Coachella Artist Spotlight: Kendrick Lamar

By: Jack Stein

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2011 was something of a banner year for independent hip-hop, as it ushered in a new collective of young, oft pissed-off rappers who eschewed the “ringtone rap” and Rick Ross-esque boasting that their generation grew up on for a more atmospheric and refreshingly human take on their oft-maligned genre. Led by enigmatic souls such as A$AP Rocky and Danny Brown, rap’s new class of 2011 was weird enough to catch the average indie listener’s ear while simultaneously possessing some serious pop chops, leading to a strange proliferation of a handful of these artists into the mainstream’s consciousness, saving us from the prospects of another Pitbull remix and injecting some much-needed life into the sputtering heart of modern hip-hop.

With all due respect to the aforementioned Rocky, Brown, and Lil B “The Based God”, the rapper that walked this tightrope between commercial viability and zonked eccentricity the most impressively (excluding ineligible, albeit brilliant, megastar Drake) was Kendrick Lamar. A disenchanted 24-year old from Los Angeles, Lamar rose from relative obscurity last summer with the release of his debut full-length Section.80, an alternately somber and vicious series of meditations on the pitfalls of human relationships (or lack thereof), as well as his “Ronald Reagan Era” (read: children of the late 80’s) generation’s ever-pervasive inadequecies and insecurities amidst an uncertain economy and bleak political climate.

Lamar, while a technically impressive rapper (he straight up runs circles around the limber beat to “Rigamortus”, deftly altering his cadence and barely gasping for a single breath), is most compelling when examining the aforementioned disillusionment with growing up interpersonally ostracized and confused, despite his generation’s inundation with technology and social media. Indeed, Lamar seems most interested with examining the consciously constructed distance that exists between so many of us these days, an ironic juxtaposition with the pervasive desire to be one text message or tweet away from human contact at all times. If ever there was a rapper to soundtrack 2010 film The Social Network’s ethos of human disconnect in an oft-overwhelmingly social society, Lamar is your man.

Nowhere does Lamar (or any other artist within the past year) nail this mission statement better than in the simultaneously frenetic and resigned “A.D.H.D” (below), a masterful performance from the young rapper thematically, sonically, and lyrically.  As with his best tracks, the woozy atmospherics serve to drape a subtle fog over the scene, as Lamar fills in the details with a novelist’s eye for detail and pointedly perceptive outbursts; one can listen to the track and imagine him somberly surveying a house party amidst a collection of Facebook friends and acquaintances, seeing beyond the beer pong table and honing in on the sadness of contemporary social constructs instead. Lines such as “Looking around and all I see/ it’s a big crowd, that’s a product of me” tumble out of Lamar desperately, almost as if saying what’s on his mind is the only thing keeping him alive. That he does so with a frantically shape-shifting flow that recalls both Bone Thugs-n-Harmony and Pusha T in a span of mere couplets simply adds to the track’s visceral thrill, supplementing the considerable emotional weight and vivid imagery it bears.

Near the beginning of “A.D.H.D.”, Lamar laments “man, no wonder our lives is caught up/ in the daily superstition/ that the world is about to end/ who gives a fuck? We never do listen.” Luckily for Lamar, others are. Fellow Los Angeleno, Coachella headliner and rap icon Dr. Dre recently anointed him the “new prince of L.A. hip-hop”, adding pressure to Lamar and his up & coming generation to continue delivering once Billboard and radio stations inevitably come calling. Regardless if Lamar hits it big or not, his endlessly compelling, wise-beyond-his-years storytelling deserves your attention this April, rendering his show a must-see amidst a weekend filled with them.


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