Posts Tagged ‘Black Hippy’

It is worth acknowledging that this is exactly the type of album on which rap writers love to cut their teeth, bring out their axes to grind, and throw all of their personal prejudices and hang-ups into the mix as well.  There will be those who praise this album as the greatest rap album of the last decade and those who decry it as a massive disappointment.  It’s the type of album where pay-per-click websites are dying for their staff to write about it, and it’s the type of album writers love to talk about in the most hyperbolic terms possible to attract as much attention as possible.  Critics have been spending the last week discussing why this album is doomed to fail: the excessive hype, the fact that Kendrick is being asked to deliver a classic major label debut despite the fact that he doesn’t have a track record that necessarily suggests that’s a probability, the fact that the things Kendrick does best don’t necessarily translate well with the popular radio rap aesthetic, the fact that very few rappers deliver their first classic album on their third full length album, and the likelihood that Aftermath/Interscope would force him to sacrifice too much of his creativity and individuality in favor of more commercially viable material.  It’s also worth noting that all of these seem like legitimate concerns.  Add to that the pressure on Kendrick to deliver an album that both returns the West Coast to the forefront of the industry and an album that shows that rappers who can rap their ass off are still allowed to do so in the world of mainstream rap.  It’s fair to say that expectations around this album seem nearly insurmountable.

good kid, m.A.A.d city starts with the sound of someone flicking on an old reel to reel era family video of two boys praying to Jesus to beg forgiveness and ask salvation and guidance. Eery keys begin to penetrate mid-prayer slowly developing into the backdrop of a story tale dedication to “Sherane a.k.a. Master Splinter’s Daughter.”  There’s a constant push and pull through good kid, m.A.A.d city, between a teenager who wants to do the right thing, wants salvation, but is constantly challenged by sin, desire, and the allure of women and the streets. It’s a push and pull felt by everyone one form or another, accentuated by the temptations of the city and the magnetism of the lifestyle presented by the rappers he and his friends idolize.

This has been a great year for albums that are musical cohesive, or stylistically cohesive, good kid, m.A.A.d City is not always either of those, but it maintains its cohesion through a much less frequently used methodology – and one that’s much more difficult to pull off on a rap album – thematic and narrative cohesion.  The story that Kendrick has to tell is a different narrative of authenticity in rap music.  good kid, m.A.A.d city is a narrative relevant to 2012 and a personal narrative from an artist who grew up in a society filled with drugs, crime, violence, and poverty, who tried to stay out of trouble, but couldn’t always avoid its enticement.  It’s a story that nearly anyone can relate to, but it’s also the real story of so many of today’s rappers.  What makes the story unique is that unlike most of his peers, Kendrick Lamar is comfortable telling it and owning it, and recognizes that the listener will connect to it despite his lack of posturing and the refusal to bow to the whims of the record industry’s misguided perception of who a rapper – particularly a rapper from Los Angeles or Compton – should be and how he should act on record.  The fact that this album was made at all is a minor miracle, and the fact that Kendrick pulled it off so well on a mainstream stage is nothing short of remarkable.

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If Kendrick Lamar is the natural evolution of Ras Kass, then Schoolboy Q is somewhere between Kurupt, WC, and Crooked I on one end of the spectrum, and Micah 9 and Pharoahe Monch on the other, with the perversion of Akinyele thrown in for good measure.  On his new album Habits & Contradictions it’s often difficult to determine where Schoolboy sees himself on this continuum, and that may be a question for years to come.

Q made a splash last year with the release of his debut album Setbacks, which quickly endeared him to thousands of digital fans of both LA gangsta rap and innovative bohemian rap alike.  While it is always inspiring to hear a West coast artist continue to evolve the constraints of the defined notions of acceptable Gangsta rap, Q’s vocal stylings frequently outclass his lyrical machinations on Habits & Contradictions.  For what it is – sexually depraved, misogyny laced, violent, drug influenced, gang culture inspired storytelling – the level of vocal artistry may be unparalleled.  Over the course of 367 days, Schoolboy Q has twice managed to release the album hip hop heads dreamed Crooked I would release for ten years (and never did).  Of his two albums, Setbacks is the more accessible to the uninitiated and Habits & Contradictions is more likely to send someone into convulsions and fits of gangbang slang Tourette’s.

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