It's hard to believe that it has been 365 days since Compton's own Kendrick Lamar leapt from parade watcher to Hip Hop's Grand Marshall of the moment. This is not to say that Overly Dedicated, Section .80 or even his earlier K.Dot material was not significant, but in today's Hip Hop a hot mixtape is similar to being ranked high in a preseason poll, a nice accomplishment but nothing to hang a banner over. Even with the buzz Kendrick's underground music created and the numerous co-signs of music legends like Snoop, Dr. Dre, and Lil Wayne it hard to believe that anyone foresaw the impact that good kid, m.A.A.d city (GKMC) would have on music and beyond.
In 12 interwoven tracks (15 on the deluxe version) Kendrick takes us on a day in the life journey of a teenage Black male in Compton, Ca. Fraught with moments of hope, conflict, struggle, and reflection the album was the rare work that was as popular as it was substantive. Kendrick's Sherane became just as emblematic of an urban experience as Tupac's Brenda. And they may not call it the County Building in your neck of the woods but we all understood the importance of the structure for those that depend on that brand of support. Song after song Kendrick brought a world into 3D resolution for our viewing pleasure and education.
Like most things Hip Hop, GKMC was the topic of many debates and was compared to other great Hip Hop albums from day one. Was it in the class of classic debuts like Ready to Die, College Dropout, or Illmatic? The Illmatic comparison seemed to stick as it was often brought up despite Kendrick throwing cold water on the idea while NAS stated that GKMC was his favorite album of the year. Beyond the Hip Hop community singing the praises of GKMC the black intelligentsia started to chime in on the charity, force and timeliness of Kendrick's music. When Senior Editor of The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates opened his New York Times Op-Ed with,
The work of the rapper Kendrick Lamar should enjoy heavy rotation in the White House these days. In this time of Tucson, Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn., Lamar's major-label debut album, good kid, m.A.A.d city, gives us a broad reckoning with the meaning of everyday gun violence unfolding far from the tragic spectacle.
It was safe to say that GKMC could not be boxed in as just some good ride around town music. It was another text in the new civics library where shows like David Simon's The Wire were viewed not just for their entertainment value but also for their critique of policy, politics and other social engineering measures germane to urban America.
As GKMC climbed the charts and re-sparked important conversations Kendrick hit every notable music stage possible. Made In America, Coachella, BET Awards, VMA's and SXSW amongst others. Kendrick also lent his talents to a dizzying mix of songs including A$AP Rocky's F*ucking Problems, Meek Mill's A1-Everthing, Talib Kweli's Push Thru and remixed his own hit Don't Kill My Vibe with the help of Jay-Z. Somehow Kendrick had enough gas to still push out repurposed hits and new material with his Top Dawg Entertainment (T.D.E.) counterparts, Ab-Soul, Jay Rock, and Schoolboy Q as Black Hippy.
The story of Kendrick's rise to rap royalty can't be told without discussing his Control verse. A song that didn't make Big Sean' sophomore album Hall of Fame because of clearance issues flew right into just about every discussion about Hip Hop for solid week. The verse where Kendrick turns peers into adversaries and turned away from his tendency toward introspection to declare the rap game was all his. Once everyone's jaw closed there was talk about how the Control verse was really about raising the caliber of Hip Hop lyrics. However, that high-minded talk took a backseat to an onslaught of rebuttals not aimed at new creative heights but rather Kendrick for broaching the subject. None of the rebuttal appeared to particularly sting or tarnished Lamar but none signaled a new commitment to better lyrics either. All things being equal, Control at this point has produce more sound than substance. Another byproduct of the Control verse has been Kendrick responding to responders. In the much hyped T.D.E. cipher for the BET Hip Hop Awards Kendrick wasted little time picking up where he left off with Control. It is hard to disregard the excitement of seeing Kendrick slap would be rivals with metaphors and similes while slapping high fives at the same time, but it fades. There is no denying that battle raps will always have a place in Hip Hop but I wonder is it disorienting to Kendrick to receive just as much approval if not more for his raps brutality over his story telling brilliance? I guest only time will tell.
Fast forward to now and Kendrick is the opening act for what could be the most talked about fall tour; Yeezus. If Kanye keeps his word that this tour really has only two objects, first offering some visual context to his latest album and second a chance to mentor Kendrick in the way of Kanye. It will be fascinating to see the Yeezy influence that could creep into Kendrick's next project, which Lamar says he is not in any particular rush to start. A year removed from his incredible debut and running at daunting pace since, Kendrick still seems measured enough to grasp the fullness of this moment and that bodes well for all of us along for the ride with Hip Hop newest and brightest star.