Once upon a time in a universe far, far away, HipHopDX used to host blogs. Through Meka, Brillyance, Aliya Ewing and others, readers got unfiltered opinions on the most current topics in and beyond Hip Hop. After a few years, a couple redesigns and the collective vision of three different Editors-In-Chief, blogs are back. Well, sort of. Since our blog section went the way of two-way pagers and physical mixtapes, Twitter, Instagram and Ustream have further accelerated the pace of current events in Hip Hop. Rappers beef with each other 140 characters at a time, entire mixtapes (and their associated artwork) can be released via Instagram, and sometimes these events require a rapid reaction.
As such, we’re reserving this space for a weekly reaction to Hip Hop’s current events. Or whatever else we deem worthy. And the “we” in question is me, Andre Grant and Ural Garrett. Collectively we serve as HipHopDX’s Features Staff. Aside from tackling stray topics, we may invite artists and other personalities in Hip Hop to join the conversation. Without further delay, here’s this week’s “Stray Shots.”
Does Kendrick Lamar’s Rap Career Defy Expectations?
Ural: A few days ago, video footage emerged of Kendrick Lamar and his entourage dodging TMZ photographers at LAX in the classiest way possible. That’s right, turning the tables by filming them back. As K.Dot and his crew made their way to an exit vehicle, the Australian paparazzi asked him some dumb question about how Tupac would act if he was alive today. Lamar’s answer: By throwing up the mutha fuckin dub. That moment is one in many examples of an artist’s that’s in control of every ounce of his identity. Oh yeah, he also so happens to make groundbreaking music as well. As the music industry scrambles to deal with record sales challenges and emerging streaming market, the motto has always relegated to simply one thing; whatever works for the bottom line. In terms of Hip Hop, that’s left anything remotely dealing with socio-political themes to niche fan bases that normally never reach mainstream audiences. It’s plainly clear what’s winning in terms of the majority. From Section 80 to To Pimp A Butterfly, Lamar has managed to tackle a plethora of taboo subjects within the African American community and articulate issues well enough for mainstream consumers to understand. In 2015, the Compton emcee released tracks like “Blacker The Berry” and “Complexion”(featuring one of Hip Hop’s most underrated artists Rapsody) on a major label while still finding time to canoodle with the likes of Ellen or BFF Taylor Swift.
How exactly can one who rhymed: “when I get signed hommie, I’mma buy a strap, straight from the CIA, set it on my lap, take a few M-16’s to the hood, pass ‘em out on the block, what’s good?” on some Spook Who Lived Next Door shit manage to be loved so much by mainstream? The easiest answer is that he’s mastered the art of staying the fuck out of trouble and hungry news cycles. Looking deeper, Lamar’s music is good enough to speak for him. In fact, so good that in his most recent interviews, he comes off as fairly regular and at some times, uninteresting. It’s fairly obvious that TPAB is racially fueled but not defined by it. Lamar doesn’t play the victim or want his people to as well. However, he understands the notion that white supremacy does, in fact, exist. For most idiots, it’s one or the other. In Kendrick’s (and people with common sense) case, they aren’t mutually exclusive. Pro-blackness doesn’t mean anti-white. That particular neutral stance has benefited him greatly whether it’s love from indie and mainstream, respect from those who oppose authorities and those run them or having ties to people of a lower socioeconomic background and those who live lives of luxury. While most emcees attempt to cater to one specific group, Lamar has successfully become something for everyone.
Andre: Kendrick Lamar’s career is absolutely defying all expectations. The young Lamar’s remarkable career has several factors attached to it that, in this modern context, is very, very rare. He’s been unapologetic about the content that he raps about, for one. Taking to the next level a conscious rap arena that has been relegated to the trash heap of Hip Hop history. He’s resurrected a few other blasts-from-the-past as well. A technical take on emceeing that has also, mostly, been thrown by the wayside for the beat and hook promise of southern, strip-club Hip Hop. And as great as those how-low-can-you-go BPM’s and booty shaking anthems can be when you’re in a dark spot eyeing a PYT, that’s just not all there is. Kendrick has made a career as a boutique experience now catching on amongst a much wider audience. And just when you expect him to go all young Mark Ecko mall-du-jour he doubles down on the musicality of things. Section .80 was an expose on topics in the African American community rarely spoken about like child prostitution and a lack of guidance about anything, anywhere in the hood. Yet, he still made it sound joyous and alive. GKMC was a meditation on black rage, somehow made to communicate that anger to the very folks that many consider the cause of it.+
But Kendrick never chooses sides, he is in the rare minority of people who can both glance at one sort of oppression and see it reflected back to him in the shifting modalities of many others. This is a point that is very easily misconstrued. And so it sounds like he’s giving lip service to the women, men, children, whoever shot dead like dogs in their own streets, their own homes by marauding thugs with badges. Shit, even I raised a brow when he got all, but we have to respect ourselves in order for other people to respect us Schmiel-y. Suddenly I was back to slinging logic to too dressed middle-of-the-road blacks whose fear of white folks is only surpassed by their will to be like white folks. Dark times. But looking back at that statement I have to reconsider. It’s possible that he could be saying what TPAB states plainly: that there is great evil and it begins inside of you. Oy Vey! Who has the time to put those sorts of things in perspective? Everything is happening so quickly! But the man is beloved across genre despite what he chooses to rap about. This Taylor Swift thing, the winning a Grammy for “i,” the graceful way he handled losing a Grammy to Macklemore and the rage he cultivated for his next project, all of this is only the beginning.
Andre Grant is an NYC native turned L.A. transplant that has contributed to a few different properties on the web and is now the Features Editor for HipHopDX. He’s also trying to live it to the limit and love it a lot. Follow him on Twitter @drejones.
Ural Garrett is a Los Angeles-based journalist and HipHopDX’s Senior Features Writer. When not covering music, video games, films and the community at large, he’s in the kitchen baking like Anita. Follow him on Twitter @Uralg.