It’s been a long time coming for this young man, Kendrick Lamar. He crept his way into the Hip Hop scene starting 3 years ago when he released the Kendrick Lamar EP, then O.verly D.edicated (earlier fans knew him for his music when he dropped mixtapes as K.Dot), and that had him gain a lot of buzz. It showed people that he was a rapper that talked about his hometown (Compton, Cali-for-nye-aye) that hadn’t been heard before – it was a positive light in a dark place. The most you’d hear out of Compton before Kendrick Lamar was The Game (I’m excluding NWA for generational reasons), and we pretty much all know his story. But, they say that good things come in threes (I have a shirt that says that). I guess 3 would be the number of years in this case: The Kendrick Lamar EP, O.verly D.edicated, and Section.80 were the stepping stones to this album. In each mixtape (if you look at Section.80 as a mixtape even though it’s an independent album), he references to a lot of themes & events that are brought up on this album. The production behind it, the lyrical content, and just how it’s well pieced together; it actually feels like a movie, which is why on the front cover it says ‘a short film by Kendrick Lamar.’ He took the listener to the theatre, and we watched him evolve from a young teenager (K. Dot) to the man that is Kendrick Lamar. It’s Menace II Society & Boyz N Tha Hood in musical art form. Grab some popcorn, and enjoy the show – oh, and the review too.
- 1. Sherane A.K.A Master Splinter’s Daughter
At first it sounds like the group of guys are chanting The Lord’s Prayer, but then I said to myself, “wait, this isn’t how it goes,” and it feels like the album starts off at the middle of a movie, sort of like how Quentin Taratino likes to start off a movie in a deep dramatic fashion (Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill Vol.1, Pulp Fiction). Master Splinter (as TMNT fans would know) is the main innovator of the Ninja Turtles; the head honcho who trained the lost turtles in the sewer to fight. Sherane, described by Kendrick is the character that is the reason why certain things happen to dictate what happens in Kendrick’s life. There’s always an originator. We all know how easy it is to be enchanted by a woman who looks good and treats us like a king; we take that treatment and run with it. It happens to women to, because men can be conniving in ways as well, but in this case, Sherane uses Kendrick’s innocence and sets him up, which is what he’s explaining towards the end of the song.
- I loved the fact that Kendrick uses his parents in the little ‘scenes’ at the end of most of the songs on the album. I’ve seen him perform about 3 times now, and how he talks about his parents and mimics their behaviour, it was brought to life on the album. A few key things that were mentioned in the first scene: Kendrick had taken his mother’s van (front cover of the Deluxe edition), and she had mentioned that if he kept running in the streets, that he wouldn’t make it to the 11th grade. So this tells us that he’s around 16-17 years old, and if you have ever listened to ‘P&P’from the Kendrick Lamar EP, he says:Pushing in my mama van
Stop for gas on Rosecrans
Trust me these niggas rushed me for something my cousin probably didAt the end of the song, he got approached by 2 guys while meeting up with Sherane. The plot thickens.
2. Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe
Keeping with the same subject as religion (one that he usually talks about a lot since he started out), he acknowledges that he’s a sinner that will sin again (nobody’s perfect, right?), but he still asks for forgiveness for the things he doesn’t understand (forgive them, Father, for which they know not what they do). While sinning, he’s living in the moment, so ‘Bitch, don’t kill my vibe’ is like ‘don’t ruin my moment,’(on Section.80, he had a song called Blow My High) because we all have those times when we’re in a zone, or when we’re feeling high up that that ONE person just has to try and kill your buzz. It’s annoying isn’t it? It is. Kendrick addresses the fact that he’s on a higher pedestal now that he’s hit the mainstream world, but vows to stay humble and that he’s just as hungry from before he got hot. People will look at it as him “selling out,” but he’s looking at it as another chapter being written in his life, both personally, and musically. The first two songs so far have impressed when its come to production. Smooth compositions, which would be just a taste of the variety of beats he would tell his continuing story on. We’re first introduced to his boys at the end of the song, and it’s cool that each scene at the end gives clues as to what’s coming next on the album and really it forces you to listen to every song with detailed hints.
3. Backseat Freestyle
I first heard this when Hit-Boy (famed producer of Niggas in Paris) tweeted a YouTube clip of Kendrick Lamar previewing this at a show in Atlanta. The beat was crazy in typical Hit-Boy fashion, and it was definitely a new spin for Kendrick that hadn’t been exposed before. I can understand why this was called ‘Backseat Freestyle,’ because when you’re with your boys and whatnot and just riding around, you spit a few bars and go off on a tangent. There wasn’t a big concept here other than the fact that it was just a freestyle (it was written obviously), and he was just spazzing out on a Hit-Boy beat. It’s definitely one to get the adrenaline going, and I know many feared this sound because it’s what mainstream rap sounds like. I won’t lie, I dig this song, but I hoped that it wasn’t going to be the consistent sound on the album. It had been doing well thus far.
4. The Art of Peer Pressure
The first time this song leaked out, it hadn’t been completed, and Kendrick even tweeted a fan saying “wait until you hear the finished version,” so I didn’t know what to expect. The disclaimer at the beginning of the song followed by a smooth jazzy beat was REFRESHING to my ears and I thought that this was going to be the beat for the whole thing, but then the beat ended and the song that was exposed from the leaked version had started. Peer pressure is something that many people either believe or don’t believe in; having a circle of friends heavily pest you to do something that you’re not accustomed to doing on a regular basis. Many people can relate to Kendrick’s story, because we all have those friends who were telling us to: Hit the blunt (when you don’t smoke), start some trouble (when you’re not a troublemaker), drink some alcohol (when you’re not a drinker), and rob a house (when you’re not a thief). Sometimes, when you’re just around your boys (or girls), you act different because you don’t want to let them down or “kill their vibe,” so you join in and live a little. Just ridin, bullshittin, actin’ a fool, trippin – the basic phrases to describe hanging out with ‘the homies.’ At the end of it all, there’s a little hint that was brought up a couple of songs from now, and this album is scripted WICKED to bring the whole story together.
5. Money Trees (Feat. Jay Rock)
Following the previous successful heist with the homies, the gang is living lavish and just celebrating the fruits of their labour. Hustling is the way of the streets and it’s a means to survive, even if it means you have to rob someone or sell drugs to get by. Money Trees being used for shade in the heat of the streets is what Kendrick was referencing to in the chorus, because it also reflects on him now getting money, but more things have happened since then, and also referenced to the past when he said that ‘That Louie’s Burgers won’t be the same, A Gucci belt won’t ease the pain,’ making reference to a line also from P&P:
Pain since my grandma’s death
Uncle killed at Louie’s Burgers
Hold my tears I tried my best
Let it go drench my pullover
Although he’s still haunted by the pain of the past, he’s going to progress by moving on forward with life. Jay-Z said it best, ‘can’t run from the pain, go towards it,’ and that’s what he’s doing. This album didn’t have a lot of features, but Jay Rock held his own, and I’m glad that he got at least one Black Hippy member on the album, because to be fair, if it hadn’t been for Jay Rock, TDE probably wouldn’t exist. It’s that simple, give the man his respect, and he’s a dope rapper as well – Underappreciated. Kendrick’s parents come back in at the end and things get a little spicy towards the end of it as we proceed…to give you what you need.
6. Poetic Justice (Feat. Drake)
This was the song that everyone had been anticipating when the tracklist was announced and the top bloggers were raving about. History check for you younger cats – Poetic Justice is a movie that featured Janet Jackson (hence the sample) and Tupac Shakur (one of Kendrick’s childhood idols). The playful flirting-turned-serious relationship that Justice & Lucky (Janet & Tupac’s characters) had is one of the more memorable ones in the black culture films much like Quincy & Monica’s in Love & Basketball (Omar Epps & Sanaa Lathan). On one hand, you have Kendrick serenading to a young woman, and then you have Drake who comes in spitting game that’s not as poetic, but he did it his own style, and poetic isn’t exactly his style, but I digress, he held his own and it’s a good song. Not simpy and whiney, but it’s smooth and definitely one to make it to the radio for sure. The line that stuck out to me the most was “If I told you a flower bloomed in a dark room, would you trust it?” Something beautiful can still grow in the midst of darkness. I LOVE THAT ANALOGY! It reflects on himself personally, because being from Compton, it’s pretty rare to see or hear something beautiful in a state of madness. Towards the end of it, the familiar seemingly hypnotic voice that we first heard in the beginning of the album returns and it picks up where it left off when Kendrick was approached by 2 guys as he was going to see Sherane (you have to love the scripting). He was interrogated, and finally threatened to the point when it was either he did what they told him to, or they’d take him by force. It felt real, like it was actually pulled out of a movie.
7. good kid
It’s hard being the good guy in the hood, especially in an area where you get presumed to be a gang member by either other people or police officers. “Guilty by association, story of my life, nigga” is a line (P&P) that stood out and is very reflective of this song, because in the two verses he talks about how he was thrown down to the curb and beat up by the 2 guys that approached him, and the infamous LAPD officers that assumed that he was a gang member. When you run with the wrong crowd, it happens to hurt more than help, but that’s just common sense. Pharrell on the hook & production was surprising. It brought out that nostalgic Neptunes flare that we’d fallen in love with during the early 2000s, and this a portion of the album that is leading up to a climax. Some damage had been done, so it was time for some retaliation.
8. m.A.A.d city (Feat. MC Eiht)
If Pirus and Crips all got along, they’d probably gun me down by the end of the song. Seems like the whole city goes against me, every time I’m in the streets I hear YAWK YAWK YAWK YAWK
If you’ve listened to Kendrick for a while, you’d know that he’s been making references to good kid, m.A.A.d city for a while. One example is from the song ‘Thanksgiving’ from the Kendrick Lamar EP:
Boo-yaa, who ya? No one, I’ve done situated myself, I ain’t lying
Be sure to be friend cause my foes die five times
The good kid from the mad city
Holding a cereal box instead of a Glock
In a 1992 Cadillac that I got from my pops
In a more up-tempo beat (very Hit-Boyish/Lex Luger-ish) Kendrick gets into the gritty scenery of the dangerous streets of Compton. Recalling an incident that happened when he was a kid, there was a gang shoot out and the description of the scenario involving him was pretty real. There’s a situation, it gets heated, words get exchanged, and then (to quote A$AP Mob) BIG GUNS GO BLAAT! The karma that Kendrick points out is that you live life backwards when you sleep with a gun next to you or under your pillow (ain’t it evil to live backwards? – Loaded Lux), basically you live by the gun, you die by it too. Just as I thought that the whole song was going to be this mock Lex Luger beat, I won’t lie, I definitely wasn’t feeling the beat, although it’s hype, it’s not something I’d expect Kendrick to rap over. When people talk about that ‘mainstream rap’ style, THIS was it. but then you hear noise like a TV channel that had its signal cut out, and then you get this THUMP of bass and instantly you’re taken back to the Warren G/Dr. Dre & Snoop Doggy Dogg type of feel, and here comes MC Eiht with his gangster demeanor really breaking down the life on the Compton streets. Dealing & doing drugs and gang banging is very common, so it was cool that Kendrick brought along an O.G to help tell the story of the nitty gritty. It was a feature that was surprising for most when the tracklist came about, so I’m glad that it worked out very well. The message that Kendrick is doing spoken word reveals the true meaning of m.A.A.d. When he does the altered pitch to his voice, it’s as if there’s another persona speaking to the listener. He did this on ‘Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe’ and also ‘Swimming Pools.’ He revealed it in an interview on L.A Leakers, but I already heard it the line in the song. Compton, USA – made me an Angel on Angel dust. Now, if you were paying attention towards the end of ‘The Art of Peer Pressure,’ the scene has the homies laughing at the fact that they got Kendrick ‘faded’ (high from smoking). He smoked the wrong blunt and it had ‘the Shenanigans’; Shenanigans being the Angel dust that he was referring to in this song. See how it all ties in together? There’s also another meaning he said in the L.A Leakers interview – my Angry Adolescence divided. Just a nugget.
9. Swimming Pools (Extended)
One of the singles of the album, but this is an extended version with a third verse. This comes right after the aftermath of the set-up and Kendrick’s with the homies, and they hand him a drink to kick back, so he can recuperate from his event. The primary focus of this song is about dealing with alcohol abuse and the fact that he had been surrounded by people that spent their lives alcohol binging (basically drinking the amount that you can fill a pool with to swim in; metaphorically speaking). People drink for various reason that Kendrick touched on – whether it’s to get away from their misery or to just feel good at the moment, he talks about his experience with drinking and how through peer pressure, he did it. The chorus refers to the stages of a drinker and how they go about doing it. Pour it; take a shot, sit down to chill, stand up, drink some more, pass out, and wake up hung-over. It’s just that simple. The second verse – voice pitch, which means? An alter ego, but he says that it’s his conscience speaking telling him to use his common sense so that he doesn’t go overboard with his drinking. I have to give a big shout out to Canada’s own T-Minus, who mainly produced this song, because he’s definitely come a long way since he did that song for Ludacris a few years back. The 3rd verse is Kendrick opening up about his plateau now that he’s broken into the mainstream and that he’s able to even give a wider audience a dose of his music and the topics that he’s able to rap about. It’s something definitely able to look forward to, but just as things are going well, there’s always something. The next scene has the homies in the car contemplating retaliation to the guys that jumped Kendrick and Sherane that set him up. Just as they go and fire off shots, everything seems to be okay until one of the dude’s brother gets shot and killed. It’s definitely the defining moment of the album as the next song comes about.
10. Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst
This is one of Kendrick’s best songs, and believe me he has a lot of them. Reason why I say that is because he takes on the roles of two characters who had speaking to him about his music and how they’ve impacted them in a way – one guy and one girl. The guy was a Piru gang member and as much as he loved being a gang member and he would represent it until it killed him, he still wished that he had the positive ambition that Kendrick had with his music and that he wished him well on his musical success. Towards the end of the verse, he ends up getting shot mid-sentence (I have to shout out my boy Anthony for pointing this out, because I didn’t know) and it was the same ending that was used in a song released 3 years ago called ‘Little Johnny,’ so it’s evident that Kendrick brought past elements to the present for the fans that have been there that long. Before you die, you hope that people will still remember you in a positive light, or to speak about you. In this case, Kendrick is saying the same thing, but instead of talk, it’s to sing about them. The girl in the 2nd verse is the sister of Keisha from ‘Keisha’s Song’ from Section.80. Again, bringing past elements and continuing the story into a major scale. Her tone is a bit more pressed towards him because she didn’t appreciate him airing out her business like that through song, but it’s ironic because her sister is going through the exact same thing, but she knows what she’s doing and thinks that she’s not going to have the same fate as her sister. The way that the verse ends off reminded me of ‘Heaven & Hell’ from O.verly D.edicated when he faded out of the verse halfway without coming to an end, but instead of it being a mystery, it shows that he’s walking away from her because she doesn’t want to help herself save her own life, so she eventually dies anyways. Kendrick (as her) says in the verse that she’ll never fade away, but in the end…she does. The third verse goes into Kendrick rapping as himself talking or writing back to the individuals saying that he is humbled by the love and that he does it for the city to represent them on a positive scale, and also that he didn’t mean to insult or degrade Keisha in any way; just wanted to share the story of the lives that he was around in Compton. The main emphasis is that he knows where he’s at with his status and success and that he’s now more worried than ever that he’ll die young because will try to come after him, but all he wants to do is tell the stories of the ones who’s affected his life and that one day when he passes on, he’ll be remembered for telling them. I have to say rest in peace to Alori Joh, because as much as I am a Kendrick Lamar fan, I’m still not the biggest fan of rappers singing their hooks. Alori would have done it plenty of justice (shit, even Jhene Aiko), but that’s just me. I still enjoyed the song, but that R&B presence would have been great.
The song fades back into a scene seemingly as if it was a freeze frame and then resumes hearing the sound of the homies trying to figure out what to do now, but the guy whose brother got shot is fed up and doesn’t want to live the life he’s living anymore. Understandable for anyone to want to just say ‘to hell with it all’ and go out guns blazing, but then it goes right into ‘Dying of Thirst’. The phrase ‘Dying of thirst’ isn’t one that I was familiar with, but of what I was taking in from the song, it was along the words of being thirsty for a break and never getting it. Continuously sinning and paying for the consequences is what’ll kill you faster, and when one really needs is forgiveness from the Lord because of the things that rule around them: money, sex & drugs. It isn’t until the end of the song when he says “you’re dying of thirst, so hop in that water and pray that it works,” that you know that he’s talking about holy water. Washing away your sins, starting off clean and one step in the right path of life. The elderly woman that appears at the end of the song is also a key character and she’s the one that introduces the prayer that you hear at the beginning of the album. She defined ‘dying of thirst’ as being thirsty for the Lord & wanting him in your life. So in order to do that, you have to be baptized. Obviously they didn’t go through an actual baptismal service, but that prayer is what helped change their mindsets from that day forth to help carry on their lives. Very deep and this whole album makes you think about your own life and the things around you. Even if you don’t exactly relate to his stories, you can’t help but get inspired by how he tells them in such detail that brings it to reality before your ears and eyes. Powerful and gripping storytelling is rare these days. J.Cole is known to be somewhat of a storyteller, but Kendrick is on another level when it comes down to the finer details. He put in significant effort in this project, and this is the defining song that proves it.
Kendrick, as part of his storytelling, often takes on the roles of different people in his songs, and sometimes it’s not even people, it’s other fictitious characters like your own conscious or the devil (Listen to I Hate You, an unreleased track). The point is that, keeping with the same style as Sing About Me, he uses the ideal of ‘real’ to describe a girl and a guy and just what they define as real when they’re chasing after money, power, respect, fame and glamour, but that doesn’t make THEM real, because their reality is covered up. What makes a person real? Being honest with themselves, having morals and ethics that drive them on a daily basis? That all depends on the people, but the characters that Kendrick takes on aren’t ones that have any love for themselves, they have love for fabricated things like the aforementioned money, power, and respect. It’s one of those songs that forced me to stop and listen to it just to get the bigger picture, and Kendrick’s parents’ messages at the end of it sealed the deal, especially what his father said:
Killing someone doesn’t make you a real nigga
Real is responsibility. Real is taking care of your motherfuckin’ family.
Real is God. Nigga
Vulgar? Yes, but insightful? 100% Another hint is when Kendrick’s mother told him that Top Dawg called for him and want him to go to the studio, which signifies the beginning of his rap career. One day can change a lot, and on this day, it changed him so he would be able to tell this story a few years later. Learning from your mistakes and coming back as a real man is also what his mother instilled, and he heeded those words. Here we are getting music from Kendrick Lamar – the man. The song was reminiscent of Opposites Attract, based on the whole structure. Well put together.
12. Compton (Feat. Dr. Dre)
Ahh, our final song (Standard Version) that has a Dr. Dre feature (notice no Dr. Dre production, but he did help with the mixing). Explaining the life of Compton from two generations on one track. You can clearly tell that Kendrick wrote Dr. Dre’s verse (as well as The Recipe) but the comparison to what Compton was like in their respective times isn’t that much of a difference, but the raw essence that is Compton is evident between the both of them. Just Blaze did wonders on this beat, and it’s a shame that people have went on to downgrade it because it sounds like Drake’s ‘Lord Knows’, but that’s like saying ‘Niggas in Paris’ sounds like ‘Clique’ because it’s the same producer. Let’s be real here. Anyways, the main thing about this song comes at the end when you hear Kendrick say “Mama I’m taking the car. Be back in 15 minutes,” and that right there takes me back to my Quentin Tarantino reference, because if you remember in Pulp Fiction, for example, when Honey Bunny & Ringo rob the diner at the beginning of the movie, that same scene is what ends the movie; and that’s not the only time that a scene has come back from one particular area to tie in to the rest of the movie. It’s a cinematic album. I really thought at some point that they took clips from movies and inserted them, but they scripted it really well and it’s going to be one of those albums that will be talked about being one of the greats in a few years, if not sooner.
13. The Recipe (Feat. Dr. Dre)
Everyone talks about California being one of the best places in the world to visit, and why? According to Kendrick, it’s the women, weed, and weather. This song came out earlier in the year, so it was perfect summer music because of the smooth sample, and the lyrics describing California as this paradise. California Love had Tupac and Dre talk about Cali in the best way. 20+ years later, here we are. I’m not saying that it has the same dynamic impact that California Love had, but it terms of anthems, this served as one, and let’s be honest, you’d rather here California Girls by Katy Perry forever? I. Don’t. Think. So. It’s still an enjoyable listen even after hearing it for so long before the album came out.
14. Black Boy Fly
This is a gem that I can understand was a bonus because it’s an aftermath of his success now. From the Kendrick Lamar EP on a song called ‘I Do This’, he said:
I used to wanna be like Michael Jordan. Figured that I’d hit the NBA and make a fortune. Thank God for these rap recordings, I can ball like him on every verse and chorus
Now, take those lyrics into consideration and in the first verse he starts off by saying that he used to be jealous of Arron Afflalo, because he went to high school with him and that dream Kendrick had of going to the NBA, Arron actually did it. Rather than skipping classes and doing dumb stuff like Kendrick did, Arron did well in school and went to go on to get a basketball scholarship at UCLA and then get drafted into the NBA. All of this from a kid from Compton. It just shows when you’re dedicated and passionate about something; you can make it out of the hood and be someone great. Demar DeRozan of my hometown Toronto Raptors is also from Compton, but since the age difference between Kendrick & Demar is a couple of years, it makes sense for Kendrick to use Arron. The second verse he talked about The Game and how his progression from just a mixtape rapper to a multi-platinum selling artist coming out of Compton, that also inspired him, but it made him jealous as well because he didn’t want to be the last black boy to fly out of Compton. Seeing the success of two guys from Compton make it out and be successful is relevant for anyone that lives in a city that has a lot of struggle and no hope of success. For example; Derrick Rose being from Chicago, being the youngest MVP and having a lot of positive impact for a city like Chicago and their issues of violence, it’s major to see someone come from your block and make it big. Kendrick didn’t think that he would be the next one, but he did and thus this song was made. It’s another inspirational song, because anyone can make it through adversity, no matter which area you live in. Impossible is Nothing (Thanks, Adidas).
15. Now Or Never (Feat. Mary J. Blige)
Why not end the album off on a high note with a soulful song with one of the R&B legends? Mary J. Blige with a great feature on this one. Celebrating the success that you have thus far with a lot of shows and more fans is something that new artists always want, so this is just major emphasis. Living out your dream is something that we all want, so go after it now or you’ll never get a chance. Simple, effective, motivational, and another good one. I see it having some radio play, but who knows?
A lot of people have been saying that this is one of the best albums to come out not only this year, but of the past few years. I agree with both of those statements because when you take the time to tell a story, carefully craft it, and finally execute to perfection, it’s hard to disagree. The content revolved around the progression of Kendrick, but taking us back to where it all started. An eventful day that changed his life and started him on the path to making music for people to hear today. Telling the stories of themselves and others is what Hip Hop was beloved for. The life that a rapper lives isn’t all that glamorous in the beginning, because everyone struggles, so when you get a break and you have the opportunity to shine on a greater platform, you take advantage of that and tell the story of your come up, but also of the area surrounding you that inspired you to get to where you are now. I have confidence that Kendrick will continue to go to great lengths to deliver great music.
See y’all don’t understand me
My plan B is to win y’all hearts before I win a Grammy – Kendrick Lamar (I Am – Interlude)
This is simply my opinion, thanks for reading this lengthy review (more like an Essay), but for now
That’s My Word & It STiXX