Last week I went into a store in perennially hip Bondi with a friend. Although Bondi Beach has steadily become the new Surry Hills, that former bastion of rad, this particular store was one that both Brother J and I had remarked on previously. Even for uber-cool Bondi, the store – all custom tees, skater chic and one-of-a-kind Vans, Supreme etc rarities – seemed too cool for Bondi. When you outclass even the classiest of neighbourhoods, that’s when you know you have a real retail proposition on your hands. So it was with more than a little curiosity that I finally crossed the threshold into a shop that, for all visible intents and purposes, couldn’t have been trading on anything other than its vast reserves of cultural capital. Inside, my astoundingly less impressed mate went straight for a row of hats, picked out ne that she’d had her eye on and proceeded to the cash register (read: MacBook Pro with a sleek card-reader attached by a tentacle of cord) to make her purchase. I couldn’t believe it; but two minutes inside the Castle of Cool and I was going to be unceremoniously dragged back out without the slightest improvement in my Klout score! And then I recognised the soundtrack and everything changed.
‘Kendrick!’ I exclaimed, reveling for a moment in a secret mononymic bond of recognition with the shop assistant. Others nonchalantly browsing and another staff member turned from perusing the impossibly exclusive stock at the scent of such unbridled, music-focused joy. ‘Bro, did you see him the other night?’ the assistant asked and I, having missed out on the sold-out show, sadly shook my head no. As if we were now somehow bound up in our appreciation of the Compton local who first one support from one of California’s first kings of rap and was then ushered quickly, passed a number one US album and the scores of TV appearances that come with it, towards his own, newly founded kingdom, the assistant beckoned me over to the Mac, turned off the store’s sound system and switched on his grainy iPhone videos from that fateful nights. Never mind! other well-to-do potential customers. Fuck yourself! store manager. We were talking about Kendrick Lamar here and suddenly everything else, patterned shirts and rad kicks, A-hats and big dollars for Biggie figurines, ceased to matter, ceased to exist. ‘Check this shit out man!’ he beamed. ‘Look at my arm, I still get goosebumps watching it now!’
On tracks like ‘Swimming Pools (Drank)’ and ‘Art of Peer Pressure’ and really across the length of his official long-playing debut format good Kid M.a.a.D City, Kendrick Lamar railed against the ordinary, against the status quo and against being made to fit into any popular understanding of rap artist, Compton local, Black youth etc. Ironically, the quirky and flawless way in which he went about crafting this niche for himself, defining his act out of contradictions, has won him legions of fans the world over who, like Goosebumps Guy and myself, will not shy away from proclaiming our utmost admiration for the kid from Compton who took on the commercial rap world and won. By so vehemently refusing to fit the mold, Kendrick has cast a new mold which edgy kids, weirdos and thrill seekers are more than willing to fill. ‘Swimming Pools’, the album’s lead single after the Dre-featuring ‘The Recipe’ is an exemplar of just what made Kendrick such a force in 2012 and drove personalities as diverse as Calvin Harris to proclaim him their MVP for the year. There is nothing cool about taking a critical look at the pervasive culture of binge drinking. Everything cool vests in recognizing and condoning it (see LMFAO’s offensive ‘Shots’). There is nothing cool about talking to yourself on track in pitch-adjusted vocals. There is nothing cool about a slowed-down call-and-response hook. There is nothing cool about working through your inner demons on a track you want to chart. There is nothing cool about dropping your shoulder and bouncing to an iPhone recording in a clothes store in hip Bondi. But then, Kendrick Lamar redefines cool anyway.
Kendrick Lamar – ‘Swimming Pools (Drank)’