Rap is a misleading genre. Back in the late 80s/early 90s it meant anti-establishment and anti-authority—singing about hating cops, doing illicit drugs, and trying to make that dollar—where there was an actual sense of street cred that went with being a rapper. Since this time, however, rap’s identity has shifted. You would be more correct if you called rap “urban pop” nowadays, with Drake, Lil Wayne, and Kanye being prime examples of such classification. Their songs are what we hear when we go out to our favorite clubs and bars, along with other Top 40 tracks. And now there is a new face—Kendrick Lamar, a Compton bred rapper—who in the last year has generated a ton of blog and label buzz. He’s not your typical rapper, however. He is someone whose sound pays a certain homage to old school rap, not fully concerned with making radio friendly hits. His full-length debut studio album, good kid, m.A.A.d city, just released this past Tuesday.
Getting things started off with a bang is “Backseat Freestyle,” a track that you are obligated to listen to from beginning to end. It’s not an overly produced song, but that’s what makes it so entrancing; minimalism at its best. The bumping bass pulses throughout the song accompanied by a church bell type sound that is subtle, yet paramount. The only way to really play this song is in your car, seat back, bass turned all the way up, and pretending that your life is recorded in slow motion. Simply put, it just feels right.
Lyrically, Lamar isn’t shy to say what is on his mind. Where most rappers throw out lyrics that are more clever than hard hitting, he accomplishes both. Like fellow Compton rapper, The Game, his writing isn’t meant to make him sound hard, but it’s just how he lives his life. In this track, for example, he has dreams of doing big things and his cares are seemingly non-existent. In an interview with Hot 97, Lamar explained that this song was about him and his mindset when he was sixteen years old. Knowing this, the lyrics make sense as someone who wants a grandiose, opulent lifestyle, but sees it through a sophomoric lens. The hook in “Backseat Freestyle” is a perfect example of this:
"All my life I want money and power
Respect my mind or die from lead shower
I pray my dick get big as the Eiffel Tower
So I can fuck the world for 72 hours."
One of the album title tracks, “m.A.A.d city” follows this same music recipe, with heavy emphasis on blasting that bass until those factory made speakers on your parent’s car blow. The thing that makes this track so great, however, is that it’s basically two records melded into one. A good example of a song on the radio doing this would be “Gold On The Ceilings” by The Black Keys. Not sure if Kendrick Lamar is a closet fan of them, but it’s hard to not notice a similarity between the album covers too. The Black Keys rocking a wood paneled Plymouth Grand Voyager, while Lamar’s shows off a rundown looking, purple Chrysler Town and Country (deluxe edition album only). Coincidence? Yeah, probably…
Back to the track itself, it talks about the harsh reality that living in Compton was for Lamar. He writes: “Hope euphoria can slow dance with society/ The driver seat the first one to get killed/Seen a light-skinned nigga with his brains blown out/ At the same burger stand where –hang out…That was back when I was nine.” Even with terrible moments such as this, he shows strength in finding a positive outlook and turning these feelings into a powerful medium. Putting your neck out on the line by criticizing the gang life shows that his words are a more powerful weapon. Rap is his answer and a compelling one at that.
Other records to check out include: “Poetic Justice” (who doesn’t like Drake, after all?), “Swimming Pools,” and “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe.” If you’re a fan of rap, then this is definitely a must checkout album. With hints of Bone-Thugz-N-Harmony and late 80s Compton act N.W.A., Lamar is in good company. If you never thought music as cyclical, good kid, m.A.A.d city may make you reconsider. Until then Druggernauts!