I last wrote about Kendrick Lamar after the release of the second single from the his forthcoming major label debut ‘Good Kid, m.A.A.d City’ (due out Oct 22, but difficult to tell as release has consistently been pushed back). ‘The Recipe‘ channeling ‘‘ and again showcasing an up-and-coming artist who outshone Dr Dre at his own game, was potentially Kendrick’s most commercial offering to date. The independently released ‘Section 80‘ was probably one of the best rap albums of 2011 and won the 25-year-old Compton local plenty of critical plaudits but Aftermath doesn’t keep the lights on with acclaim nor does Interscope pay dividends with praise. As such, there is some serious anticipation building around the album that, should it generate merely half the buzz in album-buying circles as it has in critic circles, could be a game changer – both for Kendrick and for the game more generally.
Plenty of rappers have a go at trying on the social conscious hat but few do it as effectively as Lamar who, aside from growing up in the circumstances that many others can only attempt to creatively imagine, has an indisputable knack with conveying lyrical images. Beyond the consistent, engaging texture of his vocals and the near unparalleled dexterity with which he delivers them, Kendrick Lamar has a way of making subject matter far from an everyday white, middle class reality enthralling for such an audience. Whilst the ethnographic thrill of exploring cultural difference from the safety of a pair of headphones has something to do with it, others have let us in on this seeming alternate reality before. Instead, Kendrick Lamar appeals as the full package. With technical skill, nonchalant storytelling brilliance, industry kudos and genuine insights into worlds alternatively more glitzy and depraved than our own to boot, he is generating the kind of buzz usually attributed to and then disproved by artists who boast one or two of those criteria. Lining up Lady Gaga and Drake for ‘GKMC’, the critical and mainstream stars finally look set to align.
But before Kendrick gives over to the commercial forces that be, this third, semi-official release from ‘GKMC’ brings fans back into more typically Lamarian, fundamentally darker territory. In many respects, the reason I enjoy following Kendrick so much at this early stage is that he brings to mind the lyrical tenacity of Lupe Fiasco’s concept album, ‘The Cool’. Nonetheless, because he is yet to be crushed by the weight of commercial expectation such that his social commentary tracks take on the unnecessarily aggressive quality that now so often underpins Lupe’s work, what we’re left with is a young artist with serious talent and confidence and, ostensibly, the label freedom to pursue his narrative interests. ‘The Art of Peer Pressure’ is fantastic: unrelentingly serious, subtly provocative, mainstream unpalatable and exceedingly evocative. We ride shotgun alongside Kendrick and his ‘homies’, invited to see for ourselves the futility of their violent, misogynistic endeavours. In his non-smoking, anti-drinking ways, the artisan approach he takes to recording and releasing material and finally in his lyricism, Lamar clearly doesn’t want to be one of the homies. Thankfully for us, he’s a totally different species altogether.
Kendrick Lamar – Art Of Peer Pressure