Racism, Culturalism, and The Product Of Institutionalism on a Young Black Male in America: Prime Mover's Track Reviews:
Artist: Kendrick Lamar
Release: March 16, 2015
Top Dawg, Interscope, Aftermath
Kendrick Lamar has been called many things; "The Saviour of Hip-Hop", "Controversial" "Innovative". People have said that he's biting Tupac, or that he's the next best thing. At the very least, the Top Dawg Entertainment show-runner has shown us one thing: that he can think for himself.
This album starts off with a surprising, strange, but most importantly, soothing collaboration between three greats: George Clinton, Thundercat and of course Kendrick Lamar. The smooth, funky bass on Wesley's Theory has you grooving from the moment the beat picks up (about 45 seconds in). Kendrick shows us a completely new side to an already multifaceted entertainer when he croons through the hook "At first I did love you. but now I just wanna fuck". It seems superficial, but some deeper digging, he finds himself relating to the audience not the relationship between him and a past lover, but him and the industry he finds himself communicating through. Kendrick doesn't skip a beat throughout the track. A phenomenal first track, and my favorite track after Blacker the Berry.
Kendirck finds himself using multiple voices on this album, from the mentioned crooning, to the nasally cross between spoken word and rapping you find on For Free? Some might skip through For Free? and other tracks like it, such as For Sale? and Complexion (A Zulu Love) but while they're not the strongest pieces of the album, listening through an album like To Pimp A Butterfly from start to finish, rather than picking through favorite tracks is entirely necessary to understanding the scope of how smart this album actually is.
Throughout this album, you find Kendrick going from the mindset that racism has impacted the life of him and his peers much more than mass media would have you believe, to the mindset that a lot of issues presented to a lot of poor (mostly black) youth are endemic of a self-built culture of gang violence and drug use (which, while I don't necessarily agree with, is an interesting and unique idea to be presented through hip-hop.)which he expresses through the almost satirization that you find on the track Institutionalized. You find him citing his grandmother's words throughout the hook:
Though this series of ideas is presented through the entire album, it reaches its apex in the song The Blacker The Berry. Kendrick comes off as almost scatter-brained or, for lack of a better phrase, schizophrenic. He begins each verse with the phrase: "I'm the biggest hypocrite of 2015" and then continues on to celebrate the color of his skin through spitefully relaying the perception of his skin color in relation to his worth. This seems to put forth the idea that Kendrick has become what he has in spite of institutionalized racicm."Shit don't change until you get up and wash yo ass"
"This plot is bigger than me, it's generational hatred. It's genocism, it's grimy little justification"
He weighs this idea with an intensity that comes through only the understanding of a rich history filled with the underhanded oppression of black people in past and modern U.S.A. This seems to be the common theme of the entire song until the last half of the 3rd verse which paints an entirely different picture
He follows this soon after with the track "i" that in spite of all this makes it noted that he's proud of where he's from and the color of his skin which seems almost forgiving in the new light of his feelings towards culturalism."It's funny how Zulu and Xhosa might go to war
Two tribal armies that want to build and destroy
Remind me of these Compton Crip gangs that live next door
Beefin' with Pirus, only death settle the score
So don't matter how much I say I like to preach with the Panthers
Or tell Georgia State "Marcus Garvey got all the answers"
Or try to celebrate February like it's my B-Day
Or eat watermelon, chicken, and Kool-Aid on weekdays
Or jump high enough to get Michael Jordan endorsements
Or watch BET cause urban support is important
So why did I weep when Trayvon Martin was in the street?
When gang banging make me kill a nigga blacker than me?
With all of this being said, although I might not necessarily agree with everything said, nor do I think every single song is catchy, technically sharp and well written/produced, I do think they are crucial to the forming of this album, which is smart, creative, and interesting.
At the very least, this album will spark very important conversations for years to come, which is exactly what Kendrick Lamar aimed to do.
Prime Mover raps, and writes reviews on other rap. You can find him on Twitter @ twitter.com/primemoverraps