After several mixtapes,
Los Angeles' rapper Kendrick Lamar
(aka Kendrick Duckworth)
debuted with the
humbly produced album Section.80 (2011)
that relied too much on his unusual delivery and preachy lyrics.
The highlight was perhaps the gloomy, atmospheric A.D.H.D.
The over-hyped Good Kid M.A.A.d. City (2012) was still a poor effort
in musical terms, therefore relying mostly on an
autobiographical storytelling that was certainly more literate than the average.
Hence the generic soulful spleen of Bitch Don't Kill My Vibe and Swimming Pools,
the self-celebratory The Art of Peer Pressure,
and the twelve-minute documentary Sing About Me I'm Dying of Thirst.
Sensual and playful songs such as Poetic Justice and
Backseat Freestyle transcend the concept and aim for more relaxed
entertainment, but only the
vocal magic of Money Trees achieves a superior balance of the two modes.
The word "hype" wasn't enough to describe the media assault on
the sprawling 80-minute
To Pimp a Butterfly (2015), another
meticulously crafted album that employed legions of writers, producers and
musicians (including jazz pianist Robert Glasper and jazz saxophonist Kamasi Washington).
Six people wrote Wesley's Theory, including George Clinton, and four produced it, including Flying Lotus.
Nine people are credited as writers for the funk-fest
King Kunta, making it de facto a collage.
The producers threw in more live instruments, resulting in a sound that
is more revivalist than innovative, but also a sound that helps the general
For better and for worse,
The Blacker the Berry is the epitome of this
emphatically pointless but fashionable avant-jazz-rap music.
I begins as an olf-fashioned synth-pop hit of the 1980s before it begins to sound like a James Brown parody (with the lyrics "the number one rapper in the world" and "i love myself") accented by a jovial piano figure.
The best psychodrama is possibly one of the simplest songs, the
melodic funk-soul These Walls, and the best political sermon the equally
straightforward funk ditty Hood Politics.
But the music is secondary to the histrionics and it doesn't matter that
the catchy and danceable Alright stands in opposition of the
industrial beat that derails Momma, a fact that could account for
at least eclecticism.
This is a superficial and, ultimately, middle-of-the-road album from an artist who lacks the visceral energy of Public Enemy and Tackhead while also lacking the poetic depth of Kanye West and the musical genius of El-P. He tries to be all of them at once, but maybe he would be most credible if he were just himself: a brilliant script-writer of fictionalized real-life stories:
the Christian parable How Much a Dollar Cost
presents God disguised as a homeless man,
and Mortal Man interviews the ghost of dead rapper
Abandoning the funk-jazz pretensions, Lamar backpedaled to straightforward
radio-friendly pop on
Damn (2017), his third number-one album on the Billboard charts.
Love and Loyalty (with Rihanna)
are embarrassing sensual supermarket muzak.
The sleepy, choral Fear (produced by
Alchemist) and the
robotic, lightweight Element barely rise the temperature above rigor mortis.
On the other hand, the apocalyptic, rapid-fire first half of XXX (ostensibly a collaboration with U2),
the hard-hitting, slightly neurotic single Humble and the frantic
dissonant second half of DNA (industrial rap?) display a bit of
As usual, the lyrics are disposable throughout, with possibly the exception of
Lamar also "curated" the soundtrack for Ryan Coogler's film "Black Panther" (2018), later released as Black Panther The Album Music From And Inspired By (2018), that includes All the Stars, King's Dead and Pray For Me.