Kendrick Lamar is one of the most important artists of my generation. Every release he has ever gifted us, from his initial mixtape Section .80 to good kid m.A.A.d. city, to this year’s To Pimp A Butterfly, transcends simply being a great album and exists as a sociologically significant composition. Much like N.W.A.‘s work in the late ’80s and early ’90s, his work speaks for a community by speaking up for itself, identifying sources of destructive behavior, and sublimating rage and entropy into a poignant art.
My favorite of these three releases however, for its gripping, turbulent narrative and replay value, is good kid m.A.A.d. city, which was my second favorite album of 2012. It is a complex story that depicts several characters and the everyday hardships (and the absurdity that they are routine) they must endure by virtue of skin color and geographic location. It is a heart-rending album that tricks you into thinking it is a fun, mainstream hip-hop album–a coup of the highest order.
Among the tracks wherein Kendrick assumes the identity of one of Compton’s denizens is “Sing About Me”, in which he raps from the perspective of a prostitute. This song contains one of the more subtly distressing moments of the album. As Kendrick raps deftly, unflappably about living forever and never fading away, the vocal track slowly, surely fades out. The futility of making noise, or money, or love, or love for money, is so unbearably sad. By succinctly capturing the tragedy of life in the inner-city, Kendrick, as he does, taps into the universality of existential dread.
No, this isn’t fun to think about, but it is absolutely necessary. We are lucky that we have an artist to challenge us and push as to acknowledge these willfully overlooked aspects of life. I think Kendrick is definitely doing his predecessors proud.
Stay tuned the rest of this week for more N.W.A.-themed tracks, and be sure to catch Straight Outta Compton when it premieres on August 14. Also, check out our conversation with the film’s Marlon Yates Jr., who talked about his favorite music inspired by the legendary group:
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