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Dissect

Cole Cuchna | Spotify

Learn more about the albums you love with Dissect, a serialized music podcast from Cole Cuchna & Spotify Studios. Each season we pick one album, forensically dissecting one song per episode. Line-by-line, note-by-note, we learn more about the human experience through some of the greatest music ever made. S3: Blonde by Frank Ocean S2: MBDTF by Kanye West S1: To Pimp a Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar

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Our serialized examination of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West continues with the album’s third song “Power.” From its meticulous, heterogeneous production to its tightly wound lyricism and complex, metaphoric thematic content, “Power” is a detailed, intricately chiseled marble statue approach to songwriting. Kanye simultaneously explores power both as a concept in and of itself, as well as its personal affects on his life and mind. It’s something Kanye clearly struggles with. He’s smart enough to recognize power’s ability to deteriorate his spirit, but also recognizes his own inability to let it go. Listen to “Power” by Kanye West on Apple Music. If you enjoy Dissect, consider leaving a review on Apple Podcasts, tell a friend about the show, or share a link on your favorite social media channel. Photo: Jamieson Cox

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Dissect is back! Season 2 of Dissect is dedicated entirely to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is an aural pageantry of West’s uncanny talents as producer and rapper, a sonic amalgamation of the four solo albums that precede it. It’s thirteen tracks are ambitiously scaled, a musical maximalism as yet unheard in the world of hip-hop. Within this sonic coliseum, Kanye bares the confliction between his ego and insecurity, between the purity of his creative gifts and his incessant need for adoration. The album’s loose narrative outlines Kanye’s rise and fall from public grace, a kaleidoscopic meandering into the deep recesses of his mind, his fantasies. One moment he’s brash and confident, the next he’s vulnerable and lost. Our first three episodes this season will serve as a preface to Twisted Fantasy. Today, we’ll explore Kanye’s early life and hard-fought ascension up the ranks of the music industry. As we’ll see, Kanye’s infamous ego was born of insecurity, a “forcefield” he constructed to defend himself against the torrent of naysayers who doubted him early in his career. Listen to Kanye West on Apple Music. Support Dissect on Patreon.com/dissect. Subscribe and review us on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. Photo: Reuters Staff

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We dissect "Solo" by Frank Ocean, a series of narrative vignettes expounding on loneliness, freedom, and the heaven and hell within us all. Listen to Dissect on Spotify and get episodes a week early and access to exclusive bonus episodes. Follow @dissectpodcast on Twitter and Instagram.

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We dissect "Pink + White" by Frank Ocean, a beautiful, mosaic-like remembrance of childhood. Listen to Dissect on Spotify and get episodes a week before all other platforms and exclusive bonus episodes. Follow @dissectpodcast on Twitter and Instagram.

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We continue our examination of Blonde by Frank Ocean with the heartbreaking song "Ivy." Listen to Dissect free on Spotify and get episodes a week early plus exclusive bonus episodes.

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Our season long examination of Blonde by Frank Ocean begins with its iconic opening track "Nikes." Listen to Dissect free on Spotify and receive episodes a week early plus exclusive bonus episodes.

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In this bonus episode, Cole sits down with grammy-award winning producer/songwriter Tricky Stewart. Tricky is responsible for songs like "Single Ladies" by Beyonce and "Umbrella" by Rihanna. He also signed Frank Ocean to Def Jam in 2009 and helped Frank produce his debut mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra. For more bonus episodes, listen to Dissect on Spotify.

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We dissect the last three tracks from Frank Ocean's Channel Orange before drawing some overall conclusions about the album as a whole. Then we take a look at the events during the 4 years between Channel Orange and Frank's next albums Endless and Blonde. Listen to Dissect on Spotify for early access to episodes and exclusive bonus episodes.

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We dissect "Bad Religion" by Frank Ocean, a harrowing ballad expressing the torment of unrequited love.

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We conclude our two part analysis of Frank Ocean’s contemporary masterwork “Pyramids.”

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We dissect Frank Ocean’s 10-minute masterwork “Pyramids” from Channel Orange. Part 1 of 2.

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Our serialized examination of Frank Ocean’s channel ORANGE continues with “Super Rich Kids”, a tragic rumination on the effects of wealth disguised as a party anthem. Follow @dissectpodcast on Twitter and Instagram.

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Our serialized examination of the music of Frank Ocean continues with a look at the cultural impact of Frank’s open letter that revealed his sexuality days before the release of Channel Orange. Then we dissect Ocean’s biggest hit to date “Thinking About You.” Follow @dissectpodcast on Twitter and Instagram.

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Season 3 of Dissect is dedicated entirely to the music of Frank Ocean. Today we begin with Ocean’s upbringing in New Orleans and his move to Los Angeles after Hurricane Katrina. We’ll then break down his landmark 2011 mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra. Dissect is a Spotify Original Podcast. Follow @dissectpodcast on Twitter and Instagram.

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Today, we conclude our serialized examination of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West. After a recap of the album’s narrative and themes, we’ll discuss those mysterious applause that conclude the album. We’ll talk about fame, art’s ability to inspire action in our lives, and hear Dissect listeners’ thoughts on Kanye West in a montage of listener submitted audio clips. It’s been a beautiful, life-changing season. Thank you, everyone. Purchase My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy on iTunes. Support Dissect at Patreon.com/Dissect Follow Dissect @dissectpodcast on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.   Links to sources noted at the end of today’s show: Project Runaway by Noah Callahan-Bever 33 1/3: Twisted Fantasy by Kirk Walker Graves Watching the Throne Podcast  

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Our serialized examination of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West continues with a Part 1 of our double episode on the album’s nine-minute emotional centerpiece “Runaway“. According to Runaway’s co-producer Emile Haynie, Kanye conceptualized “Runaway” in just four minutes. We dissect the iconic opening piano line, examining its conscious use of overtones and rhythmic deception. After deconstructing the song’s beat, we turn to its lyrics and Kanye’s cathartic embrace of his imperfections. Listen to “Runaway” on Apple Music. Support Dissect at Patreon.com/Dissect. Photo: DON

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S2E8 – Monster by Kanye West

Sep 26th, 201733:41

We continue our serialized analysis of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West with the album’s next track “Monster”. “Monster” is an exemplary model of musical cohesion. Everything about the track contributes to its monstrous theme. The production rumbles and shakes with a persistent, driving low end and minimal treble. There’s use of multiple sound effects, including literal monster roars, screams, and detuned voices. Kanye also selects guest artists and coaxes them to staying on theme: Justin Vernon’s distorted, sinster introduction, Rick Ross’s grisly, monstrous voice, Jay-Z’s clever wordplay, and of course, Nicki Minaj’s alter-ego invested verse, which many argue to be the best verse of the entire decade. Listen to Monster on Apple Music. Support Dissect on Patreon.

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We continue our serialized examination of To Pimp a Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar with the album’s fifteenth track, “i.” “i” is the narrative conclusion of To Pimp a Butterfly, the apex of Kendrick’s teachings on self-love and self-acceptance. Written for his incarcerated friends and suicidal kids he meets on tour, “i” was released as the album’s first single six months prior to the full release of To Pimp a Butterfly. This early version, which we’ll refer to as the “studio version,” does not appear on the album. Instead, a live performance of “i” is used. Because Kendrick uses “i” self-referentially as a climactic narrative tool, we’re going to first use the studio version to examine the song’s thematic content. In Part 2, we’ll cross-examine the live version as it appears on the album. Kendrick’s vocal inflection throughout “i” is soft, child-like, and unassuming. Like the song’s “Complexion (A Zulu Love)” and “You Ain’t Gotta Lie (Momma Said),” there’s a calculated simplicity to “i.” With a hook centered around the refrain “I Love Myself!,” it would seem Kendrick wants his message to be understood by the world, and doesn’t feel the need to dilute the message with lyrical gymnastics, which we know he’s more than capable of. He’s humbly setting aside his technical ability to make his positive message more accessible and understood by all. If you enjoy what you hear, consider subscribing and rating Dissect on iTunes. It really helps.

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Dissect podcast continues its preface of Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly with an overview of Lamar’s major label debut good kid, m.A.A.d. city. good kid, m.A.A.d. city spans one pivotal day in Lamar’s teenage upbringing in Compton, California. The album’s protagonist, Kendrick himself at age 16, is jumped by gangbangers in front of Sherene’s house, Kendrick’s girlfriend at the time. Kendrick and his friends retaliate, leaving one of Kendrick’s best friends dead in his arms. While debating whether to retaliate once again, Kendrick and his friends are approached by an old woman, who leads the children in the Sinner’s Prayer. This sets Kendrick on a new path, dedicating his life towards family, God, and music. Thematically, the album explores the idea of a good kid in a mad city and the ways in which one’s environment influences can taint the purity inherent in us all. He also battles  to reconcile his love and resentment for his hometown of Compton. Lamar’s next album, To Pimp a Butterfly, is in many ways a sequel to good kid, m.A.A.d. city. It’s for this reason that we’ve dedicated an entire episode to understanding its message and narrative arc.

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Episode 1 of Dissect examines Kendrick Lamar‘s To Pimp a Butterfly with the history of Compton, California and Lamar’s transformation from K Dot, a young mixtape rapper, to Kendrick Lamar, a true artist.

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We dissect "Seigfried" by Frank Ocean, a song expressing Frank's feelings of alienation and isolation, leading to an existential crisis. Season 3 merchandise is now available at dissectpodcast.com. Want to be featured on the Season 3 finale episode? Follow @dissectpodcast on Twitter or Instagram for details.

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We dissect "White Ferrari" by Frank Ocean, an emotionally potent car ride through Frank's memories of a failed relationship. Season 3 merchandise is now available at dissectpodcast.com/merch Want to be featured on the Season 3 finale episode? Follow @dissectpodcast on Twitter or Instagram for details.

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We dissect the first four tracks from Blonde's second half: "Solo (Reprise)" feat. Andre 3000, "Pretty Sweet," "Facebook Story," and "Close to You." Listen to Dissect on Spotify and get episodes a week before all other platforms and exclusive bonus episodes. Follow @dissectpodcast on Twitter and Instagram.

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In celebration of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’s 20th year anniversary, Dissect will be honoring this historic album with a special mini-series coming this Fall to Spotify.

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We dissect "Nights" by Frank Ocean, a two-part odyssey whose iconic beat switch divides more than just the song's two halves. Listen to Dissect for free on Spotify and get episodes a week early plus exclusive access to bonus episodes. Follow @dissectpodcast on Twitter and Instagram.

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Today's special double episode dissects "Skyline To" and "Self Control" by Frank Ocean, two songs that reflect deeply on summer romance. Listen to Dissect on Spotify and get episodes a week early plus access to exclusive bonus episodes. Follow @dissectpodcast on Twitter and Instagram.

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We continue our serialized examination of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy with the album’s final tracks “Lost in the World” and “Who Will Survive in America?” “Lost in the World” is a cathartic embrace of letting go, an anthem of ambiguity that finds Kanye reconciling the conflicting duality presented throughout the album. You can support Dissect at Patreon.com/dissect

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S2E14 – Blame Game by Kanye West

Nov 14th, 201732:04

Our serialized examination of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West continues with the penultimate track “Blame Game”. “Blame Game” finds Kanye attempting to decipher who’s at fault for his crumbling relationship and rapidly deteriorating life. Of course, we’ll also answer that timeless question: What exactly did Yeezy teach us? Support Dissect on Patreon.com/dissect

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Our serialized examination of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy continues with “Hell of a Life”. Coming off the heels of the album’s emotional centerpiece “Runaway”, the explicit, porn-filled fantasy that is “Hell of a Life” couldn’t seem more thematically distant. But strangely, “Hell of a Life” is in many ways a journey toward self-acceptance. Kanye exposes the darkest recesses of his imagination, an honest assessment of his most private thoughts. And the more honest Kanye is about himself, the more alienated and shunned from the world he becomes. Listen to “Hell of a Life” on Apple Music. Support Dissect at Patreon.com/Dissect. Photo: Zach Seemayer  

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Dissect needs YOUR voice! We’re featuring listener submitted audio clips on our upcoming Season 2 finale episode. Find submission instructions on our Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram (@dissectpodcast). It’s really easy. In lieu of a new episode today, we’re sharing an interview Cole did with the It’s All Dead podcast. They discuss the origins of Dissect, Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, concept albums, empathy, and more. Dissect will be back with a new episode next week. Thanks for your patience. Support Dissect at Patreon.com/dissect

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We continue our serialized examination of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West with Part 2 of our “Runaway” double-episode. After an examination of Pusha T’s “we need more douchebag” verse, we discover how the instrumental outro reorchestrates the song’s first six minutes with just cellos and piano. We make a slight detour to talk Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, Greek Mythology, Order, Chaos, and more — all to better understand why we find Kanye’s wordless concluding solo so moving. Finally, we look at Runaway’s premiere at the 2010 VMAs, a career-defining moment for a victorious Kanye West. Listen to “Runaway” on Apple Podcasts. Support Dissect at Patreon.com/Dissect. Photo: DON

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Our serialized examination of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West continues with fan favorite “Devil in a New Dress.” “Devil in a New Dress” is an impressionistic glimpse into Kanye’s failed relationship with a woman he names his “sin-sation.” The song is built on dichotomy: love and lust, heaven and hell, authenticity and deception. We’ll hear this thematically in the song’s lyrics, but also tonally in the song’s unresolved, contrasting chord structure. At the conclusion of our episode, we’ll display how the song’s abrupt ending sets up the album’s next track “Runaway.” Things take an unexpected turn we realize how inexorably linked the two tracks are both thematically and tonally. Listen to “Devil in a New Dress” on Apple Music. You can support Dissect at Patreon.com/Dissect. Photo: Anika Reed

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S2E9 – So Appalled by Kanye West

Oct 3rd, 201735:12

Today we continue our serialized examination of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West with the album’s seventh track “So Appalled“. “So Appalled” features Jay-Z, Pusha T, CyHi The Prynce, Swizz Beats, and The RZA. In many ways, the track represents the “art by committee” approach to Twisted Fantasy, and we open today’s episode detailing the work environment during the album’s creation. We’ll also briefly explore the history of the “posse cut” in hip-hop before diving into our extensive analysis of “So Appalled,” a track that sees each guest MC expounding about the ridiculousness of the successful life they live. This episode cites an amazing account of the Twisted Fantasy sessions by Complex Magazine. Listen to “So Appalled” on Apple Music. You can support Dissect at Patreon.com/dissect. Photo: Delphine Chui

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Kanye’s Cry for Help

Sep 19th, 201715:11

This is a story about empathy disguised as a story about Kanye West. Last year around this time, Kanye took stage at the Golden One Center in Sacramento, CA. After three songs and a fifteen-minute rant, Kanye dropped the mic and canceled the show. Shortly after, he canceled the remainder of his Saint Pablo tour dates and was checked into a hospital for psychiatric evaluation. I attended the now infamous Kanye Sacramento concert. In lieu of a new episode today, I’m sharing with you a piece I wrote a few days after this experience. I believe its message still rings true today, perhaps even more so. If you’d like to support Dissect, visit patreon.com/dissect Photo: Solace

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We continue our serialized examination of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West with the album’s fifth track “All of the Lights.” “All of the Lights” and it’s fourteen high-profile guest vocalists is the kind of decadence that borders on excessive indulgence like the terrible feeling you get after eating too much cake. This kind of problematic indulgence is an inherent quality of celebrity, and “All of the Lights” is calculated overstimulation, a sensory overload aimed to express the strung-outed-ness of a life lived beneath a perpetual spotlight. Structurally, “All of the Lights” acts as a bridge into another world. While there’s been moments of fantasy in the album’s first three songs, on “All of the Lights” we hear for the first time an elaborate fantasy world created throughout an entire song, complete with its own narrative arc. It begins a glamorous, ambitious ode to stardom and ends a dysfunctional, unraveling mess. It’s an ongoing expression of the internal conflict and dichotomy Kanye feels within himself, forever torn between the justification of his greatness and his apparent internal insecurity and sensitivity following the VMAs, his mother’s death, and his failed engagement. You can support Dissect at Patreon.com/dissect. Listen to “All of the Lights” on Apple Podcasts.

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S2E5 – Gorgeous by Kanye West

Aug 29th, 201737:10

We continue our serialized examination of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West with the album’s second track “Gorgeous.” “Gorgeous” is undoubtedly one of Kanye’s strongest displays as lyricist and rapper. There’s nary a wasted word on “Gorgeous” as Kanye seamlessly weaves cheeky pop culture references with poignant racial anecdotes and self-empowering affirmations. It’s a blueprint to atonement, to overcoming uncontrollable forces with sheer grit, determination, and self-assurance. Kanye seems less concerned with how to end racism and more concerned with how to overcome it, how to do great things in spite of it. Layers of emotional and psychological complexity are added when we consider the song’s hook, an observation on Kanye’s psyche after the VMA backlash. It subtly reveals that fear of failure, fear of judgment, fear of losing it all are guiding, underlying principles in Kanye’s behavior. It would seem for all his bravado, Kanye is not fully confident in his confidence, his ego a defense mechanism to adversity. Listen to “Gorgeous” on Apple Music. You can support Dissect by becoming a Patreon or dropping a review on Apple Podcasts. Photo: Victor Galvez

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S2E4 – Dark Fantasy by Kanye West

Aug 22nd, 201733:36

We begin our serialized examination of Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy with the album’s opening track “Dark Fantasy.” From its opening moments, “Dark Fantasy” establishes the sound, themes, and narrative that will be explored throughout My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Sonically, it consolidates Kanye’s entire musical palate and creative powers developed over his first four solo albums. It’s a beautiful amalgamation of soul, hip-hop, RnB, classical, and gospel, at once seamless and juxtaposed, and utterly grandiose. Lyrically, we find Kanye at perhaps his most economical. Woven within just two compact verses and a brief bridge, Kanye establishes a complex character who appears confident and living a luxurious life of fame and fortune. But veiled beneath the surface is a struggle between good and evil, someone who is all too aware of the shallowness of the drugs, sex, and materialism he indulges in. Listen to “Dark Fantasy” on Apple Music. If you enjoy Dissect, consider dropping a review on Apple Podcasts. It really helps. Photo: Jessica Arnold

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S2E3 – The Old Kanye

Aug 15th, 201742:58

We continue our serialized examination of Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy with third and final installment of our introductory episodes. Our job today is frankly impossible. We’re going to cover the four masterful albums by Kanye West in just under forty minutes, a borderline audacious premise for a show about in-depth analysis. But we must remember the larger goal: to provide context, to get a basic understanding of the trajectory of Kanye’s musical output and success. We’ll cherry-pick a song or two from each album that’s representative of Kanye’s production and lyrical subject matter at that particular time, gaining a broad sense of the evolution of Kanye’s art leading up to our main course, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Listen to Kanye’s discography on Apple Music. If you enjoy Dissect, consider dropping a review on Apple Podcasts. It really helps. Photo: Victor Luckerson

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Our serialized analysis of Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy continues with part two of our three part introductory preface. On our last episode, we followed the artistically gifted and confident young Kanye West as he ascended up hip-hop’s totem pole through his uncanny work ethic, unmatched determination, and unique production style. On October 23rd, 2002, just two weeks after his deal with Roc-A-Fella Records was announced, Kanye fell asleep at the wheel and collided headfirst with an oncoming car, breaking his jaw in three places. Just two weeks after his accident, and with his mouth still wired shut, Kanye would record “Through the Wire,” the song that would ultimately launch his rap career. On today’s episode, we dissect “Through the Wire” as an example of Kanye’s early production and rapping style as well as trace the history of sampling and its place in music history. Listen to “Through the Wire” by Kanye West on Apple Music. If you enjoy Dissect, consider dropping a review on Apple Podcasts. It really helps. Photo: Lars Brandle

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Maybe it’s time we pray for Kendrick Lamar. On his 2015 album To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick undergoes a metamorphosis from self-loathing Compton rapper to self-loving global icon, a transformation he likens to caterpillar turned butterfly. It seemed to function as a blueprint for salvation, aimed especially at the African-American community navigating the racially charged strains of modern America. But rather than end Butterfly on the euphoria of the song “i,” Kendrick instead concludes with the epilogue “Mortal Man.” After spending the majority of the album questioning himself and the world around him, “Mortal Man” asks us, his listeners, to question ourselves, specifically the build-them-up watch-them-fall relationship we have with our leaders. He reminds us that however large his mythos has become, he’s human and he’ll need our loyalty when “shit hits the fan.” “Mortal Man” is a foreboding provocation, an insightful premonition about his future after the release of To Pimp a Butterfly, an album he knew would propel him beyond his then status of critically-acclaimed rapper. Indeed, Kendrick is now in the eyes of many a savior who can lead us to the promise land. Two years later, we get the album DAMN., an incredibly dark, dense record, and perhaps Kendrick’s most honest to date. While we’re still in the incubation stages of processing DAMN., today’s bonus episode of Dissect contain my first impressions, more opening remarks than analysis. Enjoy.

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Our season long examination of To Pimp a Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar concludes with our final thoughts on the album. After a broad overview of the album and breakdown of the concluding poem, we’ll dissect the central “contrasting duality” theme, the album title and cover art. We’ll then hand the mic over to you, the listeners, in an audio montage compiled from the submission you sent sharing your biggest takeaway from the album. If you want to keep in touch over the season break, sign-up for our newsletter at dissectpodcast.com.   If you’ve enjoyed Dissect this season, please rate and review Dissect on iTunes.

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We continue our serialized examination of To Pimp a Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar with Part 2 of the album’s final song “Mortal Man.” On our last episode, we heard how the song “Mortal Man” questioned Kendrick’s new leadership role and loyalty of his fanbase. At the end of the song, the narrative poem returns and is finally read in full. It’s revealed that the poem was being read to none other than deceased rapper Tupac Shakur. What follows is a metaphysical conversation between the two as Kendrick asks Pac for advice on both his own personal situation and the state of our nation. On today’s episode, we dive deep into Pac’s conflicted legacy and his eerie conversation with Kendrick. If like what you hear, consider subscribing and rating Dissect on iTunes. It really helps.

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We continue our serialized examination of To Pimp a Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar with album’s final song “Mortal Man.” Kendrick reached the narrative conclusion of To Pimp a Butterfly with the live performance of the song “i” in his hometown of Compton. In a full circle moment, Kendrick embodied the leadership role he was so reluctant to embrace. Through the power of music, the spoken word, and a message of self-love and acceptance, Kendrick ended a fight in the crowd, a metaphor for black-on-black violence and gang conflicts in inner cities like Compton. Thus far on To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick has held a mirror to himself, analyzing his new place in the world of celebrity and success outside the streets of Compton, the only life he knew for twenty plus years. Now, having shared his story, Kendrick will turn that mirror around on us, the listeners. Mortal Man is the epilogue of To Pimp a Butterfly. An epilogue is a section or speech at the end of a book or play that comments on or serves as conclusion to what has happened dramatically. Clocking in at over 13 minutes, Mortal Man is clearly divided into two parts, and we’re going to dedicate two episodes to unpacking it. Today, we’ll examine the song Mortal Man. On our next episode, we’ll dissect the extended dramatic skit that ends the album. If like what you hear, consider subscribing and rating Dissect on iTunes. It really helps.

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We continue our serialized analysis of To Pimp a Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar with Part 2 of the album’s fifteenth track, “i.” “i” is the narrative conclusion of To Pimp a Butterfly, the apex of Kendrick’s teachings on self-love and self-acceptance. While the studio single version of “I” we examined in our last episode could’ve easily acted as the album’s narrative climax, Kendrick chose instead to use a staged “live performance” on the album. For those of us that were familiar with the studio single, hearing of the live version was at first a somewhat jarring experience. Of course, Kendrick knew this would happen. His using a live version is a strategic, self-referential appropriation, the reasons for which become clear when the performance comes to a halt after a fight breaks out in the crowd, and Kendrick recites a spoken word piece that puts an end to the scuffle. The statement “Kendrick Lamar, by far, the realest negus alive” at the end of the spoken word piece is the album’s exclamation mark, the moment of triumph, the one-liner in the movie that signals the hero has finally conquered the villain. Kendrick, who’s battled the schemes of Uncle Sam, the sins of Lucy, and his own suicidal thoughts, is now triumphantly self-affirming, crowning himself king and believing it. He has embraced his leadership role and his words had a tangible effect on the crowd full of Compton natives, symbolically breaking up a fight through the power of music with an empowering, positive message. In this way, Kendrick’s story becomes universal. The principals of self-respect, love for others, and realness he preaches can be applied to all of our lives, no matter our circumstances. It’s truly a powerful thing. Through these principles, Kendrick is able to unite the world around our common struggles of self-doubt, lonesomeness, and feeling lost in the world while offering some very valid practices that can help us overcome these struggles. It’s one of the reasons why To Pimp a Butterfly is so effective. It’s at once deeply personal yet extremely universal. Kendrick is somehow able to make relatable his own circumstances, circumstances very different than the majority of us, but he conveys his story in such a way that we all feel a connection. It’s truly a powerful thing. If you enjoy what you hear, consider subscribing and rating Dissect on iTunes. It really helps.

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We continue our serialized examination of To Pimp a Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar with the album’s fourteenth track “You Ain’t Gotta Lie (Momma Said).” We’re currently in the midst of the album’s fourth act, which we’ve titled “The Butterfly Sheds Light.”  Having embraced his leadership role after his experience in South Africa, Kendrick is providing his community with a series of easily understandable and relatable songs focused on self-acceptance. On “You Ain’t Gotta Lie (Momma Said),” Kendrick exposes the fabricated behavior of the members of his community who attempt to act in accordance to some ill-conceived notion of “cool” to fit in. His message for them is simple: be yourself, love yourself, and love those around you. If you enjoy what you hear, subscribe and rate Dissect on iTunes. It really helps.    

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Our season long analysis of To Pimp a Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar continues with part two of the album’s thirteenth track “The Blacker the Berry.” The song was the album’s second single and released amidst the height of the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s incredibly potent, packed with references to the historic oppression of the black community, race relations in contemporary American society, police brutality, the US penitentiary system, and the complexities of black identity, among many others. Central to “The Blacker the Berry” is an idea known as “double-consciousness.” Coined by writer W.E.B. Du Bois, double-consciousness describes the internal conflict experienced by the oppressed groups living in an oppressive society (see: black people in white America). Du Bois argued that attempting to reconcile your African heritage while being raised in a white European-dominated society posed psychological challenges. In his book The Souls of Black Folk, Du Bois writes: “In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost. He does not wish to Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He wouldn’t bleach his Negro blood in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of opportunity closed roughly in his face.”  Double-consciousness runs throughout “The Blacker the Berry.” On a small scale, it’s expressed in lines like “I want everything black, I ain’t need black.” On a larger scale, it’s expressed as the contrast between the frustration and anger of the song’s verses and  the dramatic “hypocrite” twist in the song’s final line. With so much to unpack, we chose to split this episode into two parts. Today on part two, we’ll take a look at the controversial reception of “The Blacker the Berry,” let Kendrick tell his side of the story through a few select interviews, and do a little detective work regarding the truth of the song’s infamous last line. If you like what you hear, subscribe and rate Dissect on iTunes, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Our season long analysis of To Pimp a Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar continues with the album’s thirteenth track “The Blacker the Berry.” The song was the album’s second single and released amidst the height of the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s incredibly potent, packed with references to the historic oppression of the black community, race relations in contemporary American society, police brutality, the US penitentiary system, and the complexities of black identity, among many others. Central to “The Blacker the Berry” is an idea known as “double-consciousness.” Coined by writer W.E.B. Du Bois, double-consciousness describes the internal conflict experienced by the oppressed groups living in an oppressive society (see: black people in white America). Du Bois argued that attempting to reconcile your African heritage while being raised in a white European-dominated society posed psychological challenges. In his book The Souls of Black Folk, Du Bois writes: “In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost. He does not wish to Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He wouldn’t bleach his Negro blood in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of opportunity closed roughly in his face.” Double-consciousness runs throughout “The Blacker the Berry.” On a small scale, it’s expressed in lines like “I want everything black, I ain’t need black.” On a larger scale, it’s expressed as the contrast between the frustration and anger of the song’s verses and  the dramatic “hypocrite” twist in the song’s final line. With so much to unpack, we chose to split this episode into two parts. On today’s episode, we’ll conduct a line-by-line analysis of “The Blacker the Berry” and divert into a few areas of historical significance alluded to in its lyrics. If you like what you hear, subscribe and rate Dissect on iTunes, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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We continue our season long analysis of To Pimp a Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar with the album’s twelfth track “Complexion (A Zulu Love).” After battling depression, survival’s guilt, temptation, selfishness, and suicidal thoughts, Kendrick was humbled by an encounter with god on the album’s previous track “How Much a Dollar Cost?” Kendrick’s repentance represents the album’s axis point and signals the beginning of Act 4, which I’ve titled “The Butterfly Sheds Light.” Having been humbled by god, Kendrick will embrace his leadership role, and become an advocate for the Compton’s of the world. Over the next four tracks, Kendrick will speak directly to the black community and preach a message of unity, love of self, and independence. Kendrick’s first order of business will be to address colorism and black beauty on “Complexion (A Zulu Love).” Inspired by his pivotal trip to South Africa in 2013, “Complexion” attempts to negate the antiquated notions of colorism with confidence, positivity, and a celebration of the beauty found in all women. In a surely calculated move, Kendrick chose a buoyant, danceable backdrop to support his message. More than most, Kendrick knows the intrinsic, persuasive power of a good beat. If you enjoy what you hear, subscribe and rate Dissect on iTunes.

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Our season long examination of Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly continues with the album’s eleventh track, “How Much a Dollar Cost?” Plagued by Uncle Sam (the American Dream) and Lucy (temptation), Kendrick has stood at a metaphoric crossroads for most of the album, deciding whether to use or pimp his talent for good or evil. “How Much a Dollar Cost?” will force Kendrick’s hand. The song tells a story of Kendrick’s encounter with a homeless man in a gas station in South Africa. The man asks Kendrick for a dollar, which he refuses due to his selfishness. The homeless man reveals himself as god in the final line of the song, and as it turns out, the cost of a dollar was Kendrick’s spot in heaven. Upon this discovery, Kendrick is humbled, asks for forgiveness, and it set on a path of righteousness. And while Kendrick’s spot in heaven was the answer to the question of “How Much a Dollar Cost?”, we can also interpret this question in an alternative, equally relevant way. It asks: How much does the pursuit of the dollar cost the individual seeking it? In other words, what price does our spirit pay in our pursuit of wealth and success, the American Dream? Does it inherently breed selfishness, individualism, and self-loathing? Does our society truly benefit from this mentality, or does it keep us a nation divided, all independently chasing a dollar while ignoring the needs of our neighbors? How much a dollar cost to you? If you enjoy what you hear, consider subscribing and rating Dissect on iTunes.

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Our season long examination of To Pimp a Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar continues with the album’s tenth track “Hood Politics.” “Hood Politics” begins with a voicemail Kendrick receives from an old Compton friend. He calls out Kendrick for never answering his phone, dressing differently, and forgetting about his friends. The voicemail triggers Kendrick’s survival’s guilt for escaping Compton. Earlier on the album, Kendrick was sent into a fit of manic depression by his survival’s guilt on the song “u.” On “Hood Politics,” Kendrick attempts to convince himself of the street credibility he’s earned as a youth in Compton, and how he’s remained true to his roots despite his success. The song is divided into three verses that speak on varying politics: Verse one centers around hood politics, verse two talks of governmental politics, and verse three speaks on hip-hop politics. Kendrick chooses a high-pitched vocal inflection to express a kind of adolescent frustration with the world around him. The contrast between the nostalgic, warm feelings of the previous song “Momma” and the anger and frustration on “Hood Politics” prove that Kendrick is still conflicted about his feelings for Compton. While “Momma” seemed like a step forward towards resolution, “Hood Politics” seems like a step back (albeit it a rather fun one), and we’re left in mystery about the path Kendrick will ultimately choose. If you like what you hear, subscribe and rate Dissect on iTunes. It really helps.

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Our season long examination of To Pimp a Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar continues with the album’s ninth track “Momma.” On “Momma,” Kendrick returns home to Compton for the second time on the album. On his first return, he gloated about his success and status on the song “King Kunta.” This time around Kendrick shows signs of maturation. He’s reflective, nostalgic. Having been through the trauma of “u” and the hypnotic seduction of “For Sale?,” home is now a place of grounding comfort that helps Kendrick in his search for clarity and contentment. On verse three, Kendrick returns to another, more metaphoric home: Africa. He recounts an experience in South Africa in which he feels an inert kinship with a boy there. It forces Kendrick to reconsider his entire identity and sends him spinning into an existential crisis that’s reflected in the song’s abstract outro. By its conclusion, “Momma” sees Kendrick at yet another crossroads. The third verse closes with the line “if you pick destiny over rest in peace, be an advocate, tell your homies especially to come back home.” Is Kendrick to give into his suicidal thoughts or use his experiences to better the Compton’s of the world? Should he pimp his success for good or for evil? By extension, Kendrick also poses these questions to his listeners. How do you choose to use your influence? Do you measure success by the contents of your bank account or the contents of your heart? Are you selfless or selfish? If you enjoy today’s episode, consider reviewing Dissect on iTunes. It really helps.

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Our season long examination of To Pimp a Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar continues with the album’s eighth song “For Sale? (Interlude).” Whereas the album’s second track “For Free?” was an external reaction to the seductive lures of Uncle Sam, the American Dream incarnate, “For Sale?” is the internal reaction to seductive lures of Lucy, the Devil incarnate. The contrast of “For Free?” and “For Sale?” starts to reveal the intricacies of the album’s overall narrative structure. While we’ve seen examples of the contrasting duality theme on a small scale in individual songs, we’ll now begin to see it appear in large scale between entire songs. “For Sale?” takes place in Kendrick’s subconscious while he dreams. The majority of the song is told from the perspective of Lucy as she recounts the first time her and Kendrick met. It turns out, Lucy and Uncle Sam have a lot in common. Both attempt to pray on Kendrick’s naivety for their own selfish benefits. By the end of “For Sale?” we’ll realize Lucy is after Kendrick’s soul. Selling one’s soul to the devil is a classic literary idiom whose lineage dates back to Dante’s Inferno. Of course, utilizing such an idiom on a hip-hop album only adds to its weight and dynamism. If you like what you hear, consider rating Dissect on iTunes. It really helps.  

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We continue our serialized examination of Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly with the album’s next track “Alright.” In the context of the album’s narrative, “Alright” takes place the morning after the drunken confession heard on the previous song “u.” After a therapeutic confrontation of his demons, it seems Kendrick has awoken with a more optimistic outlook and seems determined to overcome his anxieties. Outside of the album, “Alright” has been adopted as an unofficial anthem of the Black Lives Matter movement. The song’s simple message of hope through solidarity and resilience has struck a chord with supporters of the movement, and the refrain “we gon be alright” has been heard chanted at protests and rallies across the country. While Black Lives Matter is an ongoing movement, let’s think back to the time of To Pimp a Butterfly’s release in March 2015. Just three months prior, the decision not to indict the officer who killed Michael Brown ignited protests and riots across the country. In the same month, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was seen holding a toy gun and was shot and killed by police. Lamar’s record was released in the midst of this national chaos. Less than a month after its release, Freddie Gray was arrested and sustained fatal spine injuries while being insecurely transported in the back of a motorcar. Gray’s death again caused national unrest culminating into a state of emergency declared in Baltimore. On June 28th of 2015, Kendrick opened the BET Awards with a memorable performance of “Alright.” The stage’s backdrop was donned with an enormous, tattered American flag and Kendrick rapped on top of a vandalized cop car. It was a seminal moment; a performance piece that expressed the frustration of his community. It evoked imagery of riot and protest, but through that imagery came a message of positivity and solidarity. “We been hurt, been down before. But we gon’ be alright.” Part of what makes To Pimp a Butterfly such an important album is songs like “Alright.” It encapsulates and expresses the feelings of time in history, and like many protest songs before it will serve as the soundtrack to a movement. When heard many years later, it will evoke emotions and situations forever embedded in our minds. My hope is that our future-selves will be living in a world where there’s no need for a Black Lives Matter movement and that Kendrick’s refrain “we gon’ be alright” has come true. If you enjoy what you’ve heard, consider rating Dissect on iTunes.

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We continue our serialized examination of Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly with the album’s next track “u.” “u” is the album’s emotional rock bottom. It’s one of the most gripping, emotionally vulnerable records in hip-hop. It’s a confrontation of inner demons and insecurities told with an honesty rarely found in the genre. If forced, I’d have to say “u” is my favorite song on To Pimp a Butterfly. From the unique production and musicianship, the metaphoric division of the song’s structure, the foley sounds of clinking bottles, and the moving execution of its heart-wrenching lyrics, “u” is a crowning achievement on one of the best album’s of all time. Being a native of Sacramento, California, it’s an added bonus that the second half of “u” was produced by relatively unknown Sacramento musician Whoarei, who was found through his SoundCloud. He’s since signed with Nosaj Thing’s Timetable label.

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Dissect’s season-long analysis of Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly continues with the album’s fifth track “These Walls.” On “These Walls,” Kendrick speaks of various metaphoric walls to express the confinements of vice. It interweaves a complex threesome between Kendrick, an unnamed woman, and an imprisoned man serving a life sentence. Each deals with their own personal set of constricting walls that work to prohibit personal progress. Upon first listen, “These Walls” is a similar experience to “King Kunta.” It’s so infectiously danceable and enjoyable that the intricacies of the story it tells is easily lost. But this only works to exemplify Kendrick’s extraordinary talent to craft radio-ready singles without sacrificing the album’s narrative or its ability to stand on its own under scrutiny. It’s only after thorough examination that one realizes its intricacies. “These Walls” is one of my personal favorites from To Pimp a Butterfly. It’s a song performed by real instruments without samples, which is far too uncommon in contemporary hip-hop music. It doesn’t hurt that Kendrick has some of the most talented jazz and fusion musicians backing him, including Terrace Martin, Robert Glasper, and Thundercat. If you enjoy what you hear, consider rating Dissect on iTunes. It really helps.

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Our season-long examination of Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly continues with the album’s fourth track Institutionalized. After the introduction to the album’s ever-important narrative poem, Kendrick begins to unpack the complexities of his new life of stardom. It begins with Institutionalized, a bouncing, head-nodding track that details Kendrick’s frustrations with his Compton friends’ behavior at the BET awards. By naming the song Institutionalized, Kendrick alludes to broader issues that plague our country and manifest in the behavior of the impoverished and repressed population. Before dissecting this song, I believed minorities faced residual discrimination still resonating from our nation’s dark history. But until I researched institutional racism for this episode, I didn’t understand its complexities and how deeply rooted racism still is within our institutions. It was like uncovering a hidden world that exists in plain sight, obvious to those it effects on a daily basis, but veiled to those it doesn’t. The fact that I learned more about institutional racism through a contemporary hip-hop album than my college level education speaks on the potential influence music can have as cultural commentary. In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, the recent trend of athletes, musicians, and entertainers using their influence to shed light on social issues is evidence that perhaps many celebrities are more aware of the potential of their platforms. This episode of Dissect is a favorite of mine. If you enjoy what you hear, consider rating Dissect on iTunes.

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Dissect – A Serialized Music Podcast continues its season-long examination of Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly with the album’s third track “King Kunta.” “King Kunta” is perhaps the album’s most unabashed tribute to the pervading funk influences throughout To Pimp A Butterfly. On its surface, King Kunta is boastful, heroic, prideful, and at times, vain. Upon further examination, however, we’ll realize there’s a deeper, contrasting message to the song’s calculated, overtly valiant air. We’ll also discover that “King Kunta” is the pinnacle of the album’s first act, which we’ve named Pimped by Consumption. If you’ve enjoyed Dissect so far, consider rating us on iTunes. It really helps.

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Dissect – A Serialized Music Podcast continues its season-long examination of Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly with the album’s second track “For Free? (Interlude).” “For Free?” is a personal favorite of mine. It’s songs like this that separate Lamar from his contemporary hip-hop peers. He’s assembled some of the greatest living jazz musicians to back him a raucous, unapologetic critique of the American Dream expressed in a rapid-fire stream of consciousness. It takes extreme versatility in craft to execute a piece of music of this caliber while still operating within the sphere of popular culture. When I saw Kendrick perform an intimate show at the Fox Theatre in Oakland, he opened with this piece. And the crowd went nuts. Can we think about this for second? A theatre full of rowdy twenty-somethings went wild about a spoken word piece recited over jazz music. This, to me, is nothing short of amazing. An artist that can leverage his influence to introduce his audience to new sounds and genres is the mark of a popular musician reaching the pinnacle of his or her craft. The Beatles did this. Radiohead did this. Kendrick Lamar is doing this. If you enjoy Dissect, subscribe and rate us on iTunes. It really helps. You can also subscribe on Google Play.

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We begin our season-long examination of Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly with the album’s opening track, Wesley’s Theory. To Pimp a Butterfly is a concept album that documents Lamar’s journey from caterpillar to butterfly (metaphorically, of course). Wesley’s Theory introduces the album’s protagonist, Kendrick himself, a young, naive rapper that has achieved stardom and escaped from the cocoon of Compton. We also meet the album’s antagonist, Uncle Sam, who looks to exploit young Kendrick for profit. Through the lens of this song, we’ll cover topics like the American Dream in modern society, the origins of the phrase “40 Acres and a mule”, Dave Chapelle’s exit from his hit TV show, and Wesley Snipes’ tax evasion conviction. We’ll also examine how Wesley’s Theory is written cinematically and sets the stage for the narrative that unfolds throughout To Pimp a Butterfly. If you like what you’ve heard so far, consider rating Dissect on iTunes. It really helps.    

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We live in a world creating and consuming more content than ever before. Every minute of every day, the world generates nearly three million Facebook posts, tweets and Instagram photos, and over two hundred million e-mails. There’s a 24-hour news cycle, infinite blog posts, and an entire history of music that you can now stream instantly from your phone. We’ve quickly become a scrolling culture, hurriedly swiping through an infinite swath of content that seems to replenish without end. Dissect was created to counter this cultural shift. After too often feeling exhausted and unfulfilled from binging  my daily digital diet, I wanted to create a platform that forced me to think critically, not passively. I wanted to spend hours with one thing, not a few minutes with a zillion things. And I wanted to reward artists who, in the face of our new consumption habits, continue to craft their work with care, complexity and depth. And so, Dissect was born: a serialized music podcast that provides long form musical analysis broken into short, digestible episodes. We’ll take our time dissecting pieces of music measure-by-measure, word-by-word until we reach a full understanding of a piece of art. The first season of Dissect is dedicated entirely to hip-hop artist Kendrick Lamar’s Grammy-award winning album To Pimp a Butterfly. We’ll explore one song per episode, breaking down its lyrical and musical content, while also analyzing each song’s contribution to the album’s overall narrative arc. To Pimp a Butterfly is an incredibly rich record that documents Lamar’s personal transformation from caterpillar to butterfly while framing that narrative within a larger context of the African-American community’s place in contemporary society. I love everything about this record. It’s daring. It’s honest. It’s incredibly smart, truly intricate, and extremely relevant. Like a Kubrick film or Basquiat painting, it’s the kind of work that begs, deserves – no, demands to be examined again and again. I hope you join me in dissecting this album. Because great art deserves more than a swipe. Here’s a quick intro. Let us know what you think!  

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