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1. David Bowie – ‘Dollar Days’
A man immortal in his music passes away at 69.
Even in death, David Bowie remained an artist. The Starman’s parting gift to the world, we wouldn’t find out for three days, was the release of his 25th album Blackstar, on Friday.
His lifelong producer partner Tony Visconti wrote today: “His death was no different from his life – a work of Art. He made Blackstar for us, his parting gift.”
A lush, rich jazz-inspired experimental rock album, it will hereafter be viewed as a poignant closing statement, which is how Bowie intended it to be. The signs were all there – on Blackstar he sings “something happened on the day he died,” On ‘Lazarus’ he sings “look up here, I’m in heaven.” The videos for the tracks point towards a final transformation, in a career defined by them.
On the album track ‘Dollar Days’, the melancholy consumes the song and Bowie hints at explicitly saying what we now know. “I’m dying to / Push their backs against the grain / And fool them all again and again.” That now reads as “I’m dying too.” Bowie was always chasing, always pushing, always seeking. “If I never see the English evergreens I’m running to / It’s nothing to me / It’s nothing to see,” he sings.
When artists release albums close to their death, the “late style” of the release adds extra resonance, as in J Dilla’s Donuts. On Blackstar, Bowie is always aware of his imminent death. He spent 18 months with cancer before he lost, yet he remained in control of his own artistic destiny. Bowie remained a music maverick, the magician who orchestrated his final departure in his art.
2. Kendrick Lamar – ‘Untitled 2’
With last year’s list-topping To Pimp A Butterfly universally-acclaimed as one of the albums of 2015, Lamar is showing us there’s much more to come. 2016 will see a lot more live shows around the world from the Compton rapper, yet he’s already showing us he’s not content to rest. In an appearance on Jimmy Fallon’s late-night talk show last week, Lamar debuted an untitled new song.
The jazz-lead rap style from TPAB is in effect, but there’s a searing energy in Lamar’s delivery, as he weaves an unstructured freestyle rap that feels like it could go anywhere at any time and in its five minute running time he talks of his career, his fear of the police, a black woman’s life choices, desire, his inspirational time in South Africa, his money-enriched life and his community. By the time, his raspy voice is intensely bellowing “You ain’t gotta tell me that I’m the one / Yes, I am the one,”, there’s little doubt that Lamar is a rapper at the top of his craft and only improving.