Kendrick Lamar is one of the most technically gifted artists to pick up a microphone. He can tell intriguing stories, use clever wordplay, communicate coherent social critiques, and has a diversity of flows that swing from unbridled energy to a more passive observer. Musically, the instrumentation on his albums is sonically rich and provides a full-sounding musical landscape that compliments (and never clashes) with Kendrick’s voice and content. His latest album (and first commercial release) “Section 80” is a complete, engrossing, and emotional portrayal of his evolving identity as he observes his Compton surroundings while sharing his musings on the role, nature, and challenges of his generation.
The first time I heard Kendrick Lamar was the song “Look Out for Detox”, which he rapped over a Childish Gambino beat (They would go on to do a live show together) On that song, Kendrick shares an energetic and aggressive flow that is an unrelenting lyrical revelation of greatness.
Kendrick Lamar has an uncanny storytelling gift, and his uncensored stories pull the listener into a narrative world told from the perspective of a highly intelligent observer in Compton. However, it would be an underestimation of Kendrick’s scope and relevance to believe that he only recites Compton tales of violence and poverty. He combines his excellent storytelling with an analytic mind that Kendrick uses for both introspection as well as social critiques.
The following is “The Heart Pt.2” which Lamar raps over a beat from The Roots and is from his free album “O.D. (Overly Dedicated)”. This track combines vivid storytelling with the Kendrick’s aggressive flow, but it also serves as an unapologetic indictment of conventional hip-hop.
We used to beefing over a turf, fuck beefing over a verse/ Niggas dying, motherfuck a double entendre… How splendid, I guess my project I did it/ Got all these niggas approaching their mixtapes different/ They said seven tracks/ I said fifteen/ Called it an EP/ They said I’m tripping/ But little did they know, I’m trying to change the rules, that we’ve been confined to, so that corporate won’t make decisions/ Uppity bitches/ Handling business/ Killing our dreams, stealing our vision
Lamar’s fury is not just reserved for the corporate-controlled music industry , he also turns his gaze onto the listener.
Out in Haiti, adolescents barely have a home/ In L.A. everybody thinking they fucking on/ Hop on Twitter, perpetrate we doing big shit/ Who we hanging with/ And bragging about the iPhone/ I swear to God most y’all cats don’t know Kendrick/ You barely know yourselves, so I guess most of y’all should be offended
Kendrick Lamar’s hunger for excellence, without sacrificing his artistic vision, was a struggle that resonated with me as I tried to traverse the legal landscape. His music demonstrates that achievement is more than attaining career or social goals, but it is also a self-actualization of a person’s humanity. Lamar does not identify himself by his skills or his career success; rather, he is a human being first. By allowing himself to be intimately in-touch with his own humanity, he is able to use his vulnerability as a source of strength and creativity.
This is the “Ab-Soul’s Outro” (which is more like spoken-word than rap) from his recent (and critically acclaimed) album “Section 80”.
So the next time I talk about money, hoes, clothes, God history all in the same sentence/ Just know I meant it, and you felt it/ Because you too are searching for answers/ I’m not the next pop star/ I’m not the next socially aware rapper/ I am a human motherfucking being, over dope ass instrumentation/ Kendrick Lamar
Kendrick Lamar has exceptional skill and uses it to discuss more haunting and difficult issues such as molestation, rape, racism, and murder. His storytelling skill really humanizes these experiences in a way that allows the listener to feel the character’s pain. He is not using the stories to preach a certain message; instead, he allows the characters to speak for themselves.
Kendrick Lamar may not ever be a huge commercial success, but he is telling stories and sharing ideas that will change lives.