After the success which the Dr. Dre protégé found following the release of his independent album Section.80
, this major-label debut has been eagerly anticipated; and with a fast-growing reputation as one of Hip Hop’s best lyricists (long praised on the underground scene as the King of L.A rap), it had a lot to live up to... It did not disappoint.
This major-label debut has been eagerly anticipated; and with a fast-growing reputation as one of Hip Hop’s best lyricists, it had a lot to live up to...
The album cover (a vintage Polaroid) is an initial glimpse into the raw honesty that Kendrick portrays in this largely autobiographical album: a window into his own personal history. He is undoubtedly a storytelling rapper. Aptly subtitled A Short Film By Kendrick Lamar
, the 12 track album documents a story of internal conflict - a good kid in a mad city - ranging from the innocent 17 year old Compton teenager in ‘Sherane a.k.a. Master Splinter’s Daughter’ to struggling with the influence of his peers in ‘The Art of Peer Pressure’, to the 12 minute two-part epiphany track ‘Sing About Me, I’m Dying Of Thirst’. The end of the album sees Lamar confident and mature, “[rising] from a dark place of violence, becoming a positive person”.
The album opens with a prayer, and religion (more specifically redemption) is a theme which is present throughout. Although haunting in places, these spiritual and contemplative undertones - alongside the repeated and unmissable references to his Compton roots, most notably in ‘Compton’ featuring Dr.Dre - chart an apparent dichotomy in his personality.
Kendrick has a unique sound that represents a new age of Hip Hop and he manages to find a perfect balance between a refusal to compromise on his musical ambition and pleasing fans and industry professionals alike. He is on a conspicuous mission to change the public perception of Hip Hop, asserting in one of the numerous voicemails: “’real’ is responsibility, ‘real’ is taking care of your family, ‘real’ is God.”
Those who have followed Lamar since the K-Dot days will know him for his undaunted narrative, infectious hooks and penetrating beats, and this album is no different. The style is continuous but with enough variation in each song to keep things interesting; channelling the West Coast gangsta rap influences that he grew up on, and coupling them with contemporary sounding beats, resulting in each track having a matchless, far-reaching and current sound.
There are times when the lyrics seem self-congratulatory, but ultimately it is warranted; the album is a success on every level. Lamar deserves all the new fans he gains as a result of this narratively and musically sophisticated debut - he has created a powerful record that already stands out as one of the best this year: a masterpiece of storytelling.