by Katie Sorino
I do realize this is a huge statement. However- I am pretty good at noticing an artist when I see one. Kendrick Lamar, 27 year old who hails from Compton, California is just that. Kendrick wasn’t always the big name rapper you see today. He started to receive recognition back in 2010, and in 2011 he released Section.80 his first independent album exclusively through iTunes. That album raised a lot of attention and became one of the top digital hip hop releases of the year. Although Kendrick wasn’t signed to a major label yet he had a large following on the internet and was already working with big name artists such as Dr.Dre, Drake, Eminem, and Lil Wayne.
Finally Kendrick signed with Aftermath and Interscope Records in 2012. That same year, in October, his major-label “good kid m.A.A.d city” was released. Two Top 40 hits stemmed from that album including “Swimming Pools (Drank) “and “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe.” That album debuted at number two on the Billboard 200 chart, was later certified platinum, and earned him a total of seven Grammy nominations at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards. That itself is pretty impressive. But let’s jump to the 57th Annual Grammy Awards. Kendrick won Best Rap Performance and Best Rap song for his single “i.” In March of 2015 he released his third album “To Pimp a Butterfly” which has already received TONS of buzz for his lyrical content and the ideas behind the album.
“good kid m.A.A.d city” was about Kendrick’s life growing up in Compton. He never had it easy, definitely hung out with the wrong crowd, and was wrapped up in a girl named Sherane. He grew up in the projects, often times slept in cars, and did drugs. He could’ve ended up like any other male in Compton, in a gang, in jail, or worse…dead. He probably should have went to jail. But he found poetry, and in many ways that saved him. It was an outlet- a way for him to express himself so he did not resort to drugs or violence. “good kid m.A.A.d city” is undoubtedly one of my favorite albums of all time, and without a doubt my favorite thematic album (followed by American Idiot by Green Day.) I like albums with a message or a purpose and “good kid m.A.A.d city” portrays one. But, Kendrick’s third album “To Pimp a Butterfly” portrays a totally different message.
There have been many different theories as to what the album is about and also controversy surrounding some of the tracks on the album itself. Supposedly the album is an “interview” between the members of Black Hippy (which include Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q, Jay Rock, and Ab Soul) had with late hip hop icon- Tupac Shakur. He even “resurrects” Tupac in the last track on the album called “Mortal Man.” But Kendrick wanted him to play an even bigger role on his sophomore album. In fact the album was rumored to be titled “To Pimp A Caterpillar- 2.P.A.C” He wound up changing it to butterfly to “show the brightness of life.”
One of the more controversial tracks on the album is called “The Blacker The Berry” and talks about the oppression Kendrick has faced as a young, black male. Featured below are some lyrics from the first verse, and as you can see, Kendrick does not hold back.
“”I’m African-American, I’m African. I’m black as the moon, heritage of a small village. Pardon my residence, came from the bottom of mankind. My hair is nappy, my dick is big, my nose is round and wide. You hate me don’t you? You hate my people, your plan is to terminate my culture. You’re fuckin evil and I want you to recognize I’ma proud monkey.
As an artist, you should not hold back. Your lyrics should mean something, and be different. So many rappers now talk about pussy, money, weed strippers…things that don’t even matter. I never got that. You have so much power to do good…and some rappers put out lyrics like “All I want for my birthday is a big booty hoe” and “she my trap queen.” Not to discredit rappers like 2Chainz, or the song “Trap Queen”…because those songs are fun…if you are in the basement of a frat house pounding Natty’s. But if I want something with lyrical value- I’m going to listen to someone like Kendrick Lamar…or Kanye West.
Like Kendrick Lamar, I have always been a huge fan of Kanye. In fact, much of their lives are very similar. Kanye has had a HUGE career and he’s still climbing to the top. Both Kanye and Kendrick are innovators. I know what you’re thinking- Kanye is a huge asshole. He is. But he is smart.
Kanye is a producer, a fashion designer, a song writer, a performer, and an artist. In addition to all of his titles and being married to Kim Kardashian and being North West’s father, Kayne has still managed to win 21 Grammy’s, has sold more than 21 million albums, and has had over 66 million digital downloads of his songs. However Kanye West was not always popular. He attended art school for one semester in the late 90’s but eventually dropped out. He was not taken seriously by record executives who primarily saw him as a producer. It wasn’t until 2002 that he was signed to Roc-A-Fella records and in 2004 his album College Dropout was released. That album put Kanye on the map. I still listen to that album all the time. “Jesus Walks” and “Through the Wire” are still two of my favorite songs to date. Those two songs are entirely different in content but both incredibly meaningful if you take a close look at the lyrics. “Jesus Walks” was the fourth single released from the “College Dropout” album and producers were worried that a song with such declaration to faith would not make it on the radio. But it did and was incredibly successful. With lyrics such as
“We at war with terrorism, racism, but most of all we at war with ourselves (Jesus Walks.) God show me the way because the Devil’s tryin’ to break me down”
And, “To the hustlers, killers, murderers, drug dealers even the strippers (Jesus walks for them) To the victims of welfare for we living in hell here hell yeah(Jesus walks for them)”
Kanye is trying to let everyone know that God loves them for who they are, regardless of the kind of life they live. That is not only a great message, but those kind of lyrics appeal to a larger demographic, including some who may not even listen to rap music.
Kendrick uses this same approach. He talks about controversial but also meaningful topics in his music and attaches it to a sick beat. He wants to appeal to a wide audience, just like Kanye has done over the last decade. Kendrick and Kayne both want to appeal to the young African-American male that is struggling to make ends meet and maybe selling drugs just so he can help his family eat at night. But, both artists also want to appeal to the rich white girl and her friends who are looking for something fun to listen to while they drive to the club on a Saturday night in a shiny SUV.
It will be interesting to watch Kendrick Lamar grow over the next few years just as I have watched Kanye grow. He is not the same artist he was when he released his first album. His sound and style has changed over the years. Kanye is now even working with legends such as Paul McCartney-in turn striking curiosity amongst older generations. Kendrick would be smart to do the same. He has grown slightly from “good kid m.A.A.d city” to “To Pimp A Butterfly” but I have a feeling he is going to grow even more musically and expand himself to other artistic outlets such as Kanye has. Maybe Kendrick’s next move will be immersing himself into the fashion world, or the art world. Or maybe he will stick to strictly creating and producing music. Whatever his next move is, it’s going to be big.
In my opinion, being featured on the cover of Rolling Stone is when you KNOW you have made it. It is the Vogue of the music world. Kanye was featured on the cover of Rolling Stone in 2006 after his second album, “Late Registration”, dropped. Kendrick Lamar was recently featured on the cover of Rolling Stone after his second album dropped. Another coincidence? I think not. Kendrick is about to explode, and no one is ready for the mark he is going to leave on the music industry. He is going to be the next Kayne West.