Death of the Critic

Music with a Message

Written by: Tom Blaich


If you read a lot of writing about music, you will start to notice a common criticism crop up over and over again: that the song or album is shallow. It is particularly relevant when that project has a message that it is trying to convey. So, what separates an album that communicates its message well versus one that is shallow, even if both of them are trying to deal with the same level of subject matter: racism, sexism, violence, or more.

Most recently this came up with our review of
Everybody, Logic’s latest concept album that attempted to tackle serious topics from systematic racism, to Logic’s own biracial upbringing, to violence, world peace, and suicide. But we have seen all of these messages before, and unfortunately Everybody does not bring anything new to the table.

Compare this to
Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, Kendrick Lamar’s masterpiece that has heavily inspired Logic over the years, and you can see a vast gulf separating the two. At its most basic, it comes down to the complexity of the music, or the lack thereof, and how this can be used to effectively communicate the message of the album.

Everybody has something to say, it comes right out and says it. The meaning isn’t hidden behind the lyrics and they aren’t used to build towards an overarching point. The meaning is told to you over and over again> Combine this with frequent monologues and spoken word skits and you get an album that is supremely dedicated to making sure you understand 100% of it the first time that you sit down and listen to it. This doesn’t necessarily make for bad music, but it makes for uncompelling music.

Simplicity can be used to extraordinarily powerful effect if it is used in conjunction with more complex lyrics, to drive home a point and leave the audience to process how this changes the meaning of what they just listen to. One of my favorite examples is the end of the
Kendrick Lamar song, “The Blacker the Berry”:

“So why did I weep when Trayvon Martin was in the street
When gang banging make me kill a nigga blacker then me

After the rest of the song, this leaves with a stunning final statement that gives us an entirely new lens for us to look at the song through, an aggressive condemnation of himself, of the way in which we pick and choose things to care about.

What gives this outburst so much power is that it is in the middle of an album full of meaning, layers to dig into and dissect, all building towards keystone moments like these that leave you staggering after you hear them. We are conditioned to dig in, to try to find out what he is talking about in each song. So “The Blacker the Berry” hits you like a slap in the face.

Compare this to an album like
Everybody, where all we get is these upfront messages, and we have no foundation to build these powerful moments on. The songs being to feel more like a set of lectures than a message you want to listen to and taking part in. Once the meaning is revealed you have to be ready to support it, to build off of your central theme to make the message stronger. If you just restate your main theme over and over, you never build your argument, and it doesn’t compel the listener.

Look at the lyrics from the final track on
Everybody “Africaryan”:

“Tell white people I’m black, feel the need to retreat
Like I should be ashamed of my granddaddy Malik
But my beautiful black brothers and sisters
Want to act like I’m adopted
Go back in time to when my nigga daddy
Impregnated my cracker momma and stopped it”

By itself, this small verse wouldn’t be bad. It’s upfront but raises some interesting ideas for us to mull over along with the artist. But he repeats this exact same verse three times over the course of the song (and it is not even the chorus) alongside many more lines that communicate the exact same message in the same upfront way. There is no room for these ideas to breathe and expand, and the impact of the album is greatly lessened for it.

It is a very common mistake in rap music. Thinking that bringing up complex topics means that the album or song is by extension complex, deep, and philosophical. But it doesn’t, any more than giving a book artistic cover art makes that book artistic.



Tom has been writing about media since he was a senior in high school. He likes long walks on the beach, dark liquor, and when characters reload guns in action movies.

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