U2101 – XXX (With Kendrick Lamar)

This week, I’m temporarily setting aside my ongoing series on Joshua Tree related songs to talk about another recent release, U2’s collaboration with West Coast rapper Kendrick Lamar, a song titled “XXX”. Unlike some other U2 fans that I’ve met, I actually enjoy good hip-hop music. These days, not a lot of it is what I would consider to be “good”, but I suppose that’s like rock, pop, or any other genre – there’s a ton of crap to wade through to get to the stuff that’s worthwhile. Before his most recent album came out, I knew Kendrick Lamar to be a gifted rapper who separated himself from the rest of the hip-hop pack with his penchant to bring a message with his music. That said, when I first heard “XXX”, I genuinely hated it. I didn’t like the beats, the music, the vocals (other than Bono’s contribution) or the words. After a few additional listens, the song has grown on me a little bit, mainly because I do feel that Lamar is actually trying to say something of import, about race relations in America, but I still have a few problems with it.

 

First of all, and most germane to the U2 connection, I don’t believe that this song is actually “featuring U2”. Sure, I definitely hear Bono singing a few lines near the end of the song, but nothing else about the song makes me believe that the rest of U2 is involved. The drums just don’t sound like Larry to me. He normally relies on his snare drum much more than the drum part of this song demonstrates, and that same drum part also lacks Larry’s usual inventive musicality. The same feeling goes for the bass in this song as well. To start with, this doesn’t even sound like a bass guitar to me at all – it sounds like a synthesizer. What’s more, it doesn’t sound like Adam’s normal rock solid style of playing. It’s a little too loose, a little too jazzy. That’s not to say that I don’t that that Adam could play like that if he chose to, he just doesn’t normally choose to. I suppose that that could be Edge on the piano, but it could just as easily be someone else. I think that this song should be credited as featuring Bono, not U2.

 

Another problem that I have with this song is the message that Kendrick Lamar is preaching. Lamar is an important artist, and many of his young fans place great stock in his words. Someone should tell him that violence only leads to more violence. In this song, he is saying that if someone were to kill someone close to him, his reaction would be to kill that person in return. I would be much more impressed if Kendrick took a page from U2’s book and took a stand for non-violent resistance. Bono’s lyrics, on the other hand, are much more hopeful and more in the vein that we’re used to hearing from our favorite band. Bono’s lines start out “It’s not a place”, which seems to be a paraphrase of his frequently repeated belief that America is an idea as much as it is a country. An idea that everybody is equal and should be treated as such, given the same opportunities and possibilities. I can definitely get behind that. Bono’s next line is “this country is to be a sound of drum and bass”. This reminds me a bit of a line that appears near the end of U2’s track “Breathe” – “We are people borne of sound”. I believe that here, Bono is saying that through music, through art, we can transcend the limitations that the world places on us. America can move past the current climate of racism and sexism and partisan politics and all the other things that divide us. Bono’s part ends with “you close your eyes to look around”. In other words, use your mind’s eye, your imagination, to see things as they really are and to bring a better world to reality. It kind of ties in with the same idea as “dream out loud”, a major part of U2’s message through the years.

 

I can definitely understand Kendrick Lamar’s desire to work with U2, or should I say, with Bono, who is known around the world for his philanthropy and political involvement. I can even appreciate that Bono’s involvement in this song might lead some of Lamar’s fans to seek out U2’s music. I just wish that Lamar had listened to “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and really gotten to understand the meaning behind that song before writing his lyrics for “XXX”. This collaboration could have really been something special. As it is, it’s a fairly common sounding rap song with some great singing near the end.

 

 

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broadsword

Ever since I realized as a kid, while poring over the liner notes of the Bob Marley - Songs of Freedom boxed set, that writing about music was a viable career choice, one of my greatest desires has been to write about U2. The band has been a major part of my life for as long as I can remember, and I'm thrilled to have this opportunity to contribute a little something to the fantastic online community that's been built around the band.