“Kendrick Lamar is Hip-Hop’s savior.”
I’ve heard this statement many times over the last several weeks and honestly, I don’t know if I should laugh or cry. As of now, I feel like an old Portrait tape stuck on repeat, “Here we go again!”
Now, feel free to label me the unrelenting contrarian. I’m fine with that. But first allow me clarify my position on Kendrick and his most subsequent release.
Before listening to good kid, m.A.A.d. city, I had only been to Compton once. I was ten at the time; the scent of dark liquor and illegalities infiltrated the already congested California atmosphere. It was festive. Bodies swayed to the rhythms of Marvin and Luther, ecstasy captured on the brown faces surrounding me. Smiles sketched on hollow souls, those seemingly buoyant expressions were nothing more than a facade. It was a contradiction that I could see, but not yet explain.
Kendrick is what a million snapshots of a West Coast excursion sound like. From the beginning, he reminded me that the Compton streets are filled with treble clef curves and ironic basslines constructed specifically for showing them off. I never met “Sharene,” but I knew a girl just like her—a beautiful structure painted with the marks of gang affiliation.
I, too, was reminded that Compton is the birthplace of laidback beats built exclusively for drop top cruising. South Central, Los Angeles teaches us that a clean lowrider screams to those hypothetical haters, “Bitch, don’t kill my vibe.” Despite, the infectious sound aesthetic and undeniable charm, the city is still quite mad.
When you least expect it, Compton can embrace you with the intensity of an old Janet record. Sun sets in the summertime are nature’s aphrodisiac and if you can lyrically lace your prey like verbal foreplay, you, too, can get the key to the city’s finest treasures—slow jams and a braided beauty. Maybe you’ll get lucky. Maybe.
At the end of the day, you can never sleep on Compton. This is where duplicity resides. Never could one imagine such a dark underbelly residing around something so capturing. It’s the encapsulation of 90s Cube—bright eyes hardened by reality. It doesn’t make sense and neither does Compton. Unpredictability is commonplace. The minute you get comfortable, the beat changes. That’s the definition of a “m.A.A.d. city.” The faces of its residence, I will never forget. And now I know why.
Kendrick taught me.
Yes, this album was so sophisticated in its storytelling and delivery that it literally gave me flashbacks of an anthropological journey I took nearly fifteen years ago.
And yet, even as I wax poetically on a project in just its first moments of actual life, I shudder at the thought of placing the metaphorical crown of thorns upon the head of Kendrick Lamar Duckworth.
It’s funny because this isn’t even their first proclamation of messianic proportions. Before Kendrick, it was J. Cole. Before that, Jay Electronica. And before that, Blu. So on and so on.
But don’t get it confused. This is not me calling them false idols. No. They, along with Kendrick, are gifted masters of the craft, deserving the highest praise. These golden calves of rap are a shining representation of the genre’s expansive artistic merit.
But even though Hip-Hop resides outside of this fabled world headed towards destruction, I understand. Currently, Hip-Hop is positioning mediocrity in the driver’s seat. What we posit as the mainstream of the culture is more than not a lazy rehashing of the same sophomoric tales—money, clothes, and, pardon the expression, hoes. But there’s an underlying notion with taking that as the entirety of modern Hip-Hop. Those that have adopted this doomsday mentality, those that consider Kendrick to be the Great Messiah, in the most ironic of fashions, have become lazy in their engagement of the art. If you think Hip-Hop found its savior or even needed one to begin with, you clearly haven’t been listening [to] enough. You can’t castigate the superficial if you don’t take the time to look past it yourself. But what can you expect from the same individuals that pronounced Hip-Hop’s death in 2006 because they saw it on the cover of an album?
Do I think Kendrick Lamar is hip-hop’s savior? No. Is good kid, m.A.A.d. city the best major rap debut since Illmatic? Perhaps (Blu might disagree…). Honestly, none of that’s important. Kendrick Lamar is simply an incredibly talented artist that just released a stirring portrait of life in Compton, California. His gift for storytelling is only matched by his mature ear for quality sound. He joins the burgeoning list of those pushing art forward. Nothing more. Nothing less. And that’s ok because he doesn’t need to be anything more than he already is.
So, sleep tight. Hip-Hop is safe. A good kid, some black hippies, and a whole bunch of other gods amongst men have assured its survival for another day.
“What if today was the rapture, and you completely tarnished
The truth will set you free, so to me be completely honest
You dying of thirst”
Written By: Paul Pennington