Review Summary: Fire burning inside my eyes. This is the music that saved my life. Y'all be calling it hip-hop. I be calling it hypnotize.
Like many people my age, I went through a period where I had lost all faith in hip-hop. This started with Master P's rise to fame, and continued through Lil' Jon's reign of terror. The music I loved growing up had derailed, and I stopped paying attention to it for a few years. However--like many things--music is cyclical, and hip-hop has bounced back. Love him or hate him, it's hard to deny that Kanye West made mainstream hip-hop interesting again, and things have been on the up-and-up ever since. While there's still a lot mainstream hip-hop that still isn't good, I challenge you show me a genre of music where that isn't the case. However, there are still many people who refuse to accept that hip-hop has become listenable again. Now, along comes the 24-year-old Kendrick Lamar. And if this album isn't enough to restore the faith of those who've wandered from hip-hop, I'm afraid they're beyond hope.
Lamar got his start releasing the (O)verly (D)edicated mixtape, which caught the attention of Dr. Dre, who took him under his wing, putting him on a "Detox" track. However, Lamar's sound doesn't have a lot in common with Dre's G-Funk, but more with the alternative hip-hop sounds of the early 90's. Think Pharcyde, De La, etc., and toss in the occasional Bone lyrical flourishes and you'll get a good idea of what to expect. Opener "*** Your Ethnicity" sets the tone for the album, with a laid-back beat, female backing vocals, and intelligent lyrics.
One thing that helps Kendrick is having a great production team in his corner. The beats remain interesting throughout, and cover all kinds of territory in the realm of hip-hop. From the thumping bass of "The Spiteful Chant" to the soulful backing vocals of "Ronald Reagan Era", you'll never feel like you've just heard the same song twice. Songs like "Hol' Up" and "Rigamortus" feature horns at the forefront of the beat, the former being smooth, and the latter reminiscent of a jazz tune. The latter also features one of Kendrick’s other strengths, and that's the fact that he is a legitimately talented rapper. As the song progresses, the bass speeds up with the horns, and Kenrick's rapid-fire flow holds it all together.
Lyrically, Lamar always has something interesting to say, using unique rhyming techniques to get his point across. There are three songs that are loosely tied together spread over the course of the album, "No Makeup", "Tammy's Song", and "Kiesha's Song", all of which make strong points on the place of women in modern society, and the emphasis on having to look good all of the time. "Kiesha's Song" is about a young prostitute, and features some of the best lyrics on the album, with a genuinely moving story-arc. That isn't to say that he doesn't have some growing pains as a lyricist. Some lines come across as clumsy at times, but nothing near as eye-rolling as something like "been up in the club like fifty-leven times". I chalk it up to his being young. And it's hard to fault the album too much for such small faults, especially by the time you've reached the final, J. Cole produced track "Hiipower". Cole has a real talent as a producer, and he and Kendrick have promised to work together in the future. I look forward to whatever they do. So if you've been looking for some hip-hop that may get you interested in the genre again, or even if you like hip-hop and are looking for something new to cherish, check this album out. And if you can't find yourself believing in the power of hip-hop again after listening to it, I can safely say it's time for you to give up hope that you ever will.
I can't believe this didn't have an actual review yet. This is my AOTY so far, and will be a 5 for me within a few months. I've had it for two months now, and it's remained in constant rotation ever since I first got it. Anyone who is even remotely interested in hip-hop should give it a listen. Also, the (O)verly (D)edicated mixtape is fantastic too, but this album blows it out of the water.
Thanks. I really wanted this one to be good, since I've literally tried to get everyone I know to listen to it. I actually have a few friends who are like the people I was describing in the first paragraph, and they all think this kid's the real deal. I'm 31, BTW. I don't want to give the impression I'm 40-something here. But the album is good straight through. Even the songs that are essentially lengthy interludes are good, and I rarely skip past them when I listen to it.
Good review though the introduction is silly, the whole "mainstream is shit" introduction a lot of people write in their rap reviews is just stupid. I get the point you were trying to make but it's not really true. There have always been good and bad artists in every genre no matter what the time period. It's not like mainstream hip-hop in the 90s was awesome, history has just weeded out the shit that was on the radio and left the good stuff in our memories. Other than that good job with the review, it's hard to find people on Sputnik putting out well-written rap reviews. Obviously though, not as keen on this album as you are :P
@Idnuf, I actually wanted to clarify that point, but the review was getting bloated as is. Hip-hop at the time I was talking about was, in my opinion, weak. At least the stuff I saw on MTV and heard at bars or on the radio. But to me it's like when hair metal was huge. Hair metal isn't my thing, but there was plenty of rock from that period I really like. Same with hip-hop from that era. I still listened to bands that I liked from my youth (Wu, Outkast, etc.), but I missed out on some good underground hip-hop (Blackaliscious) that I refused to listen to because I was being stupidly stubborn. And I see that you aren't as big on the album as I am, but that's cool. It'd be a boring place if everyone agreed on everything. Thanks for the feedback.
The thing is, for every bad lyric there's a handful of decent to very good lyrics. If he spit lines like the "stale plum" one for an entire album, I probably couldn't look past it regardless of beats. But when he lets out lines like "Who said a black man in the illuminati? Last time I checked, that was the biggest racist party" (within the same song, even), I can let it slide.
And some of his goofier lyrics have a certain charm to them. "Hol' Up" has some weird lyrics, but I like them regardless.