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Over the past two years the “turn up” has been real in the ever-evolving world of Hip Hop.
With hit singles like, “No Flex, Zone” and “Versace!” taking over the airwaves in recent history, it’s apparent that this is no longer your uncle’s hip hop. Rapper’s Delight is now a collector’s listen, the days of LL Cool J, I Used To Love H.E.R., and classic names like Eric B & Rakim are a thing of the past. Today’s mainstream Hip Hop is in a superfluous transition to more of a “popular” brand of music… an airwaves-made version of what is now passed off as the new era in hip hop. This is a time when a fun beat, catchy-sing-songy hook, and coherent enough raps to smudge in between, are overwhelmingly valued over lyrics with intention that go beyond popping molly or sipping lean with a stripper. Today’s culture of “ratchet” is saturating a genre of music that once coined the terms “fight the power,” and “I’ve got a love jones for your body and your skin tone.” We’re now two years removed from the release of one of the best hip hop albums of this generation.
Kendrick Lamar’s 2012 major label debut, “good kid m.A.A.d city” reminded the world that deep down, true hip hop was still alive and well. The offering was dubbed a classic early upon its release. Kendrick had used his platform to offer a glimpse into the life and times of a “good kid” growing up in a city full of violence, drugs and a plethora of negative peer pressures. The hip hop community loved it because it was honest, inspiring, ratchet, and thought-provoking all at the same time. It was a story of triumph in spite of. And Kendrick introduced the masses to this masterpiece with “Swimming pools,” the lead single that at surface value, served as nothing more than a party anthem calling for everyone to “pour up” and “drink”. But when you get past the catchy hook, and “turn up” beat, this party anthem was sprinkled with an underlying message; with the understanding that the true context of his intentions were embodied throughout the album. He had made the “radio formula” work to his benefit. J.Cole, another well renowned rapper of the new generation, once penned, “I’d rather make tracks where I bleed into it, the singles only the look to sell these people the book, I can only pray that one day you’ll read into it.” And read into good kid m.A.A.d .d city we did. Kendrick was truly saying something. But that was two years ago.
In the stead of Kendrick’s last album, the majority of hip hop radio spins have been dominated by the Migos and Iggy Azaleas of the world. And that’s no knock on those artists or any others in the same category. But it’s no secret that the follow up to Kendrick’s debut has been the most widely anticipated album since…dare I say…Dr. Dre’s Detox?? That’s an entirely separate piece on its own! We’ve all been waiting to see what the next chapter of the good kid in a mAAd city would look like.
On the release date of the new single, “i,” I awoke like an excited 8 –year old kid on his birthday, hoping he gets that super soaker 3-thousand he’d been “sneakily” hinting about. As I opened my soundcloud, I was a bit surprised at some of the comments suggesting that the new single was wack. My mind couldn’t process the notion that the Section 80 lyricist would shy away from his pocket of substance and sure-fire lyrics. Admittingly, after my first listen I was just simply excited to have new music from Kendrick; I wasn’t yet sure what I’d heard. After my 10th listen I struggled with hating it, loving it, wondering what the rest of the album sounded like, back to hating it, and then landing firmly on appreciating the hell out of it. Kendrick has delivered another radio-friendly single that promotes positivity. The beat samples from the Isley Brothers feel good classic, “Who’s That Lady,” and it’s coupled it with an ever familiar, catchy-sing-songy hook. But this one is different. There’s no calling for drinks here, or a trap beat informing us that Mike Will Made-It. The message takes precedence over all filler. That annoying hook that you can’t get out of your head has value now. “I Love Myself”. I’m sure Kendrick understands the premise of creating simple, melodic hooks that trickle into the listener’s subconscious. What I applaud is his gall to take that concept, and insert a positive affirmation. A phrase that I’m sure most of us fail to use as often as maybe we should.
With the daily grind of work, children, bills, negative influences, positive influences, we rarely take the time to truly reaffirm ourselves. Not in a self-righteous manner, but in a way that promotes valuing who we are. In this day and age, mental health – depression in particular – has been at the forefront of quite a bit of social conversations. I love myself. How often do we live THAT? This radio single can be a game changer. It can be a moment in hip hop that pushes us to step back and really appreciate our worth as human beings. A moment to brush aside negative influences, and put the pressure on ourselves to love ourselves enough not to succumb to the evils of the world. As Kendrick proclaims in, i, “The sky can fall down, the wind can cry now, the strong in me will still smile, because I Love Myself.” Imagine if we all adopted such an outlook on life. It’s refreshing to see an individual come in and redesign the rules, to step out of the box of the norm and take a shot at leadership. Kendrick recently said in an interview that he would prefer his music to be labeled as statements rather than singles, and I for one am looking forward to more of the declarations he has in store for this next album.
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