Pianist Kris Bowers’ version of Kendrick Lamar’s “Rigamortus” may have some hip hop heads spinning. And almost like a game of Clue, it was Kris Bowers in the studio with a piano, a set of keys, a matchbook, clothespins, and loop pedals. Unexpected everyday objects are inserted into the piano to recreate the percussive line while Bowers plays out the melody of Lamar’s track. The cover builds phrases using the loop pedal, which further adds layers that lead into a sick improvisational section. Still, Bowers’ delivery is steady in a way that is both cool and powerful.

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Now, Bowers’ decision to cover “Rigamortus” was not arbitrary. Kendrick Lamar’s original version samples the tune “The Thorn,” composed by Eric Reed, on Willie Jones III’s album, The Next Phase. Eric Reed happens to be Bowers’ mentor and his former teacher while at Juilliard. And Bowers cites Kendrick Lamar as one of his favorite artists, hands down. This is, perhaps, why Bowers seems to approach this cover with a sense of humility and intention in the video.

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Humility and coolness aside, the way Bowers plays with genre, composition styles, and technology make for some serious, killin’ moments throughout. From 20th century prepared piano techniques to the use of contemporary technology advances, Bowers’ musical choices demonstrate sensibilities that are on point and rooted in a deep knowledge base of composition, technique, and aesthetic in jazz, hip hop, and classical. Through the art of the cover and the beat, Bowers pays tribute to heavy-hitters across genres and generations in a style all his own. Bowers knows what’s up and, not unlike Kendrick Lamar, he raises the bar.

Words by Aja Burrell Wood

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