Why Comparing Kendrick Lamar to Any Other Rapper is an Exercise in Futility
By: Alex Marcheschi
Our society assumes that comparisons can always be made, but this obsession with comparisons doesn’t account for raw originality. For years it has been asked if LeBron is the next MJ, and the answer to that question is obviously “no.” But, this is not because of shortcomings by LeBron, it’s because LeBron is the most creative, original basketball player we have ever seen. We’ve never seen a 6’8″, 250 lb dude sprint down the court with the grace of a world class track athlete, rip down rims like Karl Malone, chase down unassuming layup attempters like a lion hunting gazelles, launch perfect rainbow threes that drop as if they were sent from heaven and make cross-court passes with pinpoint accuracy. It’s offensive to LeBron to compare him to any other person who has ever worked in his profession.
The same can be said for Kendrick Lamar.
To compare Kendrick’s latest album, DAMN., to any other album that has ever been released is simply lazy and illogical. After the first time I listened to it, I quickly came to the realization that I am not qualified to musically review it. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever heard, to review it after anything less than 100 listens wouldn’t do it justice.
One thing I can say is this is the first album I’ve ever heard that simultaneously sounds great and basically functions as 300-level college sociology course. I’m not one of Kendrick’s ride or die guys, but I do love Kung Fu Kenny.
For example, if I’m being honest, I really couldn’t get into To Pimp a Butterfly or Untitled Unmastered. It was hard for me to listen to those albums and enjoy what I was doing, I recognize that the lyricism and thought contained in those albums was excellent, but it didn’t sound pleasing to me. The biggest reason for that is because I’m not a member Kendrick’s target audience, the stories contained in those albums were so intense and intricately told that I couldn’t even relate. It wasn’t Kendrick’s fault that I didn’t like those albums, it was mine.
That’s why I’m so impressed with DAMN., because I know it’s just as powerful and thought-provoking as his two prior projects were, but this time he figured out a way to make his message sound extremely pleasing to the ear. The melodies are perfect, and Kendrick’s sound is currently unmatched in hip hop, just as LeBron’s play is unmatched in the NBA.
I’ve never heard someone say such fierce things as casually as Kendrick does. You can tell that he spends hours upon hours meditating. He has dipped down into the depths of hell and ascended into heights of heaven in hopes of finding an appropriate response to oppression and suffering. This type of social commentary hasn’t been done since Tupac, and Kendrick hints at this in “ELEMENT.“:
None of y’all fuckin’ with the flow yeah, the flow yeah
Years in the makin’, and don’t y’all mistake it
I got ’em by a landslide, we talkin’ about races
You know this’ll never be a tie, just look at their laces
You know careers take off, just gotta be patient
Mr. One through Five, that’s the only logic
Fake my death, go to Cuba, that’s the only option
By saying that, Kendrick is saying that the comparisons people make within hip hop are both careless and meaningless. Constructing a top five list and even including other people in the same breath as Kendrick is offensive to him. He’s nearing the Tupac level where his ideas and statements are so truthful and jarring that his only logical option for peace might be faking his own death, as many speculate Tupac did. A common phrase in the hip hop world is “I’d die for this shit”, but unlike the others, when Kendrick says it he means it. This is evidenced in “ELEMENT.“:
I’m willin’ to die for this shit
I done cried for this shit, might take a life for this shit
Put the Bible down and go eye for an eye for this shit
Nobody else in the music industry right now can say that and remain in truth. Only Kendrick can. His songs are more than songs, they’re psychology lectures, Bible studies and displays of lyrical dominance all wrapped up in one tumbleweed made out of barbed wire.
He’s the most important musical artist alive right now and to compare him to anyone who currently exists, or anyone who has ever existed, is a mistake.