Admittedly, I’m a little late to the Kendrick party. Cats from my generation of hip hop heads are loathe to dick ride the latest rhyme slinger due to the code we came up under: you don’t jock something or someone just because the masses rush it like ants on candy, especially if you wasn’t down with him from day one. That was some front artist poser shit that niggas would quickly clown you about. It just wasn’t done. Before you co- signed an M.C with your imprimatur and cold hard cash, You had to be thorough with your due diligence which meant going back and listening to early work, 12 inch singles, features, mix tapes, etc. and then if the artist was really dope you got down with them.
My oldest daughter first tried to put me up on Kendrick Lamar back in 2011 when his Section 80 joint started echoing out of Compton and into the ears of next generation L.A. hip hop Aficionados. They embraced him as the embodiment of the young black Southern Cali zeitgeist the way my generation had locked onto N.W.A twenty five years earlier. Because my daughter’s early life was spent crawling around milk crates full of vinyl and watching her daddy exercise his love of cutting up James Brown breaks on the one and two’s she knew the real from Fugazi , so I respected her opinion enough to check my inner curmudgeon and bend an ear towards the nascent beat griot. And even though my well seasoned ears got silver hair growing out of them, I still keep try to keep my channel open to new iterations of the muse. However, I honestly wasn’t feeling Kendrick upon my first few exposures.
Looking back I can see how my obsessive tendencies had me preoccupied with the shit I was vibing to at the time-Southern trap music, Lupe Fiasco, M.F. Doom, Kool Keith, Flying Lotus, Mad Lib, Little brother, underachievers, Dilla, etc. Combine that with the fact that I’ve always been a cat wh was drawn to a record by its beat. So unless an M.C. was riding a hot track like 26’s on a box Chevy he was going to have a hard time holding my attention on the strength of bars alone.
Go on and lump me in with the rest of the old heads and our love of obscure D.J. Premier samples, precise cuts, scratches, seamless blends, Pete Rock tracks and rhyme scientists like Rakim Allah, Guru, Kane and Cube.
I thought I had aged out of the new school and its Dixie dope boy fantasy world of candy paint, purple drank, endless kilos, weed, mollies, big booty hoes, money and Black Liberace in Versace narrative. The only thing that kept me halfway engaged was what would come to be known as the “trap beat”. Once again the 808 sub woofing deep in the heart of my love kept me faithful to H.E.R. I even grew to appreciate the southern style of rapping with its bluesy, molasses slow flow drawling over swamp water bass kicks, AK47 staccato cymbals and snares cracking like plantation whips on a nigga’s ass. Kinda reminded me of early L.A. hip hop like Rodney O and Joe Cooley , Mix master Spade and King Tee .Yeah, Kendrick was ill no doubt, but he wasn’t rattling my crown and root chakras….yet.
I waded into the deep end of Kendrick’s sea of moral complexity submerging beneath the beat on “swimming pools”. It was my introduction to a kaleidoscopic multiverse of infinite grey areas where “every shut eye ain’t sleep and every goodbye ain’t gone”. A space where a good kid in a MAAD city pimp limps the gamut between a young brother actualizing his potential for genius or getting mobbed onto the set for a life of ….you can guess the rest. That shit is age old in L.A. and every brother from low riders to skateboarders overstands it. Drive past Inglewood Park Cemetery ‘round midnight and listen to your dead remind you to “sing about me”. I swear not a Monday morning goes by when my body ain’t stuck in 110 south traffic , but my mind is day dreaming of raking up leaves under ”money trees”. Crown and root chakras fully vibrational.
So now I’m wide open. Still the inner Public Enemy in me that ninja creeps in broad daylight through a maze of structural hate barriers fiends for a soundtrack that mirrors my struggle.
I know way too many niggas hustling hand to mouth to be rocked to sleep by hyperreal superthug fairytales with video ho happy endings. The true “D” boy lifestyle is really about scuffling for 25 to 30 racks a year by desperadoes trying hard not to spend the rent money to re –up while wrestling with the question “what’s the point of surviving if you can’t live?”
Maybe it’s racial, but I need my hip hop to speak to my condition.
Maybe it’s generational, but I look to beats and rhymes to function as combat hymns ministering to my spirit with weaponized information.
Blame the Watts Prophets, Last Poets, Gil Scott-Heron, Mutabaruka, Chuck D, X clan, KRS 1 and a legion of Poor Righteous teachers for my high expectations and low tolerance for hip hop mediocrity. Every Super “Heru” needs a theme song.
So what up Kendrick? You got something in your dope sack for me Playa?
One day whilst slow roasting Nicki Minaj’s prodigious ass over an open fire with my renaissance homie E.Ray, he offered up a Kendrick joint to cleanse our palates. “ My nigga have you heard Hii power?” Tempted by the prospect of inhaling some fresh lines of vintage uncut Kendrick I Youtubed the track and got froze instantly;
“…so get up off that slave ship/ build your own pyramids/ write your own hieroglyphs”/ “…everyday we fight the system/ we fight the system, never like the system/ we been down for too long / but that’s alright”/ ”… grown men never should bite they tongues/ unless you eatin’ pussy that smell like a stale plum…./ and everything on T.V. just a figment of imagination/ I don’t want a plastic nation/ dread shit like a Haitian/ while you muthafuckas waiting/ ill be off the slave ship building my own pyramids, wrIting my own hieroglyphs”.
DAMN. If those lines weren’t dope enough to illuminate all a niggas chakra wheels and make ‘em spin counterclockwise, the youngsta laces the track with an Orson Welles sound bite at the 1:59 mark that embeds a subliminal context for the rhymes. Check it: “He is sort of a gangster you know, because this is a gangster story, but a gangster with a difference, because this is a gangster with a conscience”. Now go back, scrape the mirror and freeze your gums with his references to Marcus Garvey, Huey Newton, Malcolm X, Fred Hampton, Bobby Seale, and Martin Luther King. Then rethink the “thug Life” punctuation that closes the track. Hidden gems and cloaked wisdom penetrate the pineal gland and soak subtly into your cranium releasing piping hot serotonin. Like I said, every Super “Heru” needs a theme song.
In our illusory 21st century post racial “winter in America” it’s cold as a muthafucka and once again we are under siege by a hostile nation of blond blood thirsty polar cave beasts intent on our total destruction. Its wartime and We need our combat hymns. Back in the day we had Curtis Mayfield to help us “keep on pushing”(60’s) then Bob Marley picked up the torch and led us further on our “Exodus” (70’s) followed by Public Enemy who implored us to “fight the power” (80’s).
Somewhere along the journey , we became content with being fed crumbs from the corners of the mouths of bougeois “spokesniggers” who gorged themselves on Massa’s left overs.
That shits done. Never y’all mind , the ancestors shall not be mocked much longer. They have sent the muse among us once again with new combat hymns being channeled by brothers like Kendrick Lamar with the remote in his hand. And this time the revolution will be televised straight to your consciousness without commercial interruption.