In this week’s Monday Mixtape, Marco Cartolano takes a look back at some of rapper Kendrick Lamar’s previous hits in honor of his new album released last week. Find this week’s mixtape on Spotify here! Transcript below.
Hello, I am Marco Cartolano and welcome to Monday Mixtape. Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar just released his latest album “Damn,” so I decided to take a look at some choice songs from this legend-in-the-making’s career up to this point.
You just heard “Hiiipower,” the closing song of his breakthrough free album “Section.80.” This song is named after a movement that Kendrick created with his Top Dawg Labelmates Ab-Soul, Jay Rock and Schoolboy Q. The Hiiipower movement encourages higher thinking and meaningful action. On the song, Kendrick advocates fighting the racist establishment and calls on black people to rise up. J.Cole’s jazzy production gives the song a propulsive energy that is perfect for Kendrick’s anthem. It was obvious that bigger things were yet to come for the young MC from Compton.
Kendrick’s major label debut “Good Kid, M.A.A.D City” won acclaim for telling the story of Kendrick’s upbringing in Compton and his attempts to escape the vices of the criminal lifestyle. The dreamy “Money Trees” makes us understand how alluring these vices are. Kendrick and his friends dream about living the lives of their favorite rappers, so they commit crimes with the hopes of one day making enough money to feel comfortable. The soothing instrumental, based on a sample from Beach House’s “Silver Soul,” is juxtaposed with the violence portrayed in the lyrics. The song ends with Jay Rock’s great guest verse explaining why his childhood poverty forced him to become a gangster. Now for a more aggressive cut off “Good Kid M.A.A.D City.”
Inspired by classic West Coast hip-hop, “M.A.A.D City” describes the gang violence that consumed Kendrick and his friends. Kendrick puts on a high-pitched inflection to represent his perspective as a naive youth caught up in vengeance-fueled passion and a traumatic experience with drugs. West Coast veteran MC Eiht’s authoritative verse and Schoolboy Q’s famous ad libs add to the brutal atmosphere of the track.
After “Good Kid M.A.A.D City,” Kendrick seemed to be destined to become the king of hip-hop. Kendrick solidified his claim to the throne with his vicious verse on Big Sean’s “Control.” Kendrick calls out 11 rappers by name and promises to eclipse all of them if they do not step their game up. His explosive delivery set the rap game on fire and many publications called his verse the best of the year. Countless rappers responded to the track and the rap community became even more curious about what Kendrick would do next.
Somehow, Kendrick managed to arguably top his previous masterpiece with “To Pimp a Butterfly,” which is a magnificent statement on his conflicted feelings about his role as a rap star and a powerful description of the modern black experience. The album also synthesizes the last 60 years of traditionally black music by incorporating jazz, funk, blues and spoken word. On the funky King Kunta, Kendrick is at his most boastful. He brags that he runs the rap game and disses “fake” rappers who use ghostwriters. I admit that I am biased towards this song because I blasted it in the car after I got into Northwestern. But, its infectious groove, call-and-response back-up singers and positive vibe makes it the perfect pump up jam.
When you are picking tracks from the most acclaimed rap album of the 2010’s there’s a surplus of good options. While every song off “To Pimp a Butterfly” is great, “u” is unique in how it captures Kendrick at his lowest point. Feeling guilty about leaving his neighborhood behind, Kendrick takes up drinking to ease his self-loathing. The amount of sheer pain in the track still makes me uncomfortable. But, it is also a testament to Kendrick’s talent as a performer. “u” is an essential track if you want to understand Kendrick’s genius.
[untitled 06 | 06.30.2014]
Let’s end this mixtape on a lighter note. “Untitled 06” is a track off “Untitled Unmastered,” a collection of demo tracks that Kendrick released after “To Pimp a Butterfly.” The sixth track has an upbeat jazz-influenced instrumental. Cee-lo Green’s sweet first verse discusses accepting his imperfections. Kendrick then encourages the listener to accept who they are, even if they stick out in society. This positive track is a great way to end the week.
And that is it for Monday Mixtape. This week’s playlist is available on Spotify at mondaymixtape. I look forward to sharing more music with you next week. For NBN Audio, I’m Marco Cartolano.