How Kendrick Lamar Kicked Hip-Hop Into Shape

As Kendrick turns 26, I give my two cents on the man who's revived West Coast hip-hop and made us stop yearning for Dre's mythical "Detox"
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In 2006 Nas declared that Hip Hop was dead. It is not surprising for rappers to make overblown statements even less so when the rapper in question is purporting to be the last bastion of true Hip Hop, attempting to promote his album of the same title. Attention was sought and duly given with famous rappers making statements on it with the most common opinion being that Hip Hop had just ‘evolved’ and that people should just get over it. This argument was acceptable; I for one don’t sit here yearning for 80s Hip Hop as I did not grow up on it. However there was a breaking point. When DJ Rosenberg of Hot 97 effectively accused Minaj of selling out Ice T defended Nicki Minaj and Starships as ‘all real Hip Hop.




Needless to say I despaired.

Recently, however, there is been hope on the ‘real Hip Hop’ front. Over the past few years I have become a huge fan of J Cole and his debut album was refreshing. It was a solid offering with choice cuts where Cole excelled but it didn’t quite soar as I hoped. On the Return of Simba Cole promised that ‘all of my nineties n****s gone get it, 18 or under probably gone take a minute’ and he delivered and whilst I casually enjoy Drake no rapper has come from the underground and released something that aspired to be classic...until now.

Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city is an experience. An album like this must be listened to in sequence and in one sitting. You cannot have it on as background music as you complete other activities, you must devote your whole attention to it. Because this is an album that quietly but firmly demands to be heard. At times this album is claustrophobic; on tracks such as Sing About Me/I’m Dying of Thirst  we are invited to hear 12 minutes of pain- you are compelled to continue listening whilst yearning for something easier to digest as Lamar tells the tale of three individuals (including himself) who are trapped by  hellish circumstances. Good kid, The Art of Peer Pressure and m.A.A.d city made me despair over the environment in which Lamar and millions of other young black males both in the US and right here in the UK to varying levels are drowning.

This is best summed up in m.A.A.d city when Lamar explains ‘My Pops said I needed a job I thought I believed him / Security guard for a month and ended up leaving/ In fact I got fired because I was inspired by all of my friends/ To stage a robbery the third Saturday I clocked in’, Lamar eventually describing himself as ‘Compton’s sacrifice’. Many of the tracks are this visceral and hard hitting but there is respite in the chilled out cuts Bitch don’t kill my vibe and Swimming pools (drank) but again the latter is Lamar explaining his negative experiences.  In the case of Swimming pools he expounds on growing up surrounded by people who were alcohol dependent, the influence it has had on him and his conflicted battle with alcohol overindulgence, ending the song by throwing up the poison aiding and abetting his pain.


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Stand out tracks for their single potential include; Poetic Justice with its perfect Janet Jackson sample and impressive guest verse from Drake giving the track that extra oomph, the Mary J Blige assisted bonus track Now or Never for its inspirational bent and the Dr Dre assisted Compton.  The latter is incongruous on this album and one would be remiss to assume this track alone represents the tone or theme of the album as a whole.

Kendrick is on a mission with this album, to be as honest as possible and not to present himself as anyone other than a flawed man seeking spiritual atonement. As fans we are not only offered a family picture as an album cover but old voicemails from his parents on tracks.  This album doesn’t just feel personal, it is believably so. The subtitle of the album is ‘a short film by Kendrick Lamar’ and the cinematic feel is even more pronounced than in say Jay Z’sThe Blueprint by the audio clips and could arguably be labelled Lamar’s audio version of seminal films like Boyz In The Hood. The album is overtly influenced by old school West Coast pioneers in both subject matter and production but Lamar is not invested with the boastful swagger of Ice Cube and Snoop Dogg admitting that ‘If Pirus and Crips all got along /They'd probably gun me down by the end of this song’.

This has not been a review of good kid, m.A.A.d city, I will not rate album with stars or marks out of ten. This is not because this album is above it or is my new favourite album. It is because I have only listened to it as a whole once, with a few key tracks on repeat. As I stated earlier this album is an experience. I am only now hearing it and eventually I will understand it. I can only encourage you to follow me on this journey.

This album is art. Now how many other recent major label hip hop releases can you say that about?