« We’ve been in Compton before, but the way that Kendrick did it was so different. … The album is crafted from front to back, the way each song ties into each other — to me that’s genius. » Eminem.
Since the beginning of rap music, there were some rappers who stood up well above others, men who reshaped the game and left their footprints on this genre forever. The crown was passed on. 2pac and Biggie had it, Nas and Eminem had it at some point…and these days you’ll find it hard to argue against Kendrick. All the actual rappers, successful as they may look, cultivate different aspects and atmospheres in their music. Aspects that Kendrick has, so far, shown a genius ability to circulate through them with great flexibility.
His to-day discography, shows a melange of personal struggles, black community cause, Faith…through different styles of storytelling, built up on more and more jazz-funk instrumentals with his unique self-effacing soul-searching way. Kendrick’s capacity in channeling dark thoughts through a Technicolor tapestry of vocalizations places him in a league with the greats of his form. As a storyteller, he makes the black struggle sing not only through the fine articulation of his own voice but also through the skilled use of parables, tales of tragic or else sympathetic characters like the credit card scammer friend of “untitled 08,” the neighborhood youth of “Momma,” and Keisha and her sister from “Keisha’s Song (Her Pain)” and “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst.” As 2pac did with songs like “Brenda’s Got a Baby” and “Shorty Wanna Be a Thug,” Kendrick uses the collusion of these stories to paint the chaos of the California inner city home, harder than simple autobiography might. The religiosity that hung in the background of Good Kid, the messianic yarn about artists’ personal obligation in lifting up their neighborhood in To Pimp A Butterfly, the crisis of self-doubt of Untitled and other themes, gave Kendrick a unique depth in his text that’s rarely seen in today’s rap music. He achieves all of the above while remaining light, flexing, new money, and harassing the competition.
In “Institutionalized” To Pimp a butterfly album, Snoop Dogg says: “you can take the boy of the hood, but you can’t take the hood of the homie”, showing Kendrick’s attachment to his hometown and his engagement toward his people to help them face their problems. The son of Compton doesn’t rap about hoes and buggaties and jets, he doesn’t brag about how much money he makes or how much views he has on YouTube, this nigga understands the real struggle and knows that to overcome it a personal revolution must take place, and then spread the positivity around you. He redefined the “keep it gangsta” term, for Kendrick “keep it gangsta” means taking care of your family, handling your business, and putting positive energy out there for everybody to benefit from not just yourself. And this is for me Lamar’s greatest achievement and his legacy.
Untitled unmastered, 34 minutes of raw demos, speaks to the creative capabilities of the man himself because these bits and pieces of unsettled business feel like more than just that. It is another piece in the daring discography of a young rapper, who follows the heady, hard left jazz album with its even headier, even jazzier production scraps, but conceptually edifying and, somehow, commercially interesting. Kendrick Lamar continues to succeed at pulling off confounding career moves none of his peers could or should, and for that, it’s time to call him what he is: the new king of rap. I’m just saying.