A discussion following a recent short film (Babel Fiche, 2012 by David Griffiths +collaborators) screening at Manchester’s Castlefield Gallery centered around the idea that society, as defined by British intellectuals, that is, has seemingly settled into a dystopian vision of the world’s future. The conversation summized that the grand ideologies to construct a contrastingly utopian future (fun fact: Karl Marx penned the Communist Manifesto right here in Manchester) have all died out and we are left accepting capitalism as the only imaginable system for our lives to evolve around. Further, the argument was presented that we actually find it easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism—that accepting this complete apocalypse is more pleasant than imagining that our economically depressed, materially centered, and seemingly powerless existences will simply go on and on… In England, a land entirely imbalanced between it’s heralded history and it’s undefined present this concept feels particularly bleak.
Good news for me is that I’m only a visitor here, but even before the formal art/academic world discussion of apocalypse theory I could clearly identify the dystopian clouds looming over my balmy northern England strolls about town(s). This place in fact looks gray, feels chilly, and smells of centuries upon centuries of imperial poop. Exploring it in large part all by my lonesome I’ve found company in my iTunes library and the rhythmic baselines of home (the States, and my ultimate home Africa). Fela brings that bop wherever he turns up. Moments of Emiraj’s newly released Conflict of Man feels like they might actually originate in a similar fog before building and taking me far beyond. And thank God for Janelle Monáe and Shabazz Palaces for smashing any notion that we are simply incapable of imagining alternate realities. What has surprised me though has been my desire to keep Kendrick Lamar’s not-so-new introductory album Section.80 on a steady repeat. Of course, it has been good music, but a week ago I couldn’t quite pin point why I wanted to hear it so intensely—here in this place…
The high-end doomsday discourse cleared it right up for me…
If Compton is a hotbed for dystopian theory, than Mr. Lamar is the writer of the movement’s manifesto. Whoop-d-whoop whoop-d-whoop whoop-d-whoop d-whoop!
In the tradition of the great American Bluesmen (AND women!) Kendrick reflects pitch perfect observations on the human experience that the lofty white cube philosophical panels struggle to penetrate.
So what makes Kendrick my guide through dystopia? Well…
What the fuck is you fighting for?
Ain’t nobody gonna win that war…
from “F*ck Your Ethnicity” in which a sweet sounding female vocals repeats, if you don’t give a fuck/ throw your hands up high/ throw your hands up high…
Or, to bring the point all the way home, from “A.D.H.D.”
Man, no wonder our lives is caught up
In the daily superstition
That the world is bout to end
Who gives a fuck? we never do listen
Unless it comes with an 808…
Kendrick expresses the experiences of population who’ve been presented no good reason to give a… well, you can finish that sentence by now. There’s no reason to care, and yet we’re still here. Now what? The gallery talk will leave you to contemplate that answer in a cold, sparsely furnished room. Kendrick will give you a grooving pace to move to and will offset the apathy with poetic reference to those grand utopian ideals of yesteryear that feed whatever small pot of hope you might be keeping on the fire:
Last time I checked we was racing with Marcus Garvey
On the freeway to Africa **…Hold up! Hope time’s over…** till I wrecked my Audi
Kendrick’s music doesn’t pick me up and fly my away from this balmy British landscape but it sure does pick up the pace of my step and help to ease the journey.
That takes care of my present but while we’re on the subject of futures, what does all of this help us to predict? For Kendrick specifically there is already much grumbling that the clarity of his now “early work” is being clouded by industry forces. Of course, his ease and eloquence around all things contradictory reminds us of early Kanye (the key is still under the mat for you Brother, anytime you’re ready to come on back around) but I’m keeping a special pot of hope on the iron just for Kendrick.
I leave you with another distinctly dystopia-is-now manifestation of the last week: Aspiring Rapper, Tweets ‘YOLO’ About Driving Drunk And Dies Minutes Later (LINK) … hope whatever room you’re reading this in is painted with many a bright color and humming a hot beat.