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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Kendrick Lamar enters the scene with a historic debut

Published: November 9, 2012
Section: Features

Since hip hop rose from the streets of Brooklyn in the 1970s, artists’ careers have largely been measured by their debut albums. Such classics as Nas’ “Illmatic,” Jay-Z’s “Reasonable Doubt” and Kanye West’s “The College Dropout” resulted in career-defining albums that have had a lasting impact on hip hop as an art form. Kendrick Lamar’s official debut album, “good kid, m.A.A.d city” deserves mention along with the aforementioned classics, and instantly launches Lamar to a space shared by few unique stars.

On his official introduction to the world, Lamar displays storytelling ability and a penchant for songwriting that separates him from his peers. The album is subtitled “A Short Film by Kendrick Lamar” and Lamar really takes this concept and runs with it. VHS clicking-and-whirring sound effects and skits that appear at the end of almost every song add texture to an already engrossing experience.

The opening track, “Sherane a.k.a. Master Splinter’s Daughter” serves not only as the introduction of a recurring character throughout the album, Sherane, but allows Lamar to display his ability to tell an intricate story. The two title tracks, “good kid” and “m.A.A.d city” serve as microcosms of the overarching story Lamar tries to convey with the album. The latter includes an ingenious guest spot by MC Eiht, whose gruff delivery and in-your-face presence makes him the perfect character to occupy Lamar’s “m.A.A.d city.”

While the bulk of the album reveals layered details of Lamar’s upbringing—alongside fiction—the closing track, “Compton,” acts as a transition into the current phase of Lamar’s life. It features Dr. Dre, a hip hop legend, and a celebratory tone that distinguishes it from the reality based, dark lyrics found throughout most of the album.

Lamar’s in-house producers provide the bulk of the music on the album. This familiarity is evident, as the music is perfectly paired with the lyrical content on each song. “Backseat Freestyle” includes a loud bass, paired with odd vocal samples that fit well with the aggressive, confident tone of Lamar’s lyrics. “Poetic Justice” features a Janet Jackson sample that smoothly wraps around the seductive, female-centric rhymes provided by Lamar and featured artist Drake.

With “good kid, m.A.A.d city,” Kendrick Lamar more than meets the hype that has surrounded him the past two years. The good kid from Compton, Calif., breathes fresh life into a genre desperately in need of it.

In new album, Lupe Fiasco echoes previous success

The past two years or so have been a wild ride for Lupe Fiasco. He experienced creative issues with his label, Atlantic, which resulted in a critically panned (yet commercially successful) third album, “Lasers.” “Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Pt.1” marks a return to the meaningful subject matter, masterful storytelling and lyrical complexity of which we all knew him capable. “The Great American Rap Album” is not as much a boastful claim as it is a commentary on everything American: society, politics, history and culture, including hip hop. As in his first two releases, the album opens with a thematic poem performed by Fiasco’s sister, Ayesha. She briefly touches on topics that will be further discussed throughout the album, as she compares America with the rest of the world to highlight the problems we face at home.

“Bitch Bad” uses its three verses, each told from a different perspective, to explore the use of the word “bitch” in American music. Fiasco’s delivery on the song is a purposeful imitation of the typical rapper who may overuse the aforementioned word and the beat is standard of a song that may contain such language. These small touches add to the message of the song and Fiasco fills in the rest with his visual narratives in each verse.

“Audubon Ballroom” and “Unforgivable Youth” highlight the ills of America’s relationship with race and its destructive past. “Form Follows Function” and “Put ’Em Up” are purely lyrical—hip hop in its purest form—as Fiasco rhymes circles around his peers and exemplifies why his lyrics deserve repeated listens to fully digest.

Thematically, Fiasco sticks to the the same basic subjects but the album does veer off in places. A three-song stretch, beginning with “Heart Donor,” deals with romantic issues, which would normally be acceptable, but in the case of Fiasco’s tightly conceptual project, the songs, while enjoyable, feel out of place and distract from the great flow established by the first eight songs.

Fiasco’s previous album, “Lasers,” was comprised of electronic, EDM influenced sounds, leaving fans pining for Fiasco to return to the traditional hip-hop-leaning beats of his past. “The Great American Rap Album” may not match the musical dexterity of his first two albums but it does make a marked improvement over the EDM of “Lasers.”

It is nearly impossible to talk about a Lupe Fiasco album release without bringing up his first two masterpieces, “Food & Liquor” and “The Cool.” Fiasco set the bar, so high, so early in his career, that anything less than a classic feels like a letdown. “The Great American Rap Album Pt. 1” is not a classic by any means, but it is an impressive return to form of an artist lauded for his content and lyrical skill.