Review by Kit Lindsey
Compton, California, a boiling pot of a city brought into the ears and eyes of many by the likes of Eazy E, Ice Cube and Dr Dre between their solo work and work together with DJ Yella and MC Ren in NWA. These young men spoke of the atrocities of the local police and shed light not only on the brutality of authority but the reality of what it was to be a youth in these lower socioeconomic communities. The reality that life is so temporary, that the hunger for reputation through music or clout is vital to surviving when the reality of dying in the same circumstances you were born into is always right around the corner. Though the reality of these tales are grim, it became glorified through the fame these young artists experienced. Over 30 years later and the world has watched the poetry of pain and the swagger of suffering as it has become a monetized product. With the value of bombastic thuggishness being seen as a well paying career the biggest impact has been on the younger generations, raised with a rose tinted view of what living the ‘crime pays’ life can lead to.
With years of this narrative bleeding into the style, rhythm and norm of youth culture, the voice of a bystander of that boiling pot where it all began has allowed us to rethink what the value of these aged tales really is. Kendrick Lamar is that voice, being passed the torch by west coast legends such as Dr Dre and Snoop Dogg, Kendrick bears a heavy crown, and for him, it has never been one that he has used like a diamond encrusted accessory as seen around the necks and wrists of his peers. It is a symbol of responsibility, to lead the next generation into as Tupac once said ‘Better Days’. Over the years Kendrick has shown his skills not only as a master of the pen but a master of the art of critical observation.
His ability to share the reality of the debris of a generation of ‘Boyz in the Hood’ inspired men and women has given him a Goya like presence in the world of music. From his tales on tracks like ADHD from his debut album ‘Section.80’ his social commentary on his generation needing harder substances to soften the pain of the world, they live within. Those substances stretched further than control over the counter, substance in their music, substance in a purpose greater than to survive and procreate. He has pushed through his art that there is a life, a story behind everyone living through these struggles.
With each album Lamar has released he has expanded conceptually and lyrically with his expression of the reality of his community but also the causes of many of their problems. From the visceral expression of substance abuse, gang affiliation and toxic masculinity overrunning morality through peer pressure on the album ‘God Kid M.A.A.D City’ to the recognition of the self empower of the African American community through their heritage and cultural impact on the album ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’. This album did this not only lyrically but by primarily using jazz as it’s musical influence it remained a glowing example of the unavoidable influence Kendricks culture had had on music and art throughout history. Not only was this album considered a revolutionary success by fans, in 2015 then Present Barrack Obama’s stated it was favorite album of the year.
On May 13 2022 Kendrick Lamar has released his last album with long running record label Top Dog Entertainment ending the TDE era of Kendrick’s career, and for a career spanning over 10 years of creative expression promoted through this label, it felt as though it would be a significant release. He is now 34 and a father, all of these elements have created a climactic circumstance for Kung Fu Kenny to express how he currently sees the world, but also himself. This album is Kendrick’s most internally reflective album, it shows Kendrick putting the norms of society under a microscope and seeing himself as just as much an aspect of what needs to be looked at as all that he sees.
The album discusses the toxic relationships between the alphaism and masculinity and the fear of vulnerability in a world that has been so calested by the bragadoshis ways of the hip hop culture he belongs to. On tracks like ‘Father Time’ Kendrick Discusses his father’s inability to stop and grieve his wife’s death because ‘the bills got no silver spoon’ and the passive impact that has had on him, not only on his relentless need to work and provide for his family but on his inability to acknowledge a need to stop and reflect of pain and grief. This ‘cats in the cradle’ reflection ends with a powerful reflection that we need to ‘give the women a break, (as it is the) grown men with daddy issues. This idea is further developed in ‘We Cry Together’, truly the most volatile track on the album with a similar structure to Eminem and Dr Dre’s ‘Guilty Conscience’ Though in the latter track the Compton OG played the part of the better judgment both Kendrick and Tayour Paige play partners throwing back and forth all the toxic tropes that have both limited themselves and their significant other. Not only does it shine a light on the proud leader, abusive partner relationship that many couples have become accustomed to but it also really expresses the ongoing hypocrisy within both genders of objectification and exploitation of the gender norms and stereotypes.
Lamar reflects on his unique placement and status in this world being currently the torch bearer for hip hop and being such public figure, doing things like hosting the Superbowl half time show and having custom sneaker deals but also being a father and just one man. Kendrick’s voice has always been adored for having a very human and real voice in such a dramatised genre of music but once again just being one man trying to support his family through his art. With tracks like ‘Saviour’ where he repeats many of his peers including himself not being your saviour. The fame has always seemed to warn him to stay smart and it’s inspiring but as he had said, he is not our saviour. On tracks like ‘Crown’ he reflects that no matter how much he may be adored and how much he may try to remain authentic he can’t please everyone. He reflects on his own past views and on his understanding of identity crisis on ‘Auntie Dairies’ where he discusses his experiences with the gender transition of his auntie and his cousin. Understanding normalised discrimination of another community is an interesting subject for an African American artist to discuss and it is portrayed well. He discusses the understanding of the use of the N word when a fan performed on stage with him, a highly criticised event and that he was able to find closure on the event through seeing how he used the F word with his transgender cousin.
This album truly blooms with more conceptual ideas that express themselves with every listen, through the wordplay, the metaphors or even through self-reflection and it’s such a wonderful piece of art to come back to time and time again. This is truly the best way I could imagine Kendrick ending his album run with TDE and so far, in my opinion, his best release yet.
Kendrick will be touring the album in Australia in December 2022 you can get tickets