Ladies and gentlemen, we have a new event rapper on our hands. He’s a 25-year-old, slightly short Compton-ite named Kendrick Lamar and he’s really good at rapping. In the short time since his great Section.80 project came out last July, he has made his way from being a little known backpack rapper with a squeaky voice to the next rapper in line, making songs with today’s biggest pop stars. What’s got the industry’s wheels turning so quickly is a growing position as Andre “Dr. Dre” Young’s newest protege. Luckily, it’s a relationship that seems to be paying off musically as well as financially.
On Tuesday, the rapper previewed five unreleased tracks from his new album, good kid, m.A.A.d. city, to a crowded room in a Midtown Manhattan studio. The set was a consistent mix of moody but hook-filled bangers growing on the sound of his previously released singles “Cartoon and Cereal”, “The Recipe”, and “Swimming Pools (Drank)”. Gone are the self-important, high-concept anthems of Section.80. The stakes, however, have stayed high.
Each song had a Dre-inspired sense of starkness and reserve, focusing on impact and emotion. While his style has always been a mix of true school positivity and Kanye-esque grandeur, he’s added a touch of gangsta to the mix, significantly heightening his already potent delivery. He now successfully straddles a huge stretch on the spectrum of hip-hop elitism.
Lamar has thankfully shown himself to be a great pop songwriter, landing on the good side of everything that could have the potential to go wrong. A collaboration with new found pal Lady Gaga includes the woman herself sing-rapping in auto-tune and still manages to maintain a high level of tension. Yet another regional tribute track produced by Just Blaze features even more of Dre rapping lines ghostwritten by Lamar and still manages to make a good case for how great Compton is. Working with Q-Tip, on the other hand, has led to a track with a palpably “real hip hop” attitude, but with none of the snobbery.
And through all of this, he’s maintained a truly strange style of rapping that somehow emcompasses both the purposefully awkward lyrical gymnastics of Pharoahe Monch and the pop adventurism of Drake. This album is looking like it’s going to be very hard to screw up.