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Kendrick Lamar

Easily up there with the top hip hop gangsta rappers of the tenties, astute wordsmith KENDRICK LAMAR has moved and grooved into the shoes of his mentors with relative comfort. Long preordained to become a No.1 artist, not only Stateside but all over the globe, with his critically-acclaimed commentary on his gun-toting homeland, `To Pimp A Butterfly’, the young man seemed to take some positives and hope from all the misery.
Born Kendrick Lamar Duckworth, June 17, 1987, Compton, California, as a 16-year-old on the verge of taking a route to the wrong side of the tracks, Kendrick chose instead to raise his pen rather than the sword (or was that the gun). Rapping under the pseudonymous moniker of K. Dot, his initial releases were mixtapes: `Youngest Head Nigga In Charge’ (2003) obviously inspired by NWA, whilst 2005’s Training Day’ and 2009’s `C4’, brought him to the attention of Top Dawg Entertainment. Alongside fellow underground label mates, Jay Rock, Ab-Soul and ScHoolboy Q, Kendrick adapted his tongue-twisting raps under the Black Hippy banner.
They would offer their loyal support to the man’s next mixtape releases: the download `The Kendrick Lamar EP’ (2009), the free `Overly Dedicated’ (2010) and the belatedly-issued official debut Section.80 (2011) {*7}. One look at the cover jacket – dollars, dope pipe, gold strap, bullets and the holy bible! – told its own story before an explicit LAMAR expressed and sprayed out his inner thoughts like rounds from a high-calibre Uzi. Wise enough to play the soul card on several cuts (including numerous n-word, p-word, b-word an’ y’all), `F*ck Your Ethnicity’, `A.D.H.D.’, `Chapter Six’, `Blow My High (Members Only)’ et al, proved there was a great political voice behind this pop preacher.
Seasoned rappers were first to sing his praises: SNOOP DOGG, MC EIHT, DRAKE and DR. DRE giving Kendrick the chance to shine on the latter’s Aftermath imprint (endorsed by Interscope). 2012’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City {*8} gate-crashed the Top 3, and highlighted some of his aforesaid hip hop/rap heroes in among the street-smart samples and political poems. In parts biographical and brash as if he’d just come from a night out in Compton, the cathartic man boasted his loves, his wishes, and his gangsta/gang-banging exploits – telling it like it is from the ‘hood. Hook line and hallucinatory, LAMAR separated out from the pack with his soul-stirring, `Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe’, `The Art Of Peer Pressure’, the JANET JACKSON-sampled `Poetic Justice’ – from the movie – and an extended version of big hitter, `Swimming Pools (Drank)’.
Subsequently targeted – if that’s the right turn of phrase – by a plethora of acts looking to get in on the action, the multi-Grammy-nominated KENDRICK LAMAR was kept busy for the foreseeable future while he planned his next album. Exposure to chart-land was like shooting ducks in a barrel, and with every passing month in 2013, the rapper seemed to be turning up on all sorts of singles: comedy rap team The Lonely Island (featured Adam Levine & Kendrick Lamar) on minor hit, `Yolo’; Miguel ft. Kendrick on `How Many Drinks?’; 50 CENT ft. Kendrick on the single, `We Up’; B.o.B. and Kendrick guesting on the single, `Memories Back Then’; ScHoolboy Q ft. KENDRICK LAMAR on the minor hit, `Collard Greens’; `Fragile’ bubbled under the charts by Tech N9NE ft. Kendrick Lamar; J. Cole featured LAMAR on the single, `Forbidden Fruit’, whilst Robin Thicke ft. LAMAR on his transatlantic Top 30 hit, `Give It 2 U’. 2014 started in similar fashion, IMAGINE DRAGONS featured LAMAR on their UK hit, `Radioactive’; Kendrick featured on Pusha’s R&B single, `Nosetalgia’, and he appeared on ALICIA KEYS’ minor hit, `It’s On Again’ – phew!
Mistakenly leaked to the internet a week earlier than planned, it gave reviewers time to mull over the merits of LAMAR’s third album, TO PIMP A BUTTERFLY (2015) {*9}. In some respects, the decade’s answer to a jazz or Blaxploitation OST (example his fast-talking “This dick ain’t free” `For Free – interlude’ or `u’, `i’ and `Alright’), Kendrick took no prisoners in the role of `King Kunta’, whilst he got on down in the groove for the comic, old-man impersonation of the `For Sale? – interlude’. Furnishing the studio with old skool rap reactionaries, BILAL, Anna Wise, and uncompromising SNOOP DOGG, `Institutionalized’ was straight from the ghetto to the heart and soul of America; Thundercat substituted Tha Dogg Pounder on the PRINCE-esque `These Walls’. That same Thundercat dude was granted the set’s official opening `Wesley’s Theory’, collating his grinds ‘n’ grooves with the great GEORGE CLINTON (intro-sampled with BORIS GARDINER’s `Every Nigger Is A Star’). Probably as important to the rap world as STEVIE WONDER’s “Innervisions” was in the 70s, one could forever and a day applaud the greatness of this glorious set, and in the haunting and heavenly `How Much A Dollar Cost’ (featuring both James Fauntleroy and legend RONALD ISLEY) and `Complexion (A Zulu Love)’ (with Rapsody), LAMAR was simply the man of the moment. And when an album can afford to finish on a 12-minute high-note (the cutting `Mortal Man’ interpolated with a mock-up Tupac v. Lamar Q&A), one had discovered a true genius already in the making.
Recorded around the same period, Kendrick’s postscript to his multi-Grammy-winning “Pimp” set, the chart-topping mini-set/EP UNTITLED UNMASTERED (2016) {*7} started off as if he’d found his BARRY WHITE mojo (via BILAL). One of 8 “untitled” cuts that registered its own level of outtake session poetry (worth checking out `untitled 03 05.28.2013’ and `untitled 05 09.21.2014’), even his demos could sound masterful as if he’d ripped from the heart of a jazz man transported through a DeLorean into the day’s weary and worrying world of woes.
The world’s most prolific and compelling rap/hip hop artist was back the following spring with the global chart-topping DAMN. (2017) {*8}. Cultural and spiritual icon for the modern-day youth, KENDRICK LAMAR again transcended his hard-knock-life struggles into an explicit socio-political commentary; best examples `Humble’, `Element’ and `DNA’. On the commercial side of the spectrum, the man’s pop workouts with RIHANNA (`Loyalty’), ZACARI (`Love’) and U2 (`XXX’) had their functions – probably. “Bitches”, “pussies”, “hoes” and other cussing put-downs one dare not utter, mere mortals from other worlds possibly struggle at times to comprehend his OTT 40-acre stare and use of inane vulgarity. Seems hypocritical to be preaching peace, love and understanding through the eyes of some street pimp, whilst echoing violence and hate; `Duckworth’ – a track that concerned an encounter between his father and future Top Dawg CEO Anthony Tiffith – was a prime example. Therefore, with scrutiny and cynicism, Kendrick tried hard to echo the ghosts of MAYFIELD and GAYE in his “seven deadly sins” motif; but in his fucked-up world, the feckin’ gun is still mightier than the feckin’ pen; multiple deaths on the street testify to that fact.
© MC Strong/MCS Oct2016-Apr2017

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