A constant theme of Kendrick Lamar’s music is the separation between himself and the image of Compton that has been ingrained in our consciousness by so many Game references: 40s, drive-bys, gang colors, etc. He’s not about that life, he doesn’t claim it, and he’s proud of it. His album title says it all: good kid, m.A.A.d city.
Kendrick is a product of Compton, but he won’t be pigeonholed by it the way many of his predecessors have been. He’s a clean break from the scores of others who came before him: the prototypical LA gangsta rapper who claimed gang affiliation, tried to make the next great G-Funk album with the blessings of Dr. Dre, and shouted out Tupac and Eazy-E at every opportunity. Forget being a good kid in a mad city, he’s an amazing rapper who makes great music in a broken cycle of West Coast rappers who keep doing the same thing while hoping for different results.
It almost seemed anticlimactic when Dr. Dre brought Kendrick Lamar into his circle, and ultimately, onto his label. Kendrick and Black Hippy did the previously unthinkable: be successful rappers from Los Angeles without the assistance of Dr. Dre. Although he did get his start on The Game’s Black Wall Street label as K-Dot, Kendrick has fought to represent himself as his own creative entity not beholden to the wishes and sounds of the Old West.
His line on “The Spiteful Chant” about breaking Dr. Dre’s wrist rather than taking a handout from him, even though it was after he had worked with Dre, shows he’s confident he would have made it with or without the Doctor’s co-sign. After generations of rappers trampling over each other to get their demo in Dre’s hands, Kendrick made the Old West come to him.
Kendrick has all the resources to create the next great album. Despite his increased profile, he still has a hunger that comes from a love of the music, not the spotlight. He comes across as humble and self-aware, but with steely confidence, traits that will serve him well as his career progresses. He and his Black Hippy mates are irons that sharpen iron that will fight any signs of complacency.
Kendrick can spit with the battle rappers and make songs with the entertainers. He’s carrying the West Coast on his back, not by pandering to the Chucks-and-Dickies stereotype, but by simply making some of the best music in hip-hop, and the music just so happens to have that distinct California flavor. The Age of Kendrick Lamar and Black Hippy is nigh, so rejoice, Californians! If history repeats itself, then we’re in for 20 years of rappers trying to emulate Kendrick Lamar. The future looks brighter than the California sunshine.