In just two years, Kendrick Lamar has risen through hip-hop music’s ranks from being an upstart MC to one of the game’s brightest stars, and is often referred to as the “Future of Rap Music.”
Whether you’ve been familiar with his work since his early productions such as Overly Dedicated and Section 80, or maybe you became hip with his platinum selling album, Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City, there’s no denying that young Kendrick has the “it factor.”
Younger fans say they can relate to his lyrics. Rap enthusiasts say he’s holding true to hip-hop’s roots. Which ever the case, the 26-year-old Compton, CA native has everyone talking about him. While he’s quick to share the spotlight with his label mates Schoolboy Q, Ab-Soul, and Jay Rock, (who make up the California rap group Black Hippy), Lamar has been vocal about wanting to be the best rapper ever. And he very well can achieve that goal.
Here are five reasons why:
Lyricism and Versatility
He has bars, Period! – If there’s one thing that anyone can agree with, it’s that Kendrick Lamar can rap very well. Showcasing his talents whether by himself or, even more, outshining someone else on their song (more on this later) Kendrick has been known to leave instrumentals crushed in his wake.
The way he switches his flows, the use of his Los Angeles accent to place emphasis select words, Kendrick brings popular references together with obscure ones that keep us all guessing. Make no mistake, he is a “verbal assassin.”
Respect for the culture
He has the game’s respect – When you come to the table with this particular skill set, you’re sure to gain the hard-earned approval and respect of your peers. Everyone from crooner Miguel to Danish pop duo Quadron have featured Kendrick in their projects. When you have arguably the greatest rapper alive in Jay Z as a feature on the remix of your single, you know you’re in a different class. Those types of accomplishments do nothing but add notches to your career.
Destroyer of trends
He knows how to take a stand. At a time when artists are more outspoken than they have ever been (such as artists who refuse to perform in Florida until the “Stand Your Ground” law is lifted and artists who have done Trayvon Martin musical tributes, etc.), Lamar has been quiet. But when he does decide to express himself, his thoughts have resounding effects.
In using a funeral as the theme of the video for his single, “B*tch, Don’t Kill My Vibe,” Lamar doesn’t use the imagery as a time of mourning, but rather as a time for celebration. It doesn’t make sense until the message “Death To Molly,” referring to the popular party drug MDMA , appears on the screen.
Lamar’s been very vocal on the use of Molly in hip-hop’s circles, and how it has affected his cohorts. This was his most direct anti-drug shot.
Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City brought story telling back to rap
He brought storytelling back to rap music. One of the biggest trends in the beginning and the Golden Age of Rap was that projects, be they mix tapes, EPs, or albums, all had some sort of linear storyline to them. Kendrick Lamar wanted to do this with his debut album Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City, adding stories to his audio tales.
As listeners explore the 15 songs on Good Kid, Lamar takes them on a journey throughout Compton, dealing with manipulative women from the neighborhood, police brutality, being mistaken in gang life, and losing a dear friend to senseless violence. No matter what gender, age or race, the way the images are painted on these tracks allows you to see the palm trees blowing in the wind and the graffiti and blood smeared on the walls. It’s a talent few artists can channel, or even care enough to give to the people. But that’s how Lamar adds to the shelf life and staying power of his work, both literally and figuratively.
Constant game changer
Being the perceived “top dog” in hip-hop has its perks: sold out shows, platinum albums and worldwide fame. But with that power comes great responsibility in that you have a target on your back. Every single rapper in the industry is gunning for you, and it’s up to you to show them the title of “Best Rapper Alive” is well deserved and in good hands. The current climate of rap is in a state of friendly competition. Since the deaths of Biggie and 2Pac, older hip-hop fans would argue that the game has gotten too “soft.”
Enter Kendrick Lamar. Tapped to be a feature on Big Sean’s latest track, “Control,” Lamar verbally assaults rap’s rising talents. Even more important, he does so BY NAME, something that’s very uncommon in 2013.
“I’m usually homeboys with the same ni**as I’m rhymin’ wit, but this is hip-hop and them ni**as should know what time it is. And that goes for Jermaine Cole, Big Krit, Wale, Pusha T, Meek Mill, ASAP Rocky, Drake. Big Sean, Jay Electron, Tyler, Mac Miller, I have love for you all but I’m tryna murder you ni**as. Tryin make your core fans never heard of you n*i**as, they don’t want to hear one more noun or verb from you ni**as.”
This type of declaration can put an artist’s song in the category of such classic diss records as “Ether,” “Super Ugly,” and “How To Rob.” Though the song went live earlier this morning, social media will allow fans an inside look on interactions between their favorite artists.
Cory Townes is a Digital Content Producer born and raised in Philadelphia, Pa. His work has been featured in The Grio, Vibe.com, and other media publications. For more of his work, visit www.CoryTownes.com and follow him on Twitter at @CoryTownes.