Release Date: 14 April 2017
Label: Top Dawg Entertainment, Aftermath and Interscope
WRITTEN BY JABIR McMILLIAN
There’s not many things I cherish more than a Kendrick release date. The hype build up is just transcendent. Here is me, sitting in a car on the way back from a college tour, with the “OH SHIT” face as I learn that this project just released. After stopping at a local bar to get some wifi and download the project, I continue on my way back home (a 4 hour trip I might add) acknowledging that I can’t disrespect Kendrick, and artistry in general, without giving him a PROPER listen. Can’t disrespect the man listening off some garbage Apple earbuds. I say all this just to inform you what was on my mind for an ungodly amount of time, the story of Kendrick Lamar Duckworth, or at least it in relation to me. Hopefully, you’re willing to stick around.
Let me preface this with I consider Good Kid, m.a.a.d City, this man’s magnum opus. Just for the simple reason that when you think Kendrick, this album represents what made the guy blow up in the first place. Legendary storytelling, incredible flows, the capacity to keep you captivated for an entire hour plus. The combination of attributes that represented Kendrick hadn’t been seen in the rap game since honestly, Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool. While this album will always represent the pristine form of Kendrick to me, in reality, this is simply the beginning of the coaster for his STORY. With his series of local mixtapes and the blogger legends: O(verly) D(edicated) and Section.80 (a memorable listen in its own rights), Kendrick wasn’t just starting out. He built his home, brick by brick, and saved the door (GKMC) for last.
Everything afterwards would be a complete blur as I’m sure we all know. A Jordan-esque run on features in 2013, including the indelible, time-dropping “Control” verse. An on-and-off beef with his fellow megastar, Aubrey Graham. One of the most powerful and needed statements in musical history in the form of To Pimp A Butterfly, the afro-centric masterpiece. We’ve seen lyricists truly earn the title of “God MC” through similar levels of success, but relinquish the crown almost as quickly as they got it. Will this less “humble” Kendrick C-Walk his way to another blassic, or will he flame out just as his boastful contemporaries did in the past? Let’s see:
BLOOD. – First listen, this was a pretty laid back intro, up until you hit a certain point in the narrative. So basically, Kendrick’s going over to help this blind old lady, who dropped SOMETHING. Unfortunately, being Mr. Nice Guy gets Kendrick killed by this old lady. Actually breaking this shit down though, the first catch comes from the beginning of the song:
“Is it wickedness?
Is it weakness?
Are we gonna live or die?”
And thus, the thematic of life and death, justice vs evil began. The rest of the song handles the state of justice around Kendrick being degraded, no example of that being as prevalent as when the Lady of Justice (the blind woman) murders another man in cold blood. Another even deeper meaning ties directly into justice being blind to the innocence of the black man himself. This meaning correlates with the closing FOX News sample. Geraldo Rivera mind-numbingly finds a way to distort the lyrics of Kendrick’s uplifting hit “Alright”, and turns it into an anthem about murdering police. Two sides of the same hand here: the institutions that be disallow the well-intentioned black man to do good. Rate: 7/10 (as far as intros go)
DNA – “I got, I got, I got, I got loyalty, got royalty inside my DNA.” If you want to summarize most of this song, here you go right here. Kendrick spends the majority here praising the greatness of his make-up. In doing so, he also spends the other bit diminishing those who only want to take away from Kendrick’s (and the successful black man’s) legacy, mainly culture vultures. The uplifting of the black man as Kendrick tries to do here is once again contrasted by Geraldo Rivera’s ignorant diatribe. Seems like a consistent theme. Also, one of the best beat switches I have EVER heard. Rate: 8.5/10
YAH. – Off-rip, the title “YAH” makes me think of Yahweh, a Hebrew word for God. Kendrick also mentioned another variation, Yeshua, last track. The religious thematic really gets emphasized throughout the latter part of this track, Kendrick boosts himself far above the constraints of a “Black” man, really embracing his Israelite roots. Even as one of the chosen, as the Israelites are, he faces the criticisms and libel of Satan’s minions. Can’t escape it, I suppose. Nice vibe on this track too. Rate: 6.5/10
ELEMENT. – I’ll tell you right now, you’re gonna be hearing this shit and DNA. QUITE often during the Playoffs. Kendrick crafted some true bangers here, and this one comes at the expense of his sneak-dissing contemporaries. The song even starts out with him mimicking Big Sean’s stylization of saying “I don’t give a fuck” to the entire game only wishing the worst for him. “Just say his name and I promise that you’ll see Candyman”, “Mr. One through Five, that’s the only logic”, “Last LP I tried to lift the black artists but it’s a difference between black artists and wack artists”. Heavy is the head that wears the crown. Rate: 8.5/10
FEEL. – If the last couple tracks were about Kendrick floating like Em in Rap God over the peons throwing rocks at the throne, this one is about the man venting about the trials and tribulations of the life he’s living. Even in his efforts to isolate himself from all the fuckery that transpires in hip-hop, our good Samaritan can’t possibly turn a blind eye to the griminess of the game. We start getting a look into the rainbow of negativity Kendrick seems to struggle through here. I love the bleak, desolate tone here. Rate: 9.5/10
LOYALTY FEAT. RIHANNA. – A lot of people wondered how the meshing point would come between these two artists. But you gotta be realistic, Kendrick’s out here doing collabs with Maroon 5 and Imagine Dragons, while RiRi has been doing rap collabs her whole career. They came together to produce a pretty sleek joint about desiring relationships based not on materialism, but love. Pretty tried and true formula here, this song doesn’t re-create the wheel, but it’s always nice to see Kendrick test his artistic capabilities with a random track like this. Also another track that could be trending for a good min. Rate: 6.5/10
PRIDE. – We go back to the notions of “FEEL.” Where Kendrick’s inner real self openly questions some of the actions that his current persona is doing. That innocent well-natured kid from Compton still finds issues with the life he’s living. Regardless of what he thinks on the inside, it seems he keeps his walls up to block away the harsh standards critics want to put on him. This seems to be a pretty deep track that I don’t think I fully grasped, but that’s what I get out of it. Rate: 7.5/10
HUMBLE. – “How will this fit within the context of this album? Is Kendrick selling out?” Stop me if you’ve heard this before. Within the analysis of one’s self that ends up being one of several constants, this track succeeded at being both meaningful and a BANGER. Regardless of the stripped down beat and maybe some lyrics dudes might not consider up to par for Kenny, I can’t see how someone dislikes this track. Hell, the message here, asking you IG thots and social media flexers to try calming down a bit, more substantial and necessary than 99% of other radio tracks. Rate: 8/10
LUST. – I think my understanding of this track could substantially differ from that of someone’s else, as Kendrick does open the door for several interpretations with his inclusions of two completely different people suffering from the same vices. The poor man and woman Kendrick was frequently involved with in his yesteryears just wants the soulless bright lights and committing the actions of a mindless drone, content with blending in with their fellow sheep, a trend he also finds in the rich crowd he currently hangs with. I fuck with this track. Rate:8/10
LOVE. FEAT. ZACARI – Kendrick rejects the materialism of LUST here. He asks his woman for something deeper, to look past the materialism that so many obsess over when it comes to these rap superstars, but just to love him for him. Another track that sheds the desires of the physical realm for something greater and substantial, even if it isn’t tangible. This Zacari cat has some nice vocals. Rate: 7/10
XXX. FEAT. U2 – If very few people were cool with the inclusion of Rihanna, then it was more akin to a crowd of one who liked seeing U2 on this. I would say literally, Bono and Kendrick are completely different people. LITERALLY. But art is deeper than personality differences and I would say U2 was a very good choice to contribute on the subject of poverty, and the evils allowed, even supported, by the American populace when it comes to the conditions of those they want to ignore. Very meaty (pause) track to digest. Rate: 8/10
FEAR. – You got meaty, and then you got an entire deli section at Publix. Good god, Kendrick saved some of the best for last here. The closest thing to an overarching theme here is Kendrick questioning both man and higher powers why does he have to suffer. We get 3 verses/stories, the first covering a young 7-year old Kendrick. Whether this was actually Kendrick, or just one of his likely countless contemporaries who grew up in broken homes out at Compton, here we have a young kid experiencing extreme levels of domestic abuse. It’s like the parental figure here feeds off the FEAR he’s deriving from this innocent child. Transitioning, Kendrick’s FEAR becomes even more desolate and distasteful at 17, as we catch him reminiscing over the excessive menaces that seem to want Kendrick dead from every angle. You can really feel how close Kendrick thought he was to becoming another statistic out there. The third verse covers the 27-year-old Kendrick, and how his FEAR was less physically berating and more about his status. After finally rising out of the darkness of his former world, he just wants to do everything in his power to avoid failing and having to face that environment again. This is simply a track I can’t properly give justice to, you’ll have to listen to this dozens of time to even truly love the message. Kendrick came through. Rate: 9.5/10
GOD. – We (we meaning me) finally get a damn breather here. Good lord, it’s been a minute since you haven’t had a track that has you contemplating mental gymnastics. Kendrick reaches his highest levels of blasphemy we’ve seen yet, directly stating that his success must be how the most high feels. Also seems to repeat the theme of asking other rappers to play the back in thinking they’re truly eating out here. Passes the time, I suppose. Rate: 6/10
DUCKWORTH. – We’ve reached the closer. This been a real experience, I’ll give you that. It may have only been 14 tracks, but he’s done more in 14 than some (MORE LIFE) do in 20+. Some rappers could drop a deep ass project like this and choose to chill on the closer. Y’all already know Kenny doesn’t chill though, coming through with a near Lupe level tale about quite an interesting topic. I mean, this is a ridiculously level lucky coincidence. In his early life, Kendrick’s father, Ducky, switches from the trapping lifestyle to an honest job, and just so happens to work at the KFC that “Top Dawg”, Kendrick’s current boss, frequents often. See, Top Dawg was a real known gangsta, and through his intuition, Ducky does his damnest to be the only person Top Dawg wasn’t privy to shooting up at the establishment. At some point, you just gotta think, Kendrick was MEANT to be a success by God himself, and instead of being two more casualties of the hood, Kendrick was allowed to be a shining beacon for his friend Top Dawg, his family, and those willing to listen to his message. Quite messiah-like. Rate: 10/10
I ain’t gonna bother y’all with too long an epilogue here. A lot of people questioned whether Kendrick could drop a better album than TPAB, similar to the process that went down with post-GKMC. For me, I didn’t need a better album. I didn’t expect a better album. I just needed another dope ass project, and that’s what I got here. Kendrick said he was going to be more religious here, look at the things we need to improve as a people, and he achieved that well in my opinion. Off a few listens, I think this is his most accessible project since GKMC’s masterpiece, and it achieves that while also being quite deep. (P.S I really wish we got that second album)
ALBUM RATING : 9.2/10
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