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  • 25Oct

    Famous last words on accepting the excellence of Kendrick Lamar

    Hating Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, M.A.A.D. City is an exercise in futility. It’s a great album, yes, but represents so much more than music that it makes it an incredibly important landmark moment in time. In occupying the space between where rap now fully lives in a new era of having things, as well as hip-hop demanding the development of new cultural standards, it’s the most important music at the most important time. If you hate this record, you hate it only because everyone loves it so much. You also hate this album because likely there’s something about you, whether as a fellow emcee or fanatical rap supporter, where deep down, you know that everything that album is, is right, and that you may just be a slight bit off the chase, or absolutely and unequivocally wrong.

    I feel bad for people who are fans of other rappers right now. Unassailable and groundbreaking pop success is all a matter of time, space and place. Elvis wiggling his hips on Ed Sullivan wasn’t better than Little Richard, Chuck Berry or Jerry Lee Lewis’ acts. However, his moment and his look, style and essence merged perfectly with what America needed when they woke up to a need to appreciate rock and roll. Kendrick Lamar follows after a tumultuous era of hip-hop culture. Jay and Kanye released the most insane album in hip-hop history with Watch the Throne. They set the precedent as twin Christopher Columbuses setting forth on a land that many other rich and influential people owned, suddenly claiming it as their own,  then radically paining everything black. This followed the indie underground getting absorbed into rap’s cultural ascendance, Kid Cudi and Lil Wayne begetting Tyler the Creator, Lil B and plenty more, an entire legion of emcees birthing raps – both profound and lightweight – in a mixtape era dominated by emcees with voracious digital appetites who in a series of Youtube clicks digested then dispelled rap’s early history. At the end of the game? 2 Chainz and Big Sean, who, in setting the bar so incredibly low as mainstream rappers to trip over it, smile and get paid millions of dollars to do so, allowed the space for the dust to settle and for Kendrick Lamar to win the game.

    All of the telltale signs are there. Pop hit “Swimming Pools” couldn’t exist without Kid Cudi’s introspection. Also apparent in Lamar are Tyler’s brashness, A$AP’s blase dominance, Jay Electronica’s bar-for-bar lyrical dexterity, and Drake even joins him on”Poetic Justice” to showcase Kendrick’s ability to really love a woman as well. This is a best of album of  a whirlwind time, that in literally escaping at a point where rap needed a great new voice, he succeeded. 2012 was THE year. Somewhere between 2011 featuring Drake chopping and screwing Juvenile plus sampling Jamie XX and SBTRKT on the same album, as well as  featuring Kendrick on Take Care‘s “Buried Alive,” it started. That’s an art house move in mainstream sound, a clear homage to the genre-less mixtape ideal of the underground hustle. When A$AP Rocky sampled a cover of Kid Cudi’s “Pursuit of Happiness,” for “Hands on the Wheel,”  it continued. Then, Nas’ Life is Good was released literally one month prior to 2 Chainz’s Based on a T.R.U. Story, and both were honest and great in such radically different ways, the game had been broadened and deepened enough for Lamar to have the clear and unobstructed path he’s now taking to the top of the game.

    The most amazing thing about Lamar’s album is that his performance is greater than the sum of its parts. Whereas with other emcees like Big Sean, Nicki Minaj, A$AP Rocky, Theophilus London, just to name a few, Kendrick is at the same level or shining brighter than all of his notable co-conspirators on the release. Just Blaze produces and Dr. Dre drops bars on album finale “Compton,” but it’s Lamar’s show. “m.a.a.d. city” features the “Streiht Up Menance” himself, west coast legend MC Eiht, and Lamar is on point. “Poetic Justice” features as sample of Janet Jackson’s 1994 classic “Anytime, Anyplace,” and it arguably creates a track with the kind of multiple earworms that make a young man from Compton into an immediate icon.

    Rap’s in an era of having more than ever before. We got richer, then we got more ratchet and arrogant than ever before, now it’s time to truly get down to business. good kid, M.A.A.D. City is produced in a manner that sets every rap standard of excellence for the next 20 years. It’s also a “best of” every sonic and lyrical mixtape trope of the last decade. In finally merging the underground and the mainstream, and doing so with a cast of characters that represent all angles of the best of both worlds, it succeeds. Hate if you must, but do realize that resistance is futile and excellence ultimately only begets the change and development that rap music demands.

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