Kendrick Lamar

Album Review – ‘DAMN.’ by Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick Lamar’s new album DAMN. is exactly just that. This sociopolitical album expresses his feelings and vents his frustrations in a beautifully constructed manner. Born in Compton, California, his musical masterpiece encompasses the anger of the community but does so through a combination of raging rhythms and ungovernable desire which shows his ardent desire to change the system in which he feels so hard done by.

In many ways, DAMN. is a representation of Lamar’s dark and unsettled mind with each song showing a disparate side to his personality. This unique album is almost bipolar in nature as he asserts his greatness as a rap god whilst also mourning his death as a victim of police brutality. It’s this juxtaposition of emotion that leads DAMN. to be one of the most eccentric and special albums of our generation. The album has a central focus on what has shaped Lamar’s character and what he feels, embracing his humble beginnings but also showing how far he’s willing to go to achieve racial harmony.

‘BLOOD’ introduces us to the first of the artist’s feelings towards the society in which he lives. It has an eerie but patriotic atmosphere, almost questioning why the black race continues to put up with oppression from their white counterparts. The beat itself is slow and builds throughout, perhaps reflecting the building anger and frustration that he, like many others, feels towards their treatment in a supposedly liberal and free society. The almost robotic tone of Lamar’s voice stresses a craving for change. He questions the fairness of death with the lyrics “I was taking a walk the other day” suggesting that death and brutality is more inevitable due to his race, and thus this song can be seen as a protest towards the cheapness of life for many African Americans across the country.

In ‘ELEMENT’ he explores the struggles he and his family have endured and how it has shaped his path as a musical pioneer. The first words Kendrick preaches scream self-sacrifice – “I’m willin’ to die for this shit” alluding to him becoming a matyr for the race  -and this theme of self sacrifice is prevalent throughout. It undoubtedly proves him as  the most influential rapper in the game as he strives for sociopolitical change through the means of music.

‘DAMN’ is an album that will be remembered for years to come and is one that asserts his ability as one who’s able to inspire and ignite social change. He shows the rest of the world that the quest for civil rights and racial equality is far from finished thus further showing why this album, with it’s intense and fiery lyrics, will be instrumental in helping the plight for racial harmony.

This article was written by Alex Singhal 

Advertisements

Album Review – ‘IV’ by BADBADNOTGOOD

I’ve talked in the past about how jazz as a genre constantly moves in cycles (to use Q-Tip’s language), and BADBADNOTGOOD are perhaps one of the figureheads of the most recent revival – earlier albums featured reformulated covers of hip-hop classics such as Slum Village’s ‘Fall in Love’, as well as fresher reimaginings coming in the form of, for example, Earl Sweatshirt’s ‘Earl’. They even dabbled in some shoe-gaze in covering My Bloody ValentineSuch albums also displayed a sort of humour and style that represented the fresh-faced persona of a trio who were barely entering adulthood.

IV however ditches the pig masks, cereal-eating, lion mascot dancing, Lil B shoutouts, and even the monochrome artwork used on past albums. It’s a maturation, a foot in the same river as Kamasi Washington (and ergo Kendrick Lamar), best represented by the introduction of Leland Whittey as a full-time member of the band – returning after a fantastic feature on III‘s ‘Confessions’, Whittey helps open the album with a solo on the electronica-infused ‘And That Too’, then taking centre-stage on the title-track which sounds as if it could have been pulled directly from To Pimp a Butterfly. His highlight is the high-energy battle with Arcade Fire contributor Colin Stetson, trading frantic and raspy saxophone lines back and forth in ‘Confessions II’:

The album also features a heavier amount of collaboration – Colin Stetson already mentioned, Kayranada lends his own sub-genre melting-pot style to ‘Lavender’ by providing buzzing synthesiers to the psychedelic and groove heavy journey, a sound reminiscent of Karreim Riggins‘ debut effort. Walking further down this road, Mick Jenkins perhaps shows BADBADNOTGOOD’s potential in the hip-hop genre when they’re not tied down to Ghostface Killah‘s nostalgia on previous album Sour Soul this is best seen in Alexander Sowinski’s drumming which is in this track is one-hundred times preferred to a drum machine. Again, following in similar veins as Washington and indeed Terrace Martin and Robert GlasperCharlotte Day Wilson‘s vocals provide a smooth-jazz atmosphere on ‘In Your Eyes’.

Perhaps the best feature is of Future Islands’ frontman Samuel Herring on ‘Time Moves Slow’, in essence a solemn follow up to the band’s reinterpretation of ‘Seasons (Waiting on You)’. Chester Hansen’s bass provides the engine for the track, whilst Sowinski once again spices up what could have been a very simple 16-beat drum loop, and adding Matthew Tavares’ organ-synth, it provides perfect backing for the wavering and crumbling vocals of Herring as he croons “running away is easy // it’s the leaving that’s hard”.

Amongst all of this however, it should be noted that it doesn’t feel like there’s a massive progression in sound – at the close of the BADBADNOTGOOD’s debut album, Sowinski is asked what he thinks of John Coltrane‘s widely-regarded seminal jazz album Giant Steps – he answers:

 “Fuck that shit, everyone’s played it, it’s 50 years old, it sounds like crap, write a new song, and stop playing that God damn song. I don’t care if you can fucking modulate it and change shit up, you can play it in seven, you can play it in nine: it’s fucking boring. That’s what I think about Giant Steps”.

There’s no such moment, no such feeling with this album – the band has grown up, but perhaps too much. If the title-track did not have Whittey’s saxophone on it it would have fitted in very neatly on previous albums with Tavares’ electric piano making light work of (rather impressive, it should be said) solos, and the strings featured in ‘In Your Eyes’ felt very similar to those employed on III. They have explored new ground in terms of their own personal musical journeys, but on the grand stage of the genre and music as a whole, this album appears to hold less weight. Closing track ‘Cashmere’ perhaps encapsulates these sentiments well – the quartet are obviously talented, there’s no doubting that, and Leland Whittey’s addition is a very welcome change, but it doesn’t feel like an exciting and fresh take on the genre. Yes, that’s a lot to expect from a band, but it’s the reputation that BADBADNOTGOOD have built for themselves, and so we should not be hasty to be disappointed with this effort.

//tools.applemusic.com/embed/v1/album/1112802198?country=us

This article was written by Mo Hafeez.

What we’re listening to (#20): ‘If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late’ by Drake

I went back to listen to this album after I had a friendly debate with good friend of mine about two of hip hop’s modern day heavyweights: Kendrick Lamar and Drake.

I’m in the camp that absolutely adores Kendrick’s To Pimp a Butterfly, but my friend made some valid points about the anachronistic nature of his instrumentation when compared to many other artists around today, and how his delivery is seemingly too forced at times – he said that he was ‘too conscious’ at times, and at first I wrote this off as complete rubbish, but I began to think about it a bit more.

If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late and To Pimp a Butterfly are both albums that I can listen to the entirety of the way through, but they provide such different experiences – To Pimp a Butterfly is a more memorable experience, complex composition, social-lyrical wizardry, and interesting vocal inflections make sure of that, but Drake’s album is a fluid experience, one that I can lie on my bed and listen to, downtempo vibes throughout. Drake and Kendrick are two sides of the same game, both bringing forward different things.

This record releases Drake of his commercial restraints (well documented on the album); there aren’t too many club tunes on this one, you get stripped down and filtered production from his frequent collaborators Boi-1da and Noah 40 Shebib. The backbone will often be a simple piano or synth line, or a tender chord progression. Stuttering high-hats and some sub-bass round out the instrumentation, resulting in eerie, captivating, yet easy to listen to beats – ‘Star67’ and opener ‘Legend’ in particular take on this role. That’s not to say that you won’t be getting hyped at some points in the album, the still powerful ‘Know Yourself’ provides the best hook on the album and brings great energy, whilst the fast-paced synth of ‘6 God’ provides a much more menacing feel.

On some tracks Drake vents and rants, ‘Energy’ clear in this aspect as he goes in on those things which drain him, and ‘No Tellin”, where he talks of his record label issues, saying “Envelopes coming in the mail, let her open ‘em, hoping for a check again, ain’t no telling”. The highlight has to be on bonus track ‘6PM in New York’, where he comes out with a now infamous line against Tyga:

“It’s so childish calling my name on the world stage, you need to act your age and not your girl’s age”

Yes, the rough Drake is not convincing as the ‘Drake the type of n-gga who…’ Drake, and yes the first half of the album is in fact much better than the second, and yes the guest producers on the album really don’t do as good as a job as they should have, but we have to remember; this was just a stopgap, a mixtape, almost a track-dump. The fact that he felt confident to put such compelling songs on this album should make us all feel incredibly excited for Views From the 6.

This article was written by Mo Hafeez. 

Track Review – ‘Real Friends/No More Parties in LA (Snippet)’ by Kanye West

By Tobias Berchtold

 

It looks like Kanye’s G.O.O.D. Fridays are back, just like on MBDTF where he released a song every Friday up until the eventual release of the album. On this track we see a Kanye that we haven’t really seen for the past few years, and it sounds like a bit of a throwback to Late Registration. In the previous few years Kanye’s releases have become more and more centred around the almost God-like ‘Yeezy’ persona he has built for himself, however on this song he seems more vulnerable and introspective than he’s been in a long time, with the lyrics dealing more with his own problems than those of his detractors.

He deals with the fact that his fame and stature has turned him into a bad friend, and a bad family member. He talks about forgetting how old his relative’s kids are and ponders whether he’s capable of being a true friend to anyone because he’s so busy working in the music business. He flips this idea too and talks about family who only talk to him when they need something, and most alarmingly tells of a cousin who extorted $250,000 out of him after stealing his laptop. But unlike previously, Kanye doesn’t seem all that angry in their direction but seems more annoyed at himself when he says “I guess I got what I deserved.” I like this side of Kanye a lot more than the one that he showed on YEEZUS, and I’m excited for the album’s release if it’s more like this.

“Real friends
I guess I get what I deserve, don’t I
Word on the streets is they ain’t heard from him
I guess I get what I deserve, don’t I
Talked down on my name, throwed dirt on him”

On the back end of the track there is a section of No More Parties in LA (rumoured to be next week’s release). This little snippet got me incredibly excited, as soon as the beat kicked in it had Madlib’s fingerprints all over it. And when Kendrick kicks in to exchange bars with Kanye? OH LAWDY.

My Favourite 15 Albums of 2015

By Tobias Berchtold

Honourable mentions that were good but didn’t quite make my list:

  • Vince Staples – Summertime ’06
  • Miguel – Wildheart
  • Freddie Gibbs – Shadow of a Doubt
  • Algiers – Algiers
  • Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell

***

15. Hiatus Kaiyote – Choose Your Weapon

After discovering them through their excellent previous release “Tawk Tomahawk” I was looking forward to this album massively, and it continued much in the same vein as one before it. Combining elements of funk, soul and jazz they succeed in creating a smooth album that is incredibly easy and fun to pick up and listen to all the way through (several times).

Favourite Tracks: Shaolin Monk Motherfunk, Breathing Underwater

14. Viet Cong – Viet Cong

The self-titled album by Canadian band Viet Cong is far and away my favourite rock album of the year. They lived up to all of their hype and controversy by delivering a truly excellent post-punk album, complemented by their tight instrumentals and adventurous songcraft. The album sounds chaotic and dark but what stands out to me are the little snippets of delicate instrumentation that added an interesting twist into the usually heavily reverbed songs. I can’t wait to see what they come up with next, albeit likely with a new name as it was deemed that the current one is unnecessarily inflammatory (probably a wise move, as it’s gotten them banned from several venues in the USA).

Favourite Tracks: Continental Shelf, Death, March of Progress

13. Oddisee – The Good Fight

Oddisee seems to churn out a solid release every few years or so, and this one is likely my favourite thus far. The album has really excellent production, with the themes of humility fitting the understated and subtle music very well. Oddisee’s experience as an instrumentalist shines through on every track, and coupled with his eloquent and charismatically witty lyrics it makes this album a pleasure to listen to.

Favourite Tracks: That’s Love, Want Something Done, First Choice

12. Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah – Stretch Music

Christian Scott attempts to blend several different genres together with his style, hence ‘stretching’ the genre of jazz into new and uncharted territories. On this record he involves a lot of African rhythms, alongside other elements of African music and it works to great effect. Four years ago he extended his name by adding aTunde Adjuah, which are supposedly Ghanaian cities of ancestral significance to Christian Scott. It seems that this record is part of his journey to reclaim and rediscover his home culture, whilst infusing it into a modern sound.

The highlight throughout this album is the interplay between the 9 instruments in his band, which combine to create a cohesive jazz ensemble with some interspersed glimpses of Scott’s genre-bending – for example, occasionally, out of the blue, a jagged electric guitar chord will accompany his trumpet, before being joined by sampled African drum beats – this combination makes this a very nice listen.

Favourite Tracks: Sunrise in Beijing, Perspectives, West of the West

11. Archy Marshall – A New Place 2 Drown

Also known as King Krule, Archy Marshall seemingly used this joint multimedia project with his brother to transition slowly from songwriter into producer. He utilises samples much more in this release and for me it pays off. I have to confess that I’m a bit of a King Krule fanboy anyway but I feel that his continued experimentation with his music has made him more three-dimensional, and the introspective nature of the lyrics makes for an interesting listen. You follow Archy as he explores themes to do with loneliness and solitude, and he even gets to the point where he seemingly finds pleasure and solace in being alone (which I can thoroughly relate to).

The main criticism that I’ve heard about this album is that the songs seem to kind of blend together, but me this isn’t a major issue as it is accompanied by an art book (bought separately) which suits the music brilliantly. I’ve found myself leafing through the book with the album on in the background on several occasions already and I’ve really enjoyed both sides of this project.

That’s right Mo Hafeez, I’m calling you out. Fight me. 1v1.

Favourite Tracks: Ammi Ammi, Any God of Yours, Swell

10. Mbongwana Star – From Kinshasa

This one caught me by surprise. I can’t even remember how I stumbled across this but the Congolese band’s album quickly became one that I had on repeat for weeks. In terms of sensation, I’d have to agree with The Guardian’s review that likened it to arriving in an unfamiliar city, bustling and exciting. It creates a sensory overload because there is just so much going on, and in doing this it completely immerses you and makes it a joy to experience.

The album shines all the way through but it started to really interesting at “Malukayi” where it became clear to me that this album isn’t really like anything I’ve heard before, in part due to the many different instruments that are interacting on all of the tracks. Every listen I seem to discover a new layer to each song, which has made it a staple for me this year. The highlight for me is “Kala” as it seemingly explodes into life right at the end of the album, and on my first listen it made me want to listen to the whole thing through again straight away.

Favourite Tracks: Malukayi, Kala, Suzanna

9. Clarence Clarity – NO NOW

I’m not really sure how to describe this album because it’s absolutely bonkers. And I love it. There are so many different inspirations on this album and where most artists would pick and choose which ones to use on separate songs, Clarence Clarity seems to throw them all into every single one.

It’s incredibly sonically dense and an almost maximalist approach to music, yet it still has a strong sense of rhythm and is catchy too. I went into this album not really sure what to expect, and to be honest I’ve still not quite reached a conclusion. Clarence Clarity makes songs that are so outlandish that they seem familiar again, which results in this album having a remarkable amount of replayability which is rare for a project as experimental and unusual as this.

Favourite Tracks: Will to Believe, Bloodbarf, The Gospel Truth

8. Björk – Vulnicura

Break up albums are nothing new, but trust Björk to bring a new and refreshing take to the table. She’s done it again, her ninth (!) studio release is a unique and brave take on coping with emotional pain. It’s not always necessarily an easy listen but once you’ve found your way in she keeps you engaged through her almost poetic lyrics, and oddly intoxicating instrumentals. It feels a bit similar to Vespertine which is my favourite album in Björk’s discography, and that’s why probably why I love this so much.

I found it really hard to put this album down after I finally managed to get my head around it, and it really helped me work through some difficult times this year due to its emotional openness, intimacy and sincere tone on break-ups and loss. The lyrics are intense, haunting, and at points are heartbreaking so I wouldn’t recommend listening to this if you’re having a good day.

Favourite Tracks: Stonemilker, Lionsong, Black Lake

7. BADBADNOTGOOD & Ghostface Killah – Sour Soul

While they may not be the best individual musicians the world has ever seen, BBNG’s take on jazz gained them a lot of well-deserved hype last year. This latest project saw them team up with Wu Tang Clan member Ghostface Killah to cement their status as the current kings of fusing hip hop with jazz.

Ghostface’s vocals suit the instrumentals well, while still allowing BBNG’s flair to shine through and some well-placed features from people such as Danny Brown and DOOM make this album really stand out. BBNG’s input isn’t nearly as experimental as on previous projects like “BBNG 2” but the addition of Ghostface more than makes up for it. The only real disappointment that I have with this album is the fact that there’s just not enough of it, clocking in at just over half an hour. Short but sweet, as they say.

Favourite Tracks: Sour Soul, Gunshowers, Ray Gun, Street Knowledge

6. Lupe Fiasco – Tetsuo & Youth

In some ways this is probably Lupe’s most ambitious project yet, and after the disappointments of his previous few releases he really needed this one to be a success to put him back into the game. And a success it was.

This release is littered with 8-9 minute long songs with enough good bars in each to fill a full length album. Of these, “Mural” is a the best and the song title definitely does it justice – it’s a work of art, and in its almost 9 minutes of runtime there isn’t a second that feels like it could be cut. If I was pushed to give an answer, I’d probably say that it’s my favourite song of this year. Every song on this album is filled with Lupe’s intricate and intelligent lyrics, playing with metaphors to convey his messages about growing up and breaking out of the ghetto (particularly effective on “Deliver”).

Lupe recently announced that he’d be releasing three full length albums in 2016, and if any one of them is even close to being as good as this one then I’ll be a very happy bunny.

Favourite Tracks: Mural, Deliver, Madonna, Prisoners 1&2

5. Jamie xx – In Colour

Bangers. Bangers galore. This is probably the easiest listen on this list. Jamie xx has had a few projects in the past that I have enjoyed (in particular his Gil-Scott Heron mixes) and I’m glad that the hype surrounding this debut record didn’t disappoint. He maintains his trademark sound throughout the album, yet still manages to push the boat out a bit further on some of the songs. “Gosh” in particular is a departure from the usual light beats that Jamie likes to produce and seems slightly more experimental than the rest of the album, and it was a bold call to put it as the opener but one that in my eyes paid off.

“Good Times” was released as a single before the album came out, and it really surprised me because even though I’m usually not a massive Young Thug fan I absolutely love this song. It was a mix of smooth beats with Young Thug’s ridiculous lyrics made it one of my favourite singles of the year. On this album (this song in particular) Jamie uses of a lot of vocal samples, and this is a welcome addition to his sound.

This album really impressed me with its mixture of tried-and-tested Jamie xx type songs featuring xx running mate Romy and some slightly more ambitious risk taking. As much as I love this album I do wish that there were one or two more songs that pushed Jamie out of his comfort zone – another song like “Gosh” or even “Good Times” would have made this album challenge some of those higher on this list for me.

Favourite Tracks: Gosh, Good Times (There’s Gonna Be), Loud Places

4. FKA twigs – M3LL155X

After a strong debut with LP1, twigs continued in a very similar fashion on this five track EP. LP1 was weird and eccentric, and this album builds on that further while adding a slightly darker and creepier tone. The production quality is fantastic throughout, the same as with her previous release, but what really caught my attention with this project was the narrative that she managed to spin across only five songs. The tracks “I’m your doll” and “in time” are powerful statements about the self – they’re almost uncomfortable in the way that they play with your emotions and it almost feels as though she’s talking directly to you amongst the music.

Accompanying this project were self-choreographed and self-directed videos that only further the sense that twigs is getting more and more confident and self-assured, and if this is anything to go by I expect the next full length album to be even better than the first. It feels like this EP was twigs flexing her skills and showing what she’s capable of as a producer and as an all round creative force. Where LP1 was good, I think M3LL155X is excellent.

Then again I’m likely biased due to my absolutely astronomical crush on twigs, but that’s neither here nor there.

Favourite Tracks: in time, i’m your doll, glass and patron

3. D’Angelo – Black Messiah

I’m cheating a bit with this one, as it was released right at the end of 2014 but I only really gave it a go at the start of this year, so I’m going to sneak it in here anyway.

After a 14 year break since his last release Voodoo, D’Angelo returns with a record on which he hasn’t changed his style, but has refined it into something even better. Smooth, soulful R&B tracks are his forté and this album is filled to the brim with exactly that. Combining strong messages dealing with black rights with the type of music that we’ve come to expect from D’Angelo, this release is absolutely spectacular and in my eyes is D’Angelo’s best record to date. The mix of retro with modern twists alongside layers and layers of vocals, guitar, strings and keyboards make this album refreshingly different – it’s like D’Angelo has perfected and transcended R&B.

“Sugah Daddy” in particular caught my attention – the old school offbeat rhythm is ridiculously catchy, and really does sound like the D’Angelo of old. It’s almost as though the previous 14 years of his absence never happened, in the best possible way.

Favourite Tracks: Really Love, Sugah Daddy, Ain’t That Easy, The Charade

2. Kamasi Washington – The Epic

2015 has been a terrific year for Kamasi Washington – he was the sax lead on “To Pimp a Butterfly” and upon release of his solo album he went on his first ever world tour (which I frustratingly couldn’t get tickets for).

The title of the album is likely the best way of describing it. Three hours of jazz fusion magic rolled into one fantastic release. The album is split into three parts, each of which could easily function as its own entity, however putting them all into one makes this truly world class. Each part on its own is more than worthy of a listen but if you’re having a lazy day and haven’t got much planned, whack this on in the background and listen through the whole 3 hours and I promise you won’t regret it.

If you haven’t found your way into jazz and are interested, this is probably your best bet – it’s very accessible alongside being far and away the best jazz release of this year (and in my opinion also of the past few years).

Favourite Tracks: Change of the Guard, Askim, Final Thought, The Rhythm Changes, Isabelle

1. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly

This decision wasn’t even remotely close. If I’m being honest this is probably my favourite album ever. There’s not much I can say about it that hasn’t been said before, it’s an absolute masterpiece. I really thought there was no way Kendrick was going to be able to top “Good Kid M.A.A.D City” but he’s bettered it in every possible way.

The concept is in itself incredible, the poem that is slowly built piece by piece throughout the songs as they pass is a genius idea that I don’t recall ever hearing in an album before. Kendrick must have balls of steel to create that Tupac interview at the end – someone who is generally considered one of the best hip hop artists to have ever lived. Kendrick seems to want to continue his legacy with his insightful commentary on society, particularly in the black community (as the tracks “Hood Politics,” “Alright” and “The Blacker the Berry” in particular show). He paints this picture while outlining his personal struggles with fame and the massive expectations placed on him – “u” is so raw and intense that it really feels as though Kendrick is bearing his all through his music and it feels incredibly authentic and heartfelt.

The instrumentation and production is again pretty much perfection, as Kendrick enlisted the help of people like Thundercat and Kamasi Washington (as mentioned earlier) which helps him skip between different styles of hip hop with ease, from the wailing G-Funk synth sounds on “Wesley’s Theory” and “King Kunta” to the more R&B like sound on “These Walls.”

I usually don’t like it when I read a review and they give an album a perfect score, but I have to say that for this album I’m inclined to say that it’s justified. I really can’t think of a single thing Kendrick could have possibly done better with this project.

In my eyes Kendrick is the king of hip hop right now, after creating two albums (this one and GKMC) that could easily be argued to be amongst the best hip hop albums of this decade.

Favourite Tracks: N/A, all of it

***

Overall, 2015 has been a stellar year for music and 2016 will have to be pretty special to top it. However with a release from David Bowie, (hopefully) one from Kanye, three from Lupe Fiasco, and a Kendrick and J Cole collaboration on the horizon I have high hopes for the coming months.

On top of those I’m still blindly hoping that Jai Paul may arise from the land of the dead, but with his prolonged silence since the leak it’s unfortunately looking increasingly unlikely. Jai Paul will make a comeback. #believe

Album Review – ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ by Kendrick Lamar

After good kid, m.A.Ad city, the world of hip-hop was at Kendrick Lamar’s feet – Lamar said that album was basically a short film about his life, following his journey during his time in the Compton, the city where he was born and raised. The narrative was so personal that listeners felt as if they’d known Lamar their whole life, his lyrics projecting powerful images of faith, struggles, and family. Now, after months of anticipation (and a release a week earlier than expected), Lamar has released To Pimp a Butterfly, the title a reference to Harper Lee’s seminal work To Kill a Mockingbird.

To Pimp a Butterfly isn’t quite as clear cut as GKMC narrative-wise, with a whole host of characters being heard – Wesley Snipes, the government, Lucifer in the form of “Lucy”, and Kendrick himself all feature, and along with featuring artists Dr. Dre and Snoop (amongst others) there’s a lot of personas to take in.

The contents of the tracks on this album loosely track Kendricks journey from caterpillar to butterfly – the caterpillar being self-centered and only self-concerned, driven by consumption (as told by 2Pac on album closer ‘Mortal Man’), Kendrick believes he has found his way out of the hood on tracks like ‘King Kunta’.

He progresses further, starting to realise what consumption-driven existence can lead to on ‘Institutionalized’, where Lamar deals with the issues of money.  He speaks how people are brainwashed by the idea of getting rich. He goes on to reveal that it is not just the rich who are enchanted with this negative spell, but that, on a grand level, we all are, the poor also chasing wealth and being envious of those who hold power. .

“I said I’m trapped inside the ghetto and I ain’t proud to admit it, institutionalized, I could still kill me a nigga, so what?”

Tracks then move on to how such things affect Kendrick, ‘u’ providing an extremely depressing perspective. Lamar’s confidence is non-existent, shattering on marble floors, the worried inflections in his voice making him sound as if he’s almost in tears as he tells himself he let his sister down, that he was not a role model for anyone and that no-one in the world needed him. His voices fully breaks on the second verse as even God tells him that he has “fucking failed” – indeed, after the release of ‘i’, many were worried about the focus of the album, the soul-brass and very positive vibes that were littered throughout the song not appealing some.  Once listened to with some context, ‘i’ is much more easily understood, a track about self-love in contrast to self-hate. The fact that he has been through so much and yet still holds faith, the fact that he has staved of the evil of Lucy, is conveyed extremely well here in an burst of optimism.

“Every nigga is a star”

The turning point of the album probably comes before this however, after Lamar remembers where he has come from and tries to fix the problems he has spoken of in tracks like ‘Complexion (Zulu Love)’ – he explodes in anger and confusion on ‘The Blacker the Berry’:

The fact that on top of this Kendrick experiments with free jazz compositions beneath his rap on songs like ‘For Free?’ just confirms that this truly is an incredible album – this is not album that can be picked up and dropped when you’re on your first trip through, and the pay off in ‘Mortal Man’, an interview’ with 2Pac, is both revealing and worth the wait.

This article was written by Mo Hafeez