In a rap-world currently riddled with materialism and a lack of originality, Kendrick Lamar is nothing short of an authentic rap artist. We cannot deny the force that is Kendrick Lamar in today’s age of hip-hop. Note that I said “today.”
There are many ways to gauge whether or not a rapper is “good.” The key elements typically include flow, beats, reputation, and whether or not they are relatable. Knowing this, it becomes easy to create expectations for a rap artist once we realize where they fall on the spectrum. Kendrick, on the other hand, cannot be easily placed. The only thing he follows is a pattern of including relevant messages in his music.
What makes Kendrick such a driving force is his influence on both hip-hop and Black culture. The contents of his songs cover a lot of ground pertaining to social justice and provides an authentic insight into the community. As a rapper in contemporary America, this is not a popular nor easy feat, because it is not a glamorous topic. K.Dot hardly raps about luxury cars, mansions and spending stacks as a means to further his career. And if he does, it is in the form of a criticism, such as his recent song “Humble.” Kendrick uses his platform as a rapper to keep it real, by being honest and open about his own story. For example, Kendrick’s verse “I’m so sick and tired of the Photoshop/Show me somethin’ natural like afro on Richard Pryor/Show me somethin’ natural like a— with some stretch marks.” He makes it clear that he does not care nor want to fulfill the stereotypical idea of a rapper. Ironically enough, this is what makes him feel accessible and relatable, even though all of his audience may not share the same experience he does on a cultural or intellectual level. This may be frustrating or unappealing for some, but there is comfort in him expressing his truth.
Prior to the release of “Humble”, K.Dot was already preaching similar messages about the importance of valuing the simpler of things in life. He has remained consistent with this throughout his career. Perhaps the best example of this would be his Grammy-award winning third album, “To Pimp A Butterfly,” which is arguably the best album of his career thus far. Kendrick has always deviated from the mainstream themes of hip-hop that rely on misogyny, money and drugs, but he definitely did not hold back with this one. From the artist collaborations to the lyrical content, “To Pimp A Butterfly” is carefully crafted. It is an empowering experience that explores the complexities of being Black in an institutionalized world that creates challenges on a road to success.
Check out this counterpoint to Kendrick Lamar’s new music here.
As a part of the community, I remember listening to it for the first time and feeling as though I knew him because of how much I related to what he was discussing. It was refreshing to hear something substantial about my community that could not be imitated or duplicated. He touched on issues within the Black community like colorism in “Complexion (A Zulu Love).” On “The Blacker the Berry” he is unapologetically relentless as he discusses the struggles of racism in America. In “You Ain’t Gotta Lie”, he emphasizes the importance of self-respect when encountering peer pressure. With this album, Kendrick solidified his position as an emerging leader in the rap-world by taking the initiative to talk about these issues, when it needed to be heard most.
Another aspect about Kendrick Lamar is his ability to rap about his confidence in himself as an artist without coming off as cocky. One of the most memorable Kendrick Lamar verses is his line on Big Sean’s “Control” in 2013, in which he called out 11 of his fellow rappers who he personally worked with by name, including Big Sean on his own song. Kendrick follows the name drops with “What is competition? I’m tryna raise the bar high?/Who tryna jump and get it? You’re better off tryna skydive.” This was a bold move, but it was a call to all contemporary rappers to showcase their best rather than demeaning them.
With his recent release “The Heart Part IV”, K.Dot is at it again. He unleashes over a simple beat while reminding his listeners that even though he may be a popular hip-hop artist, he still remembers where he comes from. He separates himself from others who may forget whilst getting caught up in the fame and fortune, leading them to rap about less important things. He references this when he compares himself to other rappers when he says “House on the hill, house on the beach/ A condo in Compton, I’m still in reach.” As a seven-time Grammy award winner, this is pretty humbling coming from Kendrick who is clearly a rapper motivated by his mission to empower.
Most importantly, Kendrick has re-opened the doors for the hip-hop/rap community to talk about cultural issues in society today. He smoothly raps about them in a way similar to the likes of emcees such as Talib Kweli and Mos Def while incorporating the stylistic influences of artists like Andre 3000 and Q-Tip. Given the context of society currently, it seems like Kendrick is only getting started and will have more to say in his upcoming album.