As fans of music, it is our (sometimes paid, sometimes unpaid) jobs to hold music to a high degree of quality to determine what is really good and what should be getting the button pressed or the stamp of approval for the masses to adhere & listen to. Hip Hop seems to have the most vocal audience of any genre because it is such a protected culture that doesn’t like to be messed with although it is still very young compared to all of the other ‘major’ genres that have been mass marketed. Over the past (let’s say) 20 years, there have been different phases that have marked just what the vibe was at those specific times. Being the Millennial that I am, I am part of a generation that was really spoiled (as was the one prior) when it came to quality music. There was probably a stretch run from the early 90s (the fondest memories that I had, forgive me older heads) to around 2005, and then it started to shift for the worse. It became saturated and the same household names you were accustomed to were the only people being plugged in, and who you really looked forward to hearing because there wasn’t a lot to offer on a larger scale that could bring the consistency year in and year out. Now if we fast forward to 2015 (10 years later), there are younger faces and a boom of talent that comes out of every nook and cranny because of the Internet Age that we are living in with Hip Hop. They’ve produced the likes of Drake, J. Cole, Currensy, and Kendrick Lamar (just some examples – the list could stretch further than Mr. Fantastic). Each of these rappers has solidified their status with a core fan base and you essentially know what you’re getting out of all of them in terms of: subject matter & sound (to a certain degree). But what if that changes up in a dramatic way that you didn’t anticipate? A lot of people rebel against it, or they embrace it because they respect the artist for going outside of the status quo to follow their hearts and trust their musical instincts. There’s not a lot that people could have looked forward to with Kendrick Lamar, given that he took a Nas-like vacation in-between albums (2 years and 5 months) and spent the bulk of it touring and given that he didn’t release any tracks outside of popping up on features, what was there to be hype for?
There were at least some clues to hint towards what the album would sound like, and one that stood out was his guest appearance on Flying Lotus’ Never Catch Me (off of You’re Dead!). It was said that he wanted it for his album, and Flying Lotus composes not your typical Hip Hop beat, but rather it’s more experimental. When Kendrick released ‘i’ as the first single, there were a lot of mixed reviews. I mean people either completely turned on Kendrick because either they thought he sold out or he was becoming one of those hyper-conscious rappers that doesn’t have a history of having an enduring career. There were a lot of comparisons to Outkast, and I could see why because it was very left field, and the message of overall positivity wasn’t what people were ‘wanting’ (although it’s still a great message anytime ‘loving yourself’ is the subject). That left it up in the air, but then what really gave it away for what direction he was going in, was a performance of a new ‘Untitled’ song (on The Colbert Report) that featured more instrumentation and a jazzy background provided by Terrace Martin & Thundercat. Something was cooking in the mad genius’ head (I know, you hate the word, but let it flourish) and when it was announced that he was finally releasing an album, the anticipation couldn’t have shot up more. Now, I’ve been a fan of Kendrick’s for going on 4 years (since 2011) and what has always drawn me into his music has been the storytelling and just how intriguing the projects have been, whether it was O.verly D.edicated, Section.80, or good kid, m.A.A.d city. There were more stories to be told, and because of the controversy that he sparked by giving his position on Respectability Politics in light of the Ferguson situation, I wasn’t the only one who was a little on edge as to if he was going to expand on that or dismiss it altogether and just focus on other things. The mystery was up in the air – until now. Here we are with his 2nd major label and 3rd overall album ready to be extracted, digested and studied for art’s sake. The title of the album was puzzling to me at first, but knowing Kendrick, there was a hidden meaning (much like how m.A.A.d was an acronym of two). I looked up ‘Butterfly Pimp’ on Google (because, Google is awesome) and I saw that it’s an older lesbian woman who takes younger women and pimps them to other women. It’s quite fascinating, and because of the story of Keisha from Section.80, maybe something along those lines? Maybe personal transformation? It was all speculation, but I was too anxious to listen – let’s dive in.
The tracklist is also a great way to build anticipation of what to look forward to because of who’s featured on specific songs. The first song right off the bat (Wesley’s Theory) would bring about the likes of one Mr. George Clinton of the legendary George Clinton Parliament Funkadelic (Give Up The Funk, Atomic Dog) and when you throw on production by Flying Lotus, there really was no telling what was going to happen. The crackle at the beginning gives you that nostalgic feel (would be great for Vinyl) and with the Every Nigger Is A Star sample coming up into the clear from the muffled, it’s like an opening scene (again) of a movie that you’re about to sit in and take part. But out of nowhere you’re hit with this blast of funk that was so left field, I literally had to scrunch my face and raise an eyebrow. “Wait…what’s happening right now? Funk? For real?” That was my initial reaction, but I couldn’t fight the feeling, the two-step and head bop was in full swing.
“When the four corners of this cocoon collide
You’ll slip through the cracks hoping that you’ll survive
Gather your wind, take a deep look inside
Are you really who they idolize?
To pimp a butterfly”
I think off the top of the bat, a lot of people didn’t understand that this set the tone for the theme of the album. It was a lot of shock when the beat started playing, absolutely because of that nostalgia and very retro sound that no one today in Rap would attempt – yet here we are. The narrative of the song picks up where Kendrick left off at the end of gkmc when he was about to embark on his mission to become not just a rapper, but an artist (revisit Kendrick’s mother’s voicemail at the end of Real). Getting signed, having money, spending on God knows what to reap the benefits of what the music industry has to offer, but where the Wesley (Snipes) reference comes into play is good ol’ Uncle Sam – taxes. One of the two guarantees in life (death being the other).
“When I get signed, homie I’mma act a fool
Hit the dance floor, strobe lights in the room
Snatch your little secretary bitch for the homies
Blue eyed devil with a fat ass smoking
I’mma buy a brand new Caddy on fours”
This is a combination of past and present in terms of thought process and where Kendrick was and where he is. Given that there’s such a large disparity in space between albums, this is where the growth picks up and is put on display. Dr. Dre made a cameo reminding Kendrick that it’s not how get to the top, but rather how long you stay at the top because everyone is gunning for that position (as he boisterously did declare himself the best rapper and also King Kendrick, but that’s not new).
“What you want you? A house or a car?
Forty acres and a mule, a piano, a guitar?
Anything, see, my name is Uncle Sam, I’m your dog
Motherfucker you can live at the mall
I know your kind
Don’t have receipts
Pay me later, wear those gators
Cliché and say, fuck your haters”
Dave Chappelle once famously said, while impersonating Rick James, “they should have never gave you niggas money!” which, funny enough, is in the hook of this song. Judging by the album cover as many people have been speculating over since it leaked online, when you give a bunch of Black people from the inner city, some money, they’re act an ass and where more ‘respectable’ people will say ‘act like you’ve been there before,’ sorry to tell you, but you can’t tell Black folks how to act when they’ve never seen money like that before (revisit Vanity Slaves & Vanity Slaves 2). Beyond the Family BBQ backyard musical composition playing, it does bring context to the cover of the album and the mentality of many artists (or people in general) how they act when they’re given a beacon of light and spend their life away until Uncle Sam comes knocking for that money. For those who don’t know the Wesley Snipes story, he was in jail for a few years for tax evasion (pay your taxes, people). When you feel like you’ve got everything but then reality comes back with a “hold on, playa,” that’s when you come to terms with reality. Early success can blind you to the bigger picture, and the big picture would be laid out into detail on this LP.
I like that Kendrick brought back Interludes on this album, going back to Section.80 (Chapter Six, Chapter 10, Ab-Soul’s Outro) because they add emphasis to the story being told. This first one up would be For Free? and America would be personified here as a Black woman who appears to be very bitchy (Life’s a bitch?) and behind a raucous jazz ensemble, Kendrick takes the stage as a spoken word poet to deliver a vivid piece with a line that’ll be heavily repeated for a while, “this dick ain’t free.” It takes money to make it anywhere, and with that being said it pays the cost to be the boss and what Kendrick wants is payback for the hard work he’s put in and he expects to get all that back because he’s not about to be ‘pimping’ himself out in the industry just to get a quick buck. You know, make an album that has a bunch of singles and hope for big numbers the first week. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. He also poked at the faults of America and just why he’s poised to attack the system to get his own reparations (as Riley Freeman from The Boondocks once said, “you gon’ pay what you owe).
This dick ain’t free
Matter fact it need interest, matter fact it’s nine inches
Matter fact see our friendship based on business
Pension, more pension, you’re pinchin’, my consensus
Been relentless, fuck forgiveness, fuck your feelings
Fuck your sources, all distortion, if you fuck it’s more abortion
More divorce courts and portion
My check with less endorsement left me dormant
Dusted, doomed, disgusted, forced with
Fuck you think is in more shit?
Porcelain pipes pressure, bust ’em twice
Choice is devastated, decapitated the horseman
Oh America, you bad bitch, I picked cotton that made you rich
Now my dick ain’t free
Rounding out the fact that America (like women) want to take and take and take, there comes a time when you just have to say ‘no, enough already.’ It’s time to stand up against the opposition.
King Kunta was the first track that was known about from the album because of tweets of industry reps (and Pharrell) saying that it was an ‘unapologetically Black’ song that shook up the spirit of James Brown and was a rallying cry for Black people everywhere. That was the song that people most looked forward to. So much so, that it was the first song leaked before the whole album itself did. Based on the first couple of lines on the album, I definitely heard The Big Payback as an element, coupled with a strong drum & bass that too would bring out the funk. It’s a different vibe, but because the music itself is good, it took a few listens to dive into the lyrics itself because it’s so groovy.
“I got a bone to pick
I don’t want you monkey mouth motherfuckers sittin’ in my throne again
I’m mad, but I ain’t stressin’
True friends, one question”
This is a call to those who had mistakenly slept on him for God knows what reason, and also a statement to his competition that the throne was never meant for anyone to occupy it because he proclaimed himself king (revisit his 2013 BET Hip Hop Awards TDE Cypher) and then when you take in the fact that he shook up the world with Control, it was a major power move that’s still being felt today.
“I was gonna kill a couple rappers but they did it to themselves
Everybody’s suicidal they don’t even need my help
This shit is elementary, I’ll probably go to jail
If I shoot at your identity and bounce to the left”
“Ah yeah, fuck the judge
I made it past 25 and there I was
A little nappy headed nigga with the world behind him
Life ain’t shit but a fat vagina”
There’s a strong no nonsense tolerated aggression in this song and it feels very much like a West Coast vibe that you forget that as you’re grooving along, he’s declaring that there is no competition and anyone who steps to the king, “you better not miss” (there’s always a good time for The Wire quotes). To contrast Kunta Kinte (from the movie Roots) and personify himself as a ‘King Slave’ speaks volumes about how he felt about himself, and that aggressive nature, much like Brown had on The Big Payback, ‘it’s time to get ready – that’s a fact.’ I can understand why people didn’t initially take a lot of likeness to this album because there aren’t any 808s or standardized sounds that take over the airwaves and capture the attention spans right off the bat. It’s an older sound by a current artist, and it’s very conflicting. If you were raised on Funk and have an appreciation for it, you’ll definitely vibe out and appreciate the sounds reverberating throughout your speak systems (or headphones – whichever). The direction the album was already going in went beyond expectations. It crumpled them up into a ball, threw it into a trashcan and then said “have a seat while we break something off.” The ending of the song had a line that sound like it was in a poem, but was immediately cut off. Might serve as a recurring theme as the album goes along.
Institutionalized is one of the more underrated (if you want to say that) songs on the album, because it’s not one that I see talked about often online, but really holds importance on the album when it comes to Kendrick’s recent experiences being in the position that he’s in. To be institutionalized is to be boxed in, which means that his eyes are only exposed to what’s within the walls of his surroundings instead of stepping out and getting uncomfortable.
“What money got to do with it
When I don’t know the full definition of a rap image?
I’m trapped inside the ghetto and I ain’t proud to admit it
Institutionalized, I keep runnin’ back for a visit”
It’s like a house cat who’s just meant for being within the confides of its own space; when you take it out of its area for too long, it gets wary and retreats back to where it’s comfortable, and in this case for Kendrick, his comfort zone is in Compton (or L.A in general) surrounded by his family & friends (ones that appeared on gkmc). The beat change where it gets into the storyline is so smooth, and the flow that he uses rides so well with it. Notice that already there are a bunch of White House references that go back to the cover and money is ultimately the main motive behind making things happen for not only Kendrick but also the people around him (hence all of the people on the front lawn as they turn the establishment upside-down). Being that Kendrick is the provider and wants to bring his boys along, you can only control so much when you bring people from the hood into atmospheres that would make their inner self itch to hit a lick (rob someone).
“I’ll tell you my hypothesis, I’m probably just way too loyal
K Dizzle would do it for you, my niggas think I’m a god
Truthfully all of ’em spoiled, usually you’re never charged
But somethin’ came over you once I took you to the fuckin’ BET Awards
You lookin’ at artists like the harvests
So many Rollies around you and you want all of them
Somebody told me you thinkin’ ’bout snatchin’ jewelry”
I like that there’s a conversation in this track that focuses on Kendrick’s point of view, and that of one of his homies that’s trying to remain calm but also observe the fact that there’s an opportunity to go back to his hood instinct that he’s used to on a daily basis. This is why the term “you can’t take Black people anywhere” exists. For this very reason.
“Fuck am I s’posed to do when I’m lookin’ at walkin’ licks?
The constant big money talk about mansions and foreign whips
The private jets and passports, presidential glass floor
Gold bottles, gold models, sniffin’ up the ass for
Instagram flicks, suck a dick, fuck is this?
One more suck away from wavin’ flashy wrist
My defense mechanism tell me to get him, quickly because he got it”
The only way to change your lifestyle is to cut off the world you came up in, and a good chunk of aspects related to it, because it could be detrimental to your success. It’s like when you go to a fancier restaurant that has dim lighting, a not-so-diverse crowd and a menu full of food that you can’t pronounce. From one extreme to another, it’s not easy to make that transition, and this track provides one of those examples that (as Snoop says on the track) “you can take your boy out the hood but you can’t take the hood out the homies”
Keeping with the boxed in theme that was brought about with Institutionalized, These Walls continues that narrative as a new line from Kendrick’s ‘poem’ comes about when he brings up someone who used to misuse their influence and he did the same. This awkward moaning at the beginning of the song generated a build of sorts that when the beat kicked in, again – vibes. I don’t know what propelled Kendrick to shift to the sound that he’s presented, but it’s very welcome here. You get a nice two-step going on and anything goes, but on to the song itself.
Often when ‘walls’ are brought about in certain conversations, it’s another way of referring to a woman’s holiest of holies (thanks, Samuel L. Jackson), which would make sense since the word ‘Sex’ was the first word heard prior to the beat dropping.
“These walls are vulnerable, exclamation
Interior pink, color coordinated
I interrogated every nook and cranny
I mean it’s still amazing before they couldn’t stand me”
This is a sexy song and the first two verses reiterate that with a lot of sexual references and him being that plug to fill a hole that’s been voided and unattended (all pun intended). But there are also the walls of his own world, his mentality and for Kendrick to step out and really get the success he wants, he has to break down those barriers to see what else is out there, but is trapped within.
“I resonate in these walls
I don’t know how long I can wait in these walls
I’ve been on these streets too long
Looking at you from the outside in
They sing the same old song
About how they walls are always the cleanest”
The third verse is an interesting one, because Kendrick’s tone of voice changes up and much like how he’s been known to do that to create characters or even when his subconscious is speaking for him, it takes a darker tone and is more vengeful. The last reference of ‘walls’ happens to be Prison walls, and this verse would make a lot of sense if you listen to Collect Calls and the first verse of Sing About Me (which he does say). It helps tie the stories in together and evidently, it happens to be the guy’s baby mother who Kendrick is messing with in retaliation for killing his homeboy. You hear that sound? The sound of a mind that was just blown.
“If your walls could talk they’d tell you it’s too late
Your destiny accepted your fate
Burn accessories and stash them where they are
Take the recipe, the Bible and God”
It also happens to touch on the private prison system that (if you’ve been keeping up) Kendrick has addressed before with Uncle Bobby & Jason Keaton. Revisiting that but attaching his own dark side demeanor by becoming that snake in the grass shows the other side of Kendrick, much like the Gemini complex that he embraces. It’s a groovy song, but like always it provides context into shaping the story that’s being told in terms of how he acted vs. how he’s transforming his ways. It’s really self-reflection and thus at the end of the song, new lines are revealed in the poem that deal with depression.
“Abusing my power full of resentment
Resentment that turned into a deep depression
Found myself screaming in a hotel room”
The first time you listen to u, you should wear headphones because it really draws you into a dark space that will give you chills. One of the most intense battles you can have in life is with yourself and that does run people into depression because it’s like a weight on your shoulder that gets bigger and bigger then consumes people that ends up leading to suicide. It’s hit home personally, and it is an issue that gets looked over because of the ever-popular B.S excuse ‘it’s just in your head.’ There are always other factors behind it.
“I fuckin’ tell you, you fuckin’ failure you ain’t no leader
I never liked you, forever despise you I don’t need you
The world don’t need you, don’t let them deceive you
Numbers lie too, fuck your pride too, that’s for dedication
Thought money would change you, made you more complacent
I fuckin’ hate you, I hope you embrace it
This is really a battle not only of just issues at home, but issues in the growth of an artist who feels bigger than they are. Kendrick is known for remaining humble and keeping himself grounded, but this is another level of self-doubt, low self-esteem and overall an overwhelmingly large amount of guilt that he burdens. “Loving you is complicated” refers to himself and you can go back to Swimming Pools in the 2nd verse when his conscious is speaking to him. There’s evidence of that in here, but there’s more where that comes from.
The beat switch, the hotel maid, the static dropping in and out, and the sound bouncing from left to right paint an image of Kendrick coming in and out of consciousness as the bigger picture begins to take shape. His vocal inflection has been said to be an annoyance, but it creates an emotional background when necessary. In m.A.A.d city the voice signified a scary situation as a teenager in a hostile environment. I can trace this particular voice to His Pain II, where I’m still convinced that Kendrick let the tears flow on record. That’s really creative artistry that a lot of people don’t appreciate because as a rapper they expect ‘bars’ over everything.
“Your trials and tribulations a burden, everyone felt it
Everyone heard it, multiple shots, corners cryin’ out
You was deserted, where was your antennas again?
Where was your presence, where was your support that you pretend?
You ain’t no brother, you ain’t no disciple, you ain’t no friend
A friend never leave Compton for profit or leave his best friend”
As stated before, there’s a lot of guilt riding on his shoulders, and it’s brought about in one of the more emotional rap songs you’ll hear for a long time, unless you go back to Eminem’s Stan or even Kim (that song stills scares me). The crazy thing is that from what appears to be someone talking to Kendrick, it’s Kendrick talking to himself, beating himself up because the success in music has taken him away from what’s important, thus hurting those around him, and his disconnected lifestyle is what’s been plaguing him to the point where he’s drinking himself into an abysmal state. It’s not an easy song to listen to, but that’s what makes it so strong. The saxophone play by Terrace Martin just adds on to the depressing feeling of it, and it’s no surprise that this song puts everyone in their feelings to some degree. It’s serious.
“Shoulda killed yo ass a long time ago
You shoulda feeled that black revolver blast a long time ago
And if those mirrors could talk it would say “you gotta go”
And if I told your secrets
The world’ll know money can’t stop a suicidal weakness”
There aren’t a lot of words to say about this song that I haven’t said already, but it takes a lot for someone to open up about their darkest feelings and experiences that leave them vulnerable. It could have came out over a simple 808 filled beat and a rappity-rap verse, but for this to come about in this particular setting where it’s dark and depressing, you have to just been in awe.
As if nothing else had happened prior, the tempo gets a bit happier with Alright as he opens up with a notable quote from The Color Purple, “all my life I had to fight.” With all that’s been going on with regards to how Black lives have been overlooked and treated unfairly for God knows how long, one way to move past the feeling of being consumed within comes from telling oneself that everything will be alright (word to Bob Marley). This song serves as like a rallying call for those who are down in the dumps to uplift them and help move people forward. It’s a start, at least.
“Wouldn’t you know
We been hurt, been down before
Nigga, when our pride was low
Lookin’ at the world like, “Where do we go?”
Nigga, and we hate po-po
Wanna kill us dead in the street for sure
Nigga, I’m at the preacher’s door
My knees gettin’ weak and my gun might blow
But we gon’ be alright”
This song also brings light the first reference of Lucy, which is Lucifer, which is the Devil (for those who didn’t know ahead of time). From depression, to giving yourself a mighty pep talk that is this song, there’s always the temptation of the Devil that lurks in the cut (that’s a scary sight). It also ties in back to Wesley’s Theory with regards to him wanting “40 acres and a mule”, and where money is the motivation, would you sell your soul to get it? That’s where the Devil comes in and it’s one of the points where the album starts to make a turn (as if it hasn’t rotated enough).
The reason why this isn’t an album you can simply put on Shuffle is because of the lines of the poem that come up, and where new lines are introduced, it leads into a different theme and in this case the evils of Lucy come about and thus gets right into the For Sale? (Interlude).
“I loosely heard prayers on your first album truly
Lucy don’t mind cause at the end of the day you’ll pursue me
Lucy go get it, Lucy not timid, Lucy up front
Lucy got paper work on top of paper work
I want you to know that Lucy got you
All your life I watched you
And now you all grown up then sign this contract if that’s possible”
Kendrick takes upon the character of the Devil in female form (I guess the Devil does wear Prada) and I like how he’s referenced back to gkmc as much as he has because if this is the first time someone is listening to Kendrick, maybe it’ll give them an inkling to go back and see just what’s being talked about here.
“Dear Lord come save me, the Devil’s working hard
He probably clocking double shifts on all of his jobs” – HiiiPoWeR
The temptations of the Devil are within everyone and for an artist, it’s easy to fall into the lust of success and sacrificing your own views and beliefs just for the love of the dollar, and that’s why Kendrick is running to find answers not only about himself, but also in terms of the world around him.
Momma is probably my favourite beat on the album because the sample that uses Lalah Hathaway’s voice, mixed in with the bass of Thundercat that’s all over the album as it is. Much credit to the production on this album up to this point because it’s really good. When you experience success, your head tends to swell a bit and you feel like you know more than most because you’re in the position where you’re doing something big and others are not, but problems that happened before you got big don’t all of a sudden disappear. For the most part, maybe some go away, but others escalate onto different levels, and that’s what Kendrick is facing here. The fact that he’s coming back down to Earth and also seeing the world in a different light because he’s stepped out of the walls have boxed him in. The 1st verse touches to the success and realization of who Kendrick is as an artist and his importance to the people that he’s reached out to when he dropped gkmc.
“The mind of a literate writer, but I did it in fact
You admitted it once I submitted it wrapped in plastic
Remember scribblin’ scratchin’ diligent sentences backwards
Visiting freestyle cyphers for your reaction
Now I can live in a stadium, pack it the fastest”
The 2nd verse flaunts that confidence of knowing everything because of what’s been instructed by his mother from his first album. He only knew the world that he knew, which was Compton, and of what he thinks he knows, when he stepped outside of the box, turns out he didn’t know a lot when he was brought back to reality.
“I know how people work
I know the price of life, I’m knowin’ how much it’s worth
I know what I know and I know it well
Not to ever forget until I realized I didn’t know shit
The day I came home”
The 3rd verse is what paints the story into another perspective in terms of where ‘home’ really is. There’s the home of Compton, and then there’s home being Africa (which will be put on display moving forward). To seek that enlightenment and education is what moves forward to developing his mind and getting a different approach to life. It’s where the true answers he’s looking for will be found.
“It’s just a new trip, take a glimpse at your family’s ancestor
Make a new list, of everything you thought was progress
And that was bullshit, I mean your life is full of turmoil
You spoiled by fantasies of who you are, I feel bad for you
I can attempt to enlighten you without frightenin’ you
If you resist, I’ll back off quick, go catch a flight or two
But if you pick destiny over rest in peace
Than be an advocate, tell your homies especially
To come back home”
The beat switches again and it’s more up-tempo with a jazz approach. If you watched the SNL performance of ‘i’, you’ve heard this verse before. It’s about him looking for God and this can connect to the prayers that were heard on gkmc when he was embarking on his ‘new life – his real life.’
“Ah, I thought I found you, back in the ghetto
When I was seventeen with the .38 special
Maybe you’re in a dollar bill, maybe you’re not real
Maybe only the wealthy get to know how you feel
Maybe I’m paranoid, ha, maybe I don’t need you anyway
Don’t lie to me I’m suicidal anyway”
There are a lot of people who look for God, but find him/her/it in a lot of different areas. People feel as if God is in everything, whether it’s material or spiritual – it’s all subjective, but this is the journey that Kendrick is embarking on for true discovery of self.
Hood Politics is likely the closest thing to a ‘Banger’ that you’re going to get, if you were checking the album out for any bangers. Believe me, it isn’t one of those things. There’s quality music being put on display, and this is where Kendrick makes some statements that should reverberate in the rap world.
“I don’t give a fuck about no politics in rap, my nigga
My lil homie Stunna Deuce ain’t never comin’ back, my nigga
So you better go hard every time you jump on wax, my nigga
Fuck what they talkin’ bout, your shit is where its at, my nigga”
In this particular era where really the most ‘major beef’ has come between Drake & Chris Brown, people want to stir things up that aren’t there simply because…well, there’s nothing there. It’s always been around the music with Kendrick instead of addressing those in the game who are Chatty Patty’s (thanks, Dame Dash). Kendrick takes it back to the epicenter of were gangs started out and gets back to the basics where he’s spitting hard truths with a more open-minded perspective of his surroundings.
“From Compton to Congress
Set trippin’ all around
Ain’t nothin’ new but a flow of new DemoCrips and ReBloodlicans
Red state versus a blue state, which one you governin’?
They give us guns and drugs, call us thugs
Make it they promise to fuck with you
No condom they fuck with you
Obama say, “What it do?”
Attack on the government and their stance when it comes to the overall governance of the country is what America was based on, and like Chris Rock said in Never Scared, it is a gang mentality because you’re forced to be ‘down’ with a set as if you were in the streets defending a red or blue flag. That beat switch after he says “Obama say, What it do” is one of my favourite moments on the album, because it comes in like a crash like how Kanye did by inserting that soul sample in On Sight.
The third verse speaks towards the state of Hip Hop right now and that because so many people are hypocritical with regards to how Hip Hop has died off, but under the surface, great rappers have still been around. In this case, it’s a longtime Atlanta rapper, Killer Mike, who’s been around since the days of Outkast and is now makes up one half of Run The Jewels.
“Everybody want to talk about who this and who that
Who the realest and who wack, or who white or who black
Critics want to mention that they miss when hip hop was rappin’
Motherfucker if you did, then Killer Mike would be platinum”
Killer Mike is one of those who really speaks out and advocates the progression of the culture of Hip Hop itself while most of his lyrics are very socially centered. I don’t listen to a lot of him, but I know that’s where he stands. It’s dope to see that Kendrick recognizes the real. He also recognizes his position now that since Control, he’s been the ambassador of the West Coast, since the torch was passed to him and calling himself the King of New York didn’t exactly make the East happy, but since then, he really hasn’t been proven wrong. It’s again him coming back to that mentality that was presented on King Kunta as the king of Hip Hop currently and that no one has the throne. The poem continues at the end as more lines are revealed (it’s like a mystery every time) Kendrick is stepping into a different area of unfamiliarity where it’s bound to get deeper into the woven quilt of themes that have already been sowed into the album’s roots.
How Much A Dollar Cost is one of my rotating favourite songs on the album, because there are many to choose from. The vibe I get from this song reminds me of older songs like Faith and Kush & Corinthians, which are two of my favourite overall Kendrick songs. The irony here of both of those songs having a connection to this one is that there’s a religious context embedded with it that doesn’t get fully revealed until the 3rd verse. With the encounter that Kendrick has with the homeless man, the typical way in which people act with them is that they brush them aside or ignore them completely. But because this man is begging and pleading for money from Kendrick, it makes the encounter a little more interesting to see where it goes on.
“Asked me to feed him twice, I didn’t believe it
Told him, “Beat it”
Contributin’ money just for his pipe, I couldn’t see it
He said, “My son, temptation is one thing that I’ve defeated
Listen to me, I want a single bill from you
Nothin’ less, nothin’ more”
I told him I ain’t have it and closed my door
Tell me how much a dollar cost”
The 2nd verse builds up as Kendrick doesn’t immediately pull out of the gas station, yet because of the reaction from the homeless man and the deathly stare that holds Kendrick over, it made Kendrick feel a type of way to the point where he had to go back to him and confront why the homeless man was making him feel as though he owed him something to begin with when it was him who was asking Kendrick for money – a complete stranger. The development is enticing.
“Askin’ for handouts, takin’ it if they could
And this particular person just had it down pat
Starin’ at me for the longest until he finally asked
Have you ever opened up Exodus 14?
A humble man is all that we ever need
Tell me how much a dollar cost”
I’m not too well versed with the Bible, but I did look up Exodus 14, and it’s the story of Moses when he was leading the Israelites through the parted Red Sea. Where the connection I assume would tie into here, would be that the homeless man is telling Kendrick that all the world needs is a man of God who will lead the people by putting his trust into God and letting him provide. Now, what people may not know is that Kendrick is baptized and has made references constantly to Christianity and other spirituality. It’s perhaps a reason why he has different stances for social injustices, but we’ll get to that. The story comes to a heightened conclusion in the 3rd verse when the homeless man makes a striking revelation (you see what I did there) and the pent up frustration that Kendrick feels because he feels like he’s being ‘pimped’ or swindled just to give this guy some money.
“He looked at me and said, “Your potential is bittersweet”
I looked at him and said, “Every nickel is mines to keep”
He looked at me and said, “Know the truth, it’ll set you free
You’re lookin’ at the Messiah, the son of Jehovah, the higher power
The choir that spoke the word, the Holy Spirit, the nerve
Of Nazareth, and I’ll tell you just how much a dollar cost
The price of having a spot in Heaven, embrace your loss, I am God”
The dynamic conclusion to the song is amazing and the reason being is that humility is what makes us human to appreciate that we shouldn’t take anything for granted. Now mind you, I still walk past homeless people, and when I’m genuine about not having money to give, I let it be known. It is unlikely that the form of God will come in the form of a homeless man (like in Bruce Almighty), but it’s an example that God is always testing us, and whether or not you believe in a Heaven or Hell, the cost of a dollar is really salvation from oneself. Being that this test came in the Motherland of Africa, there’s a special connection comes with it, as many see Africa as where humanity was created. It also comes to be a point in where the maturation of Kendrick Lamar is heightened and thus has gained a true perspective and purpose of why he’s in this position as an artist – to lead people and to spread a concrete message. Oh and if that wasn’t enough, throw in the legend, Mr. Biggs aka Ron Isley to deliver us the Word. It’s a phenomenal song.
Back to the two-step groove, Complexion deals with race relations in terms of where it’s not often spoken about, especially with Black women. Now if you read my friend Shanice’s post about where she stood with Kendrick because of the apparent absence of Black women on the album cover (after close speculation I found two of them on it), you understand that it sucks that Black women are almost completely left out. Wait, not almost – they are left out, and like Tupac said on Keep Your Head Up, he cared if no one else did. This song deals with the colorism issue that Blacks face, whether you’re light skinned, dark skinned, brown skinned, we’re all Black. This war that’s going on is dumb – you’re all beautiful, and that’s the case being made.
“Beauty is what you make it, I used to be so mistaken
By different shades of faces
Then wit told me, “A woman is woman, love the creation”
It all came from God then you was my confirmation
I came to where you reside
And looked around to see more sights for sore eyes
Let the Willie Lynch theory reverse a million times”
Adding to the theme of the album being surrounded by Black women, it’s great that the only rapped feature on this album belongs to a Black female MC by the name of Rapsody. Now, she’s been in the game for a few years and she’s one that can hang with the big boys, most definitely. She doesn’t get her shine, but I’m sure that’s about to change (go listen to The Idea of Beautiful & She Got Game for starters.
“All my solemn men up north, 12 years a slave
12 years of age, thinkin’ my shade too dark
I love myself, I no longer need Cupid
Enforcin’ my dark side like a young George Lucas
Light don’t mean you smart, bein’ dark don’t make you stupid”
It’s great that this is not only a Black focused album, but this one Black ass song for those of all colour schemes to come out and be proud of what they are. Forget the tone and just embrace what connects us, period. That’s beautiful, and I’m happy that this song enforces that we should all be proud of just who we are. The message is needed in this day in age. The Outro isn’t with the poem, but rather it’s Kendrick in a timid state where he’s entering a more hostile environment that is much worse than what he was brought up in, with Compton.
The Blacker The Berry is the second ‘single’ that was released on the internet that people were longing to hear because the first one wasn’t exactly their cup of tea. This song embraces the overall emphasis of pro-Blackness and highlights the hypocrisy of not only himself but the hypocrisy of society around him, America & Africa.
“You hate me don’t you?
You hate my people, your plan is to terminate my culture
You’re fuckin’ evil I want you to recognize that I’m a proud monkey
You vandalize my perception but can’t take style from me
And this is more than confession
I mean I might press the button just so you know my discretion”
There’s an article around that asked how White people would approach this album due to the “overwhelming Blackness.” Now, where I find that as a ridiculous (and hilarious) claim, with this song, I can see why it would be asked, because think about it – the majority of people who buy albums in North America are White. The majority of people who go to rap shows are White. When you have a song like this that his spitting back at White America for bastardizing the character of Black people and doing whatever they can to bite their style and make it mainstream (see: the Kardashian family), I can understand why it would make an ordinary White person uncomfortable, but it’s what’s needed. Discomfort is good sometimes. The song reels you in because at the top of every verse, Kendrick addresses himself as a hypocrite, which you don’t know the whole meaning of at this point.
“I mean, it’s evident that I’m irrelevant to society
That’s what you’re telling me, penitentiary would only hire me
Curse me till I’m dead
Church me with your fake prophesizing that I’mma be just another slave in my head
Institutionalized manipulation and lies
Reciprocation of freedom only live in your eyes”
The Notorious B.I.G said that either you’re slanging rocks or you’ve got a wicked jump shot, in terms of how to make it out of the struggle. And there’s also the common theme that there are only two ways out of the hood – dead or in jail. There are a lot of things that Black people are told, just to box them in and the conspiracy theory that a lot of people feel is that the system does work against people of colour (with evidence to support that) to hold them back from truly prospering and achieving the American Dream. It isn’t until the last verse that the controversial line comes about that shook up the Black demographic.
“So don’t matter how much I say I like to preach with the Panthers
Or tell Georgia State “Marcus Garvey got all the answers”
Or try to celebrate February like it’s my B-Day
Or eat watermelon, chicken, and Kool-Aid on weekdays
Or jump high enough to get Michael Jordan endorsements
Or watch BET cause urban support is important
So why did I weep when Trayvon Martin was in the street?
When gang banging make me kill a nigga blacker than me?
This was the big “wtf” moment because it flipped the script on what the song was initially about when it came to being Pro-Black on the side with his own people, but then he shoved it back saying that it’s Black people’s own faults for the killing of a young kid. Now, that didn’t sit well with a lot of people (myself included) and it surely didn’t do him any justice when you look at the comments he made towards the Ferguson situation. I looked up Responsibility Politics and it’s clear that’s where Kendrick stands on these issues that Blacks face today. Here’s the thing. The 3rd verse puts him as a gangbanger who kills other Black men and that if he shows anger towards a White or Latino man killing a Black kid, he’s made to be a hypocrite. I understand that, but no matter how it’s dressed up to be, whether pants are sagging or constrained with a belt, there will always be people who will feel threatened towards Black people for the simple and plain fact that they are Black. Being unarmed and minding your own business shouldn’t result in you being murdered because someone else felt uncomfortable while you were around. Black people can have all the respect and love for themselves in the world, but that still won’t overall change the opinions of people who just straight don’t like Black people and will never change their ways about that. That’s why I disagreed with Kendrick’s statements, and it’s why I also agreed with a lot of the criticism that came his way, but I won’t deny that at least he put his thoughts and feelings out there where most would just avoid it completely. Maybe it’s for the better that entertainers don’t address it, but there are people who want it to be addressed. It’s a push-pull scenario and was definitely sensitive for the times that Black people face currently. I don’t recall a song (recently at least) that sparked such a strong debate in terms of how Black people faced themselves as a whole, so there’s that much to appreciate when it comes to at least having the conversation. I liked how after that strong stamp to end the song, it went into a jazzy melody to trail out the album, letting the moment linger on instead of simply ending abruptly.
You Ain’t Gotta Lie (Momma Said) has a very West Coast laid back feel to it, and with it comes the context that too many people fake the funk just to fit in with the crowd, and it could play out to be a shot to the music industry how everyone talks about the same thing to be cool instead of simply doing what you do genuinely to make your mark. It’s why Kendrick stands out from a lot of other artists, because he stays in his lane, outside of others who dip and dive to try and find themselves.
“And the world don’t respect you and the culture don’t accept you
But you think it’s all love
And the girls gon’ neglect you once your parody is done
Reputation can’t protect you if you never had one”
There’s only so long you can put on an act before it blows up in your face, which is why a lot of artists don’t have a lot of staying power in the game. They’ll pop up here and there, but be forgotten faster because they’re not true to themselves and they have an inferiority complex that limits them from flourishing. This also speaks to not just artists, but people in general who fake it around people just to be in their circle, and that’s a no no (hood politics). This is more reflection that Kendrick has put out, because of the ‘fugazi’ attitudes that have people acting out of their own personalities. As Baka aka Not Nice once said (because I have to get in on Toronto reference): “Y’all need to know yourself.” It’s so laid back, I need this cold weather to disappear so that I can enjoy it.
And now we reach the song that kick-started the hype for the album, whether it was negative or positive. The sound of it was definitely not by current Hip Hop standards, and was the reason why so many people didn’t want to mess with the album because ‘i’ would be on it. In a striking contrast to ‘u’, the theme of this song is to love yourself, whereas earlier in the album he was on the verge of suicide – it’s as if we’ve heard the transformation of Kendrick…like a caterpillar into a butterfly. There aren’t a lot of positive messages that are being pumped through when it comes to Hip Hop in itself, because the masses want to hear about who’s having sex with who, how luxurious and lavish a rapper’s life is, how many bricks they’re whipping up in the kitchen, or overall just to turn up. Again, it’s all about preferences, but what’s lost is that there aren’t a lot of messages where an artist flat out says “love yourself.” J. Cole released his album and one song that stands out is Love Yourz because of the similar message of loving your life. Now, what was interesting about the album version is that it was recreated so that Kendrick appears to be performing on a stage while having an old school hype man bring him out. The live band with the background singers creates that atmosphere. Even the adlibs of Kendrick asking people to come to the front and asking the sound man to turn the mic up. It really feels like a movie. The first two verses are flipped, compared to the single, and like the SNL performance version of the song, he adds more words to the hook. What was also different was when the show had an argument and Kendrick stopped to try and break up the argument that was happening around him. It reminded me of James Brown performing in Boston in 1968 when people rushed the stage and he had to make people get off so that he could finish, while addressing that they should conduct themselves in an orderly manner (much like Kendrick’s approach with Responsibility Politics). He goes on a rant while addressing his boys about how many homies they’ve lost because of senseless behaviour within the Black community.
“The judge make time, you know that, the judge make time right?
The judge make time so it ain’t shit
It shouldn’t be shit for us to come out here and appreciate the little bit of life we got left, dawg”
He then does an Acapella verse that captures the essence of what Black people should change about themselves, and it comes from one word – Negus.
“Well this is my explanation straight from Ethiopia
N-E-G-U-S definition: royalty; King royalty – wait listen
N-E-G-U-S description: Black emperor, King, ruler, now let me finish
The history books overlooked the word and hide it
America tried to make it to a house divided
The homies don’t recognize we be using it wrong
So I’ma break it down and put my game in the song”
History lesson for those whom are unaware. Yes, Black men & women were once Kings and Queens in Africa many moons ago and because of the Global colonization of the Europeans and thus trying to erase the rich history of Africans, it’s up to the messages that are spread through Black music to get it across, because they don’t teach this in any form of school and isn’t solidified in a lot of publications unless you reach out and dig up your own resources. I’ve seen people use the word Negus before, but I just thought it was another way that they were saying ‘Nigga,’ so I never bothered to look it up. When you do actually look it up, he’s right. Will this spark a shift in people using Negus instead of Nigga? I know it won’t change overnight, if ever, but whatever knowledge is dropped is good for those who aren’t well caught up in Black history – that I can admit to.
Mortal Man is what I would call ‘The Heart Pt. 4’ because of the audial testimonial of how he’s feeling through the culmination of events that led up to this album. To this point of the album, we’ve seen the mind of Kendrick beyond just what was represented in a day in his life (good kid), but rather you saw the pain and mental struggle within himself while also searching for the answers that would open his mind up and establish his purpose on Earth. Mortal Man is presented by a strong question that reverberates throughout the verses: “if shit hits the fan, is you still a fan?” and it’s a real question, because we often turn on those who make mistakes or get into situations where when they need the most support, we shun them.
“Do you believe in me? Are you deceiving me?
Could I let you down easily, is your heart where it need to be?
Is your smile on permanent? Is your vow on lifetime?
Would you know where the sermon is if I died in this next line?
If I’m tried in a court of law, if the industry cut me off
If the government want me dead, plant cocaine in my car
Would you judge me a drug head or see me as K. Lamar?
Or question my character and degrade me on every blog?”
Being that he admits that the trip to South Africa did a lot of inspiring not only for himself personally, but also for the album, he sees himself as wanting to be that person of the people through his music. It’s hard to determine who’s really genuine, because you do often question who will be true to you when times get rough, or will they run because they don’t want to be faced with the problems that you deal with. It’s an important question to answer, and that’s where you’re see the real from the fake.
“How many leaders you said you needed then left ‘em for dead?
Is it Moses, is it Huey Newton or Detroit Red?
Is it Martin Luther, JFK, shoot or you assassin
Is it Jackie, is it Jesse, oh I know, it’s Michael Jackson”
The track itself is a great conclusion to the album, but with the tracklist saying that it was 12 minutes long and he stops rapping at around almost the 5 minute mark, the poem that started at King Kunta resurfaces for the last time, and as he reads out and concludes it, it highlights his journey from being someone who was experiencing an insane emotional roller coaster and then going off to Africa to learn more about himself in a more hostile environment. In turn, he comes back home with a message that respect is the key to coming together and stopping those trying to attack us (thus his stance on The Blacker The Berry). Ab-Soul also said something like this on Terrorist Threats. “If all the gangs in the world unified, we’d stand a chance against the military tonight.” Kendrick concludes and goes into conversation mode, but we don’t know who he’s speaking to. Possibly the audience?
This guy was speaking to Tupac. Now…this is what freaked me out a little bit, because this was absolutely crazy to me that he was able to pull off having a ‘natural’ conversation with someone that is dead. Turns out that he recorded this interview in ’94 before he got shot in New York. The conversation sparks a past vs. present, but also ties into the future as to what’s going to happen. In the HiiiPoWeR video, there’s a written excerpt that says Kendrick was approached by Tupac in a dream when he was 6 years old, and what he said was “Don’t let me die.” That was in 2011, and given the fact that Tupac is his source of inspiration when it comes to rapping, for him to be holding a conversation with him on an album is pretty nuts. What they discuss is along the lines of what Kendrick sees in the world today, and what Tupac predicts what will happen in the future – from an interview recorded 21 years ago. It’s so trippy, but at the same time it was really cool. It’s a lot of adjective that could be thrown out there, but it was something I hadn’t heard before.
The poem that Kendrick reads out at the end of the conversation sums up the entire album (I was going to make references earlier, but what would be the point of reading all of this?). From caterpillar to butterfly, he highlights that it’s the caterpillar that goes through the struggle of eating everything around it, being trapped within the ‘walls’ of society (cocoon), until metamorphosis (self-discovery, awakening) propels the caterpillar to take shape and become the Butterfly. Being that Kendrick is a Gemini, it makes sense that he takes the 2 sides of himself and relates it to a Butterfly and a Caterpillar, because they’re the same thing. It’s crazy how that all turned out. The build up of the instruments in the background towards the abrupt end leaves a cliffhanger, much like gkmc, which I love. It leaves room for anticipation of another album.
I didn’t mean to write this much, so if you’re reaching this point, thanks for staying. I say this all the time, but this is overkill. It wouldn’t do it justice for me t just write a few pages about it, because it’s not every day that you get an album that is so well constructed and thought out. Concept albums aren’t for everyone, so I understand why a lot of people may not have had the patience to deal with it, but this is a beautiful album that deserved every letter, sentence, and punctuation mark to describe it in detail. Kendrick Lamar’s approach to this album was so left-field, that hopefully it will make people open up to more genres like digging into the crates of jazz, funk, and soul. This is an album that is geared towards Black people not only for sound, but also for context. When he addresses his issues with Suicidal thoughts, it’s great that Mental Health is being put on notice, but within the Black community, it’s one of the more difficult topics to address because it always gets brushed off. I have examples of it in my family, and it wasn’t properly addressed for a long time. We’re always just told that it’s in our heads, and I know there are a lot of people (outside of race/ethnicity) that experience the same thing, so this was for them. This is also for those who experience oppression and overall judgment because of the pigment of their skin. With songs like ‘Alright’ and ‘Complexion’ serving as positive messages in delivering for Black people specifically, I do respect the artistry that Kendrick brings to the table, because if you look around and honestly ask yourself who is making music like this, you can’t name a lot of names – especially in Hip Hop. And not everyone is a super crate-digger or underground Hip Hop dweller, so we’ll excuse those people. Those who live on the mainstream, you won’t find an album like this that has a combination of great storytelling, strong messages, and a refreshing nostalgic sound that can live within the times of the present. From start to finish, there was something to be pulled into, and it just emphasizes why I’m a fan of Kendrick’s to begin with. This was a shot in the dark to see what would happen, and you have to respect when an artist isn’t afraid to do something different because that’s what he feels and not what the industry wants. You have to give the people what they need and will eventually love). If you’re looking for bangers, this is not the album for you. If you’re looking for something different that you want to give a shot, check it out. If you’re a music lover, and especially Black music, this is for you. But overall, I think this album will live for many years (we can only hope). For now, this is my opinion, this is my review
That’s My Word & It STiXX