I love this post To Pimp A Butterfly music scene. From Kamasi Washington’s The Epic, to Bilal’s “Money Over Love,” Anderson .Paak’s Malibu, and Kendrick Lamar’s companion piece, untitled unmastered, now we get even more with Velvet Portraits by Terrace Martin.
Though Bilal, Kamasi, and Anderson .Paak’s records drew inspiration from the composition and sound of TPaB, they were very much their own individual projects, and not companion pieces like untitled umastered. Sure, Terrace’s album is an individual work on its own as well, and I’d never call someone’s work purely derivative or evolved from someone else’s unless it was brutally obvious, but the fact that Martin’s contributions to To Pimp A Butterfly heavily permeate through this record as well push me to also call it a companion piece.
That distinction however, of course, in no way diminishes the record. Velvet Portraits stays true to its name; a soft and scenic panned image of a saxophone player, his influences, and a highlight of his work as a producer, especially that of To Pimp A Butterfly. To me however, Velvet Portraits is less “Terrace Martin”, and more a kind of mixtape that focuses on the socio-cultural shift in hip-hop that has occurred over the past year. That might seem like a pretentious sentence to some, but trust me, I’ll explain my reasoning and maybe the dissenters will agree with me more.
In the late ’90’s/early 2000’s, Vibe magazine published an article about The Roots, following their record Things Fall Apart, where Malcolm Venable calls their work “neo soul.” It was around this time that other works, like Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and D’Angelo’s Voodoo, were given the same genre movement title. This term of “neo soul” primarily existed in the hip-hop and R&B music of the time, and was a retaliation, or at the most a response, to artists like Notorious B.I.G., and his producer, Puff Daddy, and the mindset of commercially produced rap.
Such a mindset hadn’t existed in rap like it had with Motown’s hit-factory method, but without artists like Stevie Wonder, Al Green, Marvin Gaye, or James Brown, music might never have evolved to what we now know as hip-hop and rap. In the mid to late ’90’s, Dr. Dre created his empire on the West Coast, and Puff Daddy created his in the East. For artists who hadn’t accepted this pop-style of hip-hop that then became known as rap, there was a genre for them known as “neo soul.” In his book, Mo’ Metta Blues, ?uestlove, the drummer for The Roots, describes this time as the era when hip-hop died.
It was after the deaths of Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. that the next generation of rappers evolved from their predecessors, bring forth giants like Jay-Z, Eminem, 50 Cent, The Game, and then later Kanye West etc., but the rap vs. neo-soul gap narrowed. It was the rap age, and rap was as popular as a genre as it ever was before. “Neo soul” was not only a response to where hip-hop was heading, but also a group of artists such as The Fugees, The Roots, D’Angelo, Lauryn Hill, and Common, to name a few, who idolized groups of the late ’80’s and early ’90’s such as De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest, and created music with a deep homage and appreciation for jazz & hip-hop & R&B all in one.
Like most movements, I believe this divide exists again now. In the music of today, you have your rappers/crooners such as Drake, Future, Kanye West, etc. and these artists have run the game for half a decade. Now however, there’s been a rise of artists like Chance the Rapper, and even higher, Kendrick Lamar, who are starting something big, something I believe to be the new Neo Soul of today. Kendrick Lamar, born in 1987, experienced Neo Soul music when it was released during his most formative years as a late teen/budding early 20 year old rapper.
The artist’s who loved groups such as Public Enemy, A Tribe Called Quest, and De La Soul, were the artists heard by this generation, and those classic records still permeated through rap’s zeitgeist shelf life as well, just as the artists of Motown always have. Now making music of their own, artists like the ones behind To Pimp A Butterfly have entered the next incarnation of “Neo Soul,” and creating their response to where rap music is heading today, paying homage to jazz & hip-hop & R&B all in one.
To me, this is most exciting point in rap music, or maybe even music in general, that I’ve witnessed, occurring during my most formative years. Velvet Portraits is a mixtape of today’s neo soul and as To Pimp A Butterfly companion projects continue to be released, the prospect of this movement becoming more and more of a true second coming of neo soul holds an insane amount of possibility for future music, and one that I would love to see happen. Everything from funk tracks like “Valdez off Crenshaw” to L.A. synth R&B like “With You,” early soul music tracks like Curtis Mayfield or Marvin Gaye with “Patiently Waiting,” and To Pimp A Butterfly jazz explorations of Martin’s contributions to “The Blacker the Berry,” re-imagined here as “Curly Martin,” and “Mortal Man,” still a 12-min jazz infused jam.
Like listening to playlists of the songs Kanye West sampled from his first two albums. Velvet Portraits paints the same picture, seeming like the material and producer that spurred on To Pimp A Butterfly and untitled unmastered. came from this record, even though it’s a post those records release, continuing the magic that group of musicians made together. I can’t say for sure that this sound and this attitude will continue, but if my prediction that these records signify the return of the neo-soul movement, then we have a lot of great music heading our way.