With a brand new album cooking for a late 2021 push, rap savant Kendrick Lamar is primed to enter a very noisy—if stale—mainstream hip-hop enviornment.
Because the Compton-bred rapper introduced that his next body of work will be the final act in his run with file label TDE, he’s been featured on two tracks alongside Child Keem. These two aren’t simply linked by blood (Child Keem is Lamar’s cousin), but in addition by way of their multipurpose media boutique pgLang, which they based final yr with former TDE president Dave Free. It’s all the time information when considered one of hip-hop’s most virtuosic and enigmatic artists closes a chapter on one period to start out one other.
It’s unclear simply how Lamar’s position may shift over the following few years, as he evolves from rap’s ethical conscience to media mastermind. If these new musical collabs—“household ties” and “vary brothers,” each on Child Keem’s new album The Melodic Blue—are any indication, one of many style’s most intense rhymers is loosening up. Kendrick Lamar is liberating his inside goofball.
There needs to be a purpose why Kendrick Lamar stated “brother” like that on “household ties.” How may this be the identical “acutely aware” rapper who, in his personal phrases, can spit about “cash, garments, hoes, god, and historical past all in the identical sentence,” now sounding like a cross between a ship shoe, a Banana Republican, and a coked-up Hulk Hogan promo? Comedic audacity and timing mixed to create a very cartoonish second on an in any other case intense verse, wherein Dot references two totally different archangels, instructions a certain embattled Chi Town producer-turned-rapper to “burn that tough drive,” and as soon as once more stakes claims to rap’s throne. Whereas Dot does have slightly “eat your nutritional vitamins, say your prayers” rap in his bag, the switch-up from his common excessive nasal smattering of entendres to the attention-grabbing, camera-winking humor of professional wrasslin’ speech is undoubtedly calculated. It’s a rap scheme that permits an artist who’s recognized for clear-eyed, critical raps to let unfastened a bit, and in addition share a message: “New flows comin, be affected person, brother.”
“Vary brothers,” then again, looks like Lamar’s uncommon try at meme-play. On daily basis since its leak, the Twitterverse has opened at daybreak with at the least one or two tweets of Kendrick’s ridiculous “high of the morning” chant, alongside a GIF’d loop of the artist performing a childlike stationary march, elbows flaring out at his sides. Constructing out the backbone for the third part of “vary brothers,” the refrain appears like a wink to followers who know that Dot likes to get foolish on collaborations—his verses on fellow TDE-brother Schoolboy Q’s “Collard Greens,” A$AP Rocky’s “F**kin Issues,” and even Wealthy the Child’s “New Freezer” are all prime examples—earlier than utilizing the album format to place collectively a cohesive message. The brand new album will seemingly function all the spiritual, political, and Black sonic prospers we’ve grown accustomed to, even perhaps utilizing a brand new persona a la untitled unmastered’s Cornrow Kenny; however till then, it appears like excessive time for Lamar to be a goof. He’s earned it.
As a lot because the Grammys, a bleak Pulitzer-Prize profitable story arc, and his comparatively few public appearances may current the artist as profound and considerably unknowable, Kendrick Lamar has all the time been slightly foolish. Previous to his final hit, DAMN., it appeared as if the 34-year-old celebrity solely made enjoyable verses when he went in on a observe with different rappers. Up till that time his silliness—which is most frequently articulated by way of his speedy, snapping vocal inflections—might need been a contact over-intellectualized. There are moments the place his vocal dynamism serves a bigger message, like on his hit file “Swimming Swimming pools (Drank).” There, his nostril-clenching vocalizations allowed him to convey an inside battle with dependancy within the third particular person: “Okay, now open ya thoughts up and hearken to me Kendrick. I’m ya acutely aware, if you don’t hear me then you can be historical past, Kendrick.” Or on his newest album, DAMN., the second in “PRIDE” the place the repetition of “I care” in his penchant squeal cuts by way of the droning melodies like an empathetic determine inside a tradition of apathy. However different instances, like on “vary brothers,” it’s clear he’s simply sort of fucking with us.
Dot’s place within the sport is ready in stone—however one may surprise, if he had been a foolish artist, the kind of rapper who spent his profession cracking jokes earlier than rapping about systemic racism, if followers would nonetheless think about him one of many biggest of all time. Lamar needed to set up himself as a critical rapper to be able to attain that standing. To be the best, you may’t be enjoyable.
It’s important to be rapping about one thing. It’s one of many elementary arguments in opposition to Drake’s marketing campaign for the best. He’ll in all probability go down as one of the prolific artists to ever stroll the earth, a standing that he’s undoubtedly earned, however he hasn’t actually stated a lot of precise affect. And as a lot as Drake may let audiences in on his persona and relationships, the concept of real realism baked into his music is a pipe dream. He’s discovered his lane and determined to remain in it. The essential distinction right here is that Dot’s lane is socially involved with an occasional aesthetic of levity, whereas Drake doesn’t attempt to say an excessive amount of concerning the main problems with the world or how he’s grown as an individual in any respect.
And that stability does matter. At instances, I do want for a world the place an artist who’s dedicated to only having enjoyable on wax may be deemed the perfect. It’d occur for a white rapper like Eminem, who’s been thrust into GOAT conversations for giving voice to the white incel, wilding out in music movies, and making beaucoup money for Dr. Dre. However for Black artists, that designation takes a stage of intent, craft, and mythmaking that asks them to be one thing a bit unnatural. To be greater than only a human being.
What brings us to Dot and what brings us to Drake are very related impulses that may unleash very totally different feelings. Kendrick is a literary darling who, since his reputation brewed within the mid-2010s, has introduced listeners into his world with arresting, cinematic retellings of avenue narratives that burst with perspective and perception. His foray into foolishness will all the time be seen as a fleeting dalliance with what it’d imply to be a real blue popstar. In the meantime, Drake has reached the top of stardom. However on the threat of ceding any floor to youthful rappers when it comes to streams and cultural affect, Drake is sticking to what works: a literal embodiment of the “good man” to fuckboi pipeline. At the same time as Drake wishes to be one of many biggest past simply the numbers, the formulation that works so effectively for him may also be stifling any sense of creative progress.
Rap has all the time featured a way of silliness. It’s a style constructed on city legend and avenue fantasy, on enjoying the handfuls and shit talkin’ on the playground with a bunch of the homies. It’s honest to query if rap has grown too unserious, too nihilistic for consolation. If hip-hop as mainstream’s most accepted type of linguistic and cultural foreign money has grown to care far much less concerning the capitalist social design that made the style’s formation so pressing, so indelible.
Hip-hop has reached an uncomfortable stage of vital mass—the income generated have by no means been increased, and it’s considered one of America’s most profitable exports. However rap’s osmosis into the mainstream has signaled a chemical imbalance. Rap’s vital vein has been minimized in widespread media, which highlights figures like Kendrick Lamar as tokenized representatives of rap’s political messaging. No matter how he may method a mic as soon as he’s able to spit, listeners come to Lamar’s artwork projecting a ton of luggage onto it. However in these moments in “vary brothers” and “household ties,” the burdens of these myths and projections are unfastened from his shoulders. The rapper deemed genius does away with the pretensions, steps up the senselessness only a contact, and goes fucking silly. And what outcomes is fairly superb, brother.