4th Studio album…. Damn. How time travels at such a rate since the 2010 release of his first unofficial album ‘Overly Dedicated.80’ which was laced with witty lyricism and thought provoking concepts aligned with vivid imagery. His last album ‘To Pimp a Butterfly (TPAB)’ was a champions christening of an album. Submerged in jazz and funk, echoing the power political activism that said loud and clear “I’m aware and I actually care to do something about it”. It’s safe to say that Kendrick achieved greatness with it. Commercially and artistically he’s peerless. We are talking about a man on the cutting edge of modern music.
With this new project Lamar has taken a different route with an entirely different sound. Departing away from the heavily Jazz influenced TPAB. The art of re-invention is Kendrick’s special power as he goes for a less concept driven theme which he used on ‘TPAB’ and ‘Good Kid, M.a.d.d City’.
Emotionally it’s raw and has a level of intensity that grabs you by the throat.
Grit and aggression is felt largely but equally it has a sense of sorrow and depression. Kendrick makes various references to the way in which his art has been slandered and misrepresented. The media have made clear accusations that Lamar is actually creating a negative image for race relations within the US. Especially after his 2016 live BET performance.
This album is a critical analysis on hip hop culture as it currently stands. He also has a firm voice on race relations in this post Obama period. Another consistent thread in this album is Kendrick’s vulnerability and sorrowful tones. One may even call it depression that he exhibits throughout the piece. His faith and moral compass seem to be shaken and what we get is a large slice of creativity brought about by these mixed feelings.
If you look at the track list it features names like ‘PRIDE’,’HUMBLE’, ‘LUST’ etc. These topics have been mulled over by philosophers for centuries. Such is the weights topics that Kendrick tries to address in an album that’s a little less than an hour.
In track “Feel” he talks about being the provider for friend’s family and fans but nobody has supported him. The track has a sunshine melodic feel to it but the lyricism displayed within it is in stark contrast “I feel like friends been overrated / I feel like the family been faking / I feel like the feelings are changing.” This is Lamar expressing deep angst about what he feeling in his environment.
“Fear” gives us that soulful undertone intertwined with a real biblical reference from a caring family member which relates to the story of Job and the suffering and burdens he had to carry. The first verse gives us the perspective from what sounds like Kendrick’s mother as she chides his 7 year old self. It’s a stunningly detailed as he gives an angered aggressive sped up delivery which matches his mother’s frustration with all she had to handle at the time. An intense visual portrait of his rough inner city upbringing. The next verse finds Lamar fully altering his voice to a slower almost depressed 20 something who literally sees death around each corner. Darkly captured in his first lines “I’ll probably die anonymous / I’ll probably die with promises / I’ll probably die walking back home from the candy house / I’ll probably die because these colours are standing out.” It’s Kendrik’s ability to morph into everyman or women and speak from their perspectives that makes him standout amongst the rest.
On “Humble” Kendrick firmly puts his west coast roots on full display with this gangster rap tempered beat. With its rolling bassline and engaging drums. Menacing is the nature of this melody. Kendrick excels in the fact that he places thought provoking and conscious rhymes over such a hard beat. The tracks full of hidden messages and once again Lamar’s creativity knows no bounds. He plays on the idea that the majority of the powers that be expect him to be ‘Humble’ and not use his platform to speak to the masses.
Rhianna brings her sexiness to the fore in track ‘Loyalty’ which finds the pair exchanging expressions of what it means to be loyal in the many passages from Love to friendship. It’s a real ride or die track backed up by a 90’s RnB landscape. After a few lessons you pledge loyalty to this one.
“Love “featuring Zacari, is delightful ballad led by the velvet vocals of Zacari. Kendrik croons in his chorus “If I didn’t ride blade on curb /would you still love (love me?) / If I made up my mind at work would you still (love me?) / Keep you a whole 100 / If I ain’t got you I aint got nothing.” It’s a fantastically soulful collaboration.
Immaculate storytelling, urgent intense rhyme patterns with passion and purpose. Nothing short of cinematic masterpiece.