When Kendrick Lamar arrived in South Africa in February of 2014, he was riding the wave of his critically acclaimed album, good kid m.A.A.d city. He was a rap star, no doubt, but the world was still warming to him.
Two years – and seven Grammys – later, Kendrick is primed to go down as one of the greatest rappers of all time. He’s spoken at length about how influential his South African visit was. And this influence has manifested beautifully in his lyrics, his production and his performances.
To Pimp a Butterfly was near perfect. The jazzy sound that he opted for on this album suggested a heavy African influence.
good kid m.A.A.d city was a classic – let’s get that out the way. But, as seen by the glowing reviews from virtually every reputable source, To Pimp a Butterfly was near perfect. The jazzy sound that he opted for on this album suggested a heavy African influence – after all jazz as a music genre was deeply influenced by slave folk song and West African culture.
His music since 2014 has positioned itself in a genre of its own. A sort of socio-political genre that blends hip hop, R’n’B and jazz. His performances have been laced with creative activism and awe-inspiring statements of defiance (at the 2015 BET Awards he rapped provocatively on top of a police car, and, more recently, he produced a sprawling, ultimately triumphant performance on black life at the 2016 Grammys).
His latest album untitled, unmastered. sees Lamar continue with this new theme. Kendrick’s commitment to telling the truth and acting as the voice for the voiceless is more evident on this project than it has ever been.
‘F*ckin’ up the system, I ain’t f*ckin’ with society / Justice ain’t free, therefore justice ain’t me…’
Here are some songs that have displayed Kendrick’s love of the African continent over the last two years.
Kendrick Lamar’s genre-bending shift to colourful jazz-influenced beats in the last two years can be tracked back to the release of i – which fittingly earned him his first Grammy last year. Kendrick has described the song from To Pimp a Butterfly as the best song he’s ever written, probably because it was a defining moment in his evolution as an artist.
At the end of the song (the album version), Kendrick goes on a rant in front of a rowdy crowd questioning the use of the phrase ‘fuck niggas’. In this enlightening, deeply thoughtful moment, Kendrick goes on to propose an endearing alternative to the n-word – straight from Ethiopia!
‘Well, this is my explanation straight from Ethiopia
N-E-G-U-S definition: royalty; King royalty – wait listen
N-E-G-U-S description: Black emperor, King, ruler, now let me finish
The history books overlook the word and hide it.’