Photo courtesy of rapgenius.com
By Sebastian De Lasa
Kendrick Lamar limps to center stage. He is in front of a chain gang, surrounded by a dark stage. The stage resembles a jail. When he opens his mouth, he lights a fire under America.
Performances with this many viewers are never so political, so powerful. Kendrick Lamar built his fame on his quality as a lyricist, and his songs cut directly at the oppression he felt growing up in Compton, California. His performance was aimed directly at America, at all races, ages and levels of economic wealth. He provided a voice for those who aren’t usually heard. Rap is often stereo typed as a bastard child of music. It began in the Bronx, around the time of the infamous riots and arson that took place during the 1970s. Kendrick is the metaphorical child of East Coast rappers like Rakim, Q-Tip and Nas, and West Coast rappers like Tupac. These artists all had amazing DJs and producers, but the real power was in what they were saying.
They provided commentary on culture, politics and life from a perspective many people didn’t usually hear. Kendrick has been tapping into that vein. He has been the most critically acclaimed artist of the past five years, but his message has not been accepted by all of America.
Kendrick’s message is one of social change. He is the leading voice for a group that is usually ignored: the black youth of America. He talks about issues that are actually relevant to people; he raps about things that he cares about, the hopes and aspirations of people trying to succeed in life while the odds are stacked monumentally against them. It’s pretty hard for people to disagree with what he’s trying to say. But there are still people who continue to try to devalue what he’s saying and delegitimize him. A Fox
News pundit once said, “[Kendrick Lamar] has done more damage to young African- Americans than racism.” Kendrick Lamar is standing up against police brutality, systemic oppression and racism itself. His self-expression in the name of equality is empowering, not damaging. People need to learn to look past rap’s stereotype and understand what he’s trying to say.
Metacritic, a ratings website that takes reviews from every major movie, music and gaming website gave “To Pimp a Butterfly,” Kendrick’s latest album, a 96 rating out of 100. It is the fourth highest rated album on the entire site. “1989,” by Taylor Swift, re- ceived a 76—a solid rating, but nowhere near as monumental as that of “To Pimp A But- terfly.” Yet the Grammy Award for Album of the Year went to Taylor Swift. The people voting for the recipients of these awards are predominantly male and white. Pop music like Swift’s isn’t controversial, nor will it anger anyone. But to make people angry due to integrity is fine. Kendrick Lamar fully deserved the award, and to deny that he had the best album of the lear is honestly preposterous. Even considering the reality that Taylor Swift made a pretty solid album, you cannot deny both the importance and quality of “To Pimp a Butterfly.”
Kendrick Lamar was the most important artist of 2015, which was a year filled with emotion. The Black Lives Matter movement adopted his song, “Alright,” as its battle cry, so to speak. “Alright” is an interesting song. It both acknowledges the mistakes Kendrick has made, as well as simply states that, “It’s gon’ be alright.” It’s the message this country needs so dearly. There have been mistakes and great injustices, but it’s time for the country to get over them. A fresh start for the country is important, and Kendrick is a changemaker.
NOTE: Kendrick Lamar secretly released an album after the time that this was written; the author gives it a 9.3.
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