Kendrick Lamar Duckworth, who performs as Kendrick Lamar, was born in Compton in 1987. He released his debut major-label recording, Good kid, M.A.A.D City in October 2012 and it earned him four Grammy Award nominations including ‘Album of The Year’. Lamar subtitled the record “A Short Film by Kendick Lamar” and this is exactly the image that came into my mind when first listening to it. The cover artwork also fits to this concept: it features Kendrick’s two uncles and grandfather with their eyes censored. Kendrick’s eyes, however, are not censored and he has explained that this is because he tells his story through his eyes only. I first came across this promising young hip-hop artist in the summer of 2013 during A$AP Rocky’s F*cking problems, when I could not help but have the immediate need to find out whose crispy and a little bit too egoistic, yet soothing vocals accommodated the song. After google-ing Kendrick, I listened to the oh-so-promising Bitch, don’t kill my vibe, fell in admiration instantly and as they say, the rest is history..
Good kid, M.A.A.D City begins off with a prayer, continues with Kendrick driving to a girl and as a typical 17-year-old boy, having nothing but pussy on his mind. This is interrupted by a voicemail from his mother which hints that Kendrick is going to be entirely real and honest in what is yet to come, opening himself to his listeners fully. These voicemails aid as reminders for him as he gets carried away with the temptations of gangsters, to keep away from the street life as his mother’s voice comes to him at the most essential of times. These voicemails succeed in creating a connection between the listener and teenage-Kendrick and serve so well that I begin to wonder whether the main point of his record’s narrative is the importance of family and the grace he feels towards them as they eventually kept him away from the “dark” side of Compton.
He then returns with the radio-suitable hit Backseat Freestyle which, without listening to the whole album, will probably seem like an invincible alpha-male call to attract money, power and bitches. Which for the 17-year-old Kendrick at the time, it most certainly was. However, as the second half of The Art of Peer Pressure, an internal monologue, shows, this is just one side of the coin that was the teen Kendrick whose thinking is now beginning to change. This is the point in the album when fun and games end and the real violence erupts. As the music downshifts and the vocals create explicit visuals, you can physically feel the nervousness and even fear he feels towards the gang life that threatens to consume him.
Next comes one of my personal favourites on the album: Money Trees with the collaboration with Jay Rock. This is one of the songs that will stick with you for hours: either it is the 'ya bishh' which is one of the most smooth-sounding catch phrases in my vocabulary or the line “everybody gon’ respect the shooter but the one in front of the gun lives forever” which makes you, in a weird and possibly morally faulty way, feel good about the fact that Dave, Kendrick’s friend who died in a shootout, will live forever through his song.
The movie continues on a slightly lighter and smoother note with Poetic Justice featuring Drake and silky vocals, as it a sample of Anytime, Any Place, from Janet Jackson. This beat has an incredibly chill vibe and literally feels heavenly.
In the absolute favourite of mine, Swimming Pools (Drank), Kendrick discusses his relationship with alcohol. As his friends and the members of his family are “living their life in bottles”, he has a dialogue with his consciousness which is trying to save Kendrick from him turning into a heavy drinker. The melody of this particular song, in my opinion, is the splendid parallel of the feeling one gets as they start drinking and slowly forgetting their problems. This is maybe the most personal-feeling songs on this album as you get the image of Kendrick being passed out while his conscious desperately tries to make him realise that if he does not stop drinking, he “will soon be history” and you can really feel the struggle.
The album hits its emotional peak with the 12-minute, two-part Sing About Me, I’m dying of Thirst, especially with the quote from one of his friends “And if I die before your album drop, I hope...”, then there are three gunshots and this moment brings goose bumps to my skin every time. As I am usually not able to concentrate on a song if it is longer than 3,5 minutes, I think this shows just how magical Kendrick is: this track certainly has a melancholic sound with the piano playing in the background and the whole of it feels as if an old man is sharing his knowledge with you as his final words.
The album ends with Real and Compton featuring Dr. Dre himself; fortunately in that order so I can stop listening to the album when Real ends since Compton just does not do it for me. I feel as if it was put on the album for the sole reason of Dr. Dre having to be put on it, even though their voices do not co-operate well and Kendrick seems to be out of his element completely. Real, on the other hand, represents everything that the album was aiming for from the very beginning. Lamar finally truly embraces that money, power, and bitches do not make a man real, but “Real is responsibility. Real is taking care of your motherfucking family.” Then there is another voicemail from his mother in which she asks Kendrick to tell the other kids in Compton his story, thus encouraging them to make their city a better place.
All in all, I admire the-aspiring-to-break-out-of-his-troublesome-background Kendrick for his ability to draw attention to the moral issues in black communities via marvellous lyrics and easy-for-the-ear melodies. Lamar’s storytelling skills are absolutely wonderful and bound to create vivid images, at the same time humorous and most importantly, seductive in the sense that he grasps the listener’s attention entirely. In order to truly get the intended emotion from this short film, I would suggest taking the time and working through the album with the help of www.rapgenius.com to understand the witness and depth of Kendrick’s lyrics.