I'm Tired of Pretending to Understand Concept Albums - DJBooth

I'm Tired of Pretending to Understand Concept Albums

Concept albums have taught me the same lesson that I learned from dating women—just because you love something doesn’t mean you understand it.
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I'm Tired of Pretending to Understand Concept Hip-Hop Albums

Let me take you back to 2007, the year of our Lord. I’m in seventh grade, my only hobbies are watching Dane Cook DVDs and having recurring nightmares about Fraggle Rock. And my favorite album is Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool.

The Cool remains a stunning musical achievement. The rapping is insane—you gotta replay “Dumb It Down” multiple times to catch all the metaphors—the production is A1, and on top of that, it’s a concept album. A brilliant concept album. It follows the story of... umm...well, it’s abou—...ok, it’s basically...it’s about...

...I have no fuckin' idea.

Concept albums have taught me the same lesson that I learned from dating women—just because you love something doesn’t mean you understand it.

The Cool is probably in my top five favorite albums of all time and, like some kind of rap detective, I've spent 11 years trying to figure out the story behind the album. It's like the Donnie Darko of rap albums; the more you think about it the more confusing it gets.

“Well, Drew, it’s actually the story of a talking ostrich with dead parents on a coke-fueled journey through Vegas trying to find the true meaning of Christmas,” Twitter user @somewhiteboy will condescendingly explain.

Dude, shut up. You’re talking out of your ass. Stop pretending to know what The Cool is about. Not even Lupe Fiasco knows what The Cool is about.

It’s not just Lupe’s sophomore classic that leaves me scratching my head, either. I've never really understood any concept album, I only pretend to understand them. In truth, they make me feel more confused than Steve Bannon attending a Passover Seder.

In 2012, Kendrick Lamar rose to superstar status with his critically acclaimed album good kid, m.A.A.d city. The album earned him Illmatic comparisons and set the stage for an already legendary career. Once again, it was a concept album.

Honestly, I have no idea what good kid, m.A.A.d city is actually about, but here’s my main theory:

The key to the whole album lies in the opening track, “Sherane a.k.a. Master Splinter’s Daughter.” For those of you who aren't intellectuals like myself, Master Splinter is the giant talking rat who taught karate to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Once you realize this, all the pieces begin to fall into place. “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe” is diss track aimed at Shredder—easily the Ninja Turtles’ most powerful villain—who kills Michaelangelo’s vibe by trying to destroy New York when all he really wants to do is chill in a sewer and eat pizza. Boom. And Drake’s verse on “Poetic Justice” is a response to Donatello accusing him of having ghostwriters.

That’s my best guess. 

As far as Kendrick’s To Pimp a Butterfly goes, the album is very clearly about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, while DAMN. is obviously about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III (great album but easily the worst TMNT movie, don't get me fuckin started.)

Some people claim My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Kanye’s hectic magnum opus and my favorite album of all time, is a concept album, but that’s a stretch. If it is a concept album, it’s the story of a rapper who interrupted a tiny blonde white girl at the VMAs, infuriated America and won them back with the best album ever, but then eventually disappointed his fans by supporting a racist, pussy-grabbing president. Either that or it's a metaphor for my run-on sentences. Either way, I don’t care.

Another acclaimed concept album is Undun by The Roots, the hip-hop super squad turned The Tonight Show band. I’ve listened to the whole project on repeat on multiple occasions, trying my best to unpack its underlying message. My main guesstimation is that it tells the story of Jimmy Fallon hiring The Roots to laugh at Jimmy Fallon while Jimmy Fallon is laughing at himself. It adds up, I think.

JAY-Z also has a concept album on his resume (American Gangster) but that’s an easy one. It's a metaphor for forgettable JAY-Z albums based on awesome Denzel Washington movies.

Hip-hop's history books are littered with concept albums—Masta Ace’s Disposable Arts, De La Soul’s De La Soul Is Dead, Ghostface Killah’s Twelve Reasons to Die; the list is longer than a GameStop line on Black Friday. Enough is enough, though. I refuse to continue pretending that I'm smart enough to understand these albums. 

I’m calling for a complete and total shutdown on concept albums across all digital streaming providers until I can figure out what the hell is going on.

If you read closely, that’s the whole concept of this article.

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