in her attempts to emulate Plant’s original dynamics, she ventures into the dangerous territory of shout-singing, which is a little hard on the ears. The original version does not require you to turn down your volume, but this cover certainly does. It seems that Cyrus could use a few tips on vocal control — perhaps from fellow pop singer P!nk, whose cover of the same song is excellent and proves that pop stars can indeed tackle classic rock. All the same, Cyrus does a good job of showcasing her talents here and of adapting her style to the song. It is evident that she is able to expand her repertoire and cover genres that she may not be accustomed to, but her stylistic choices are better for her usual songs than for Led Zeppelin.

— Emily Fournier