Hip-Hop 180: Intro to Kendrick Lamar

    As if one half of OutKast and that ska band you loved in sixth grade weren’t enough to get pumped for Dillo Day, Mayfest snuck in one last act under the wire: rapper Kendrick Lamar, who comes straight outta Compton and has become Dr. Dre’s latest protégé. But while billing at festivals like Coachella and Pitchfork prove Lamar is rising, he has yet to break through into the glorious world of mainstream success, so it's understandable if you're unfamiliar with his music. That’s where we come in.

    In case anybody was unaware, hip-hop is really, really good right now. I’m not just talking about Kanye and Jay-Z, and I’m definitely not talking about Eminem or Lil Wayne. There are tons of young guys like A$AP Rocky and Danny Brown making great music despite missing teeth, and 24-year-old Kendrick Lamar stands at the very forefront of this new vanguard. Occasional complaints against Mayfest center around the fact that many Dillo acts are past their musical prime (again, you probably listened to Reel Big Fish in sixth grade), but summer 2012 is the perfect time to catch Kendrick Lamar. He’s released enough good music that it will be enjoyable, but at an early enough stage in his career that it was possible for Mayfest to get him here. Trust me, one day you’ll be bragging about having seen Kendrick Lamar this early on. To prepare for Saturday, here are some choice selections from his (already fairly extensive) discography.

    “Ignorance Is Bliss” by Kendrick Lamar

    This song from Kendrick’s last mixtape, O(verily) D(educated), is what first caught Dr. Dre’s attention, and it’s easy to see why. Lines like “Cats so watered down clowns can sink Titanic / Tie titanium around and watch ‘em panic” hint at his Eminem-like eloquence, and the song’s general subversion offers an interesting take on typical rap topics. Kendrick has said that his favorite rapper is Tupac Shakur, and these lyrics about gang-banging and killing in the streets of Compton certainly seem to reflect the influence of that West Coast gangsta rap tradition. But if Kendrick’s use of the word “indubitably” is any indication, things aren’t quite that simple here. The chill beat and use of “ignorance is bliss” to end every verse demonstrate that this song is a meditation on the mindsets that lead to gang violence rather than a one-dimensional glorification of such.

    “Rigamortis” by Kendrick Lamar

    Kendrick’s debut album, Section.80, came out last year and naturally found its way onto tons of best-of lists. If you care about good hip-hop then the entire album is a must-listen, but if you’re strapped for time before Dillo this track is one to make sure you catch. The sparse beat allows Kendrick to go HAM and unleash the full power of his lyrical talent and eloquent delivery (“Really ballistic, anybody can see / Any assistance, everybody done see / Some persistence, recognize I be / Really too vicious, the permanent beast”). It’s one of Kendrick’s shorter songs, but its two and a half minutes of nonstop power-packed lines will still take your breath away.

    “Blessed” by Schoolboy Q ft. Kendrick Lamar

    Remember that rising generation of hip-hop talent I described earlier? Schoolboy Q’s album Habits & Contradictions plays like a who’s-who of this new wave, featuring some of A$AP Rocky’s greatest work and, of course, an appearance by Kendrick, who recently joined Schoolboy Q in the new Black Hippy rapper collective. Again, the entire album is worth checking out, but this song in particular is another good lesson in Kendrick’s rap talent.

    “The Recipe” by Kendrick Lamar ft. Dr Dre

    The lead single from Kendrick’s upcoming album Good Kid in a Mad City is probably his best song, which can only be a good thing. Although it bypasses the lyrical irony of “Ignorance Is Bliss” for straight-up celebration of the joys of California living (namely, “women, weed and weather”) and adheres to the classic popular rap structure (women singing, chorus) more than any of his other songs, Kendrick’s delivery of lines like “We want to be one, to peak on the chart / So the peons can be gone and pee on their hearts” still pack a punch. And in case you were thinking that Dr. Dre’s cameo is too overpowering, don’t forget that Kendrick ghostwrote that verse for him. What a talent.


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