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Under the Influence: Kendrick Lamar


This week, our music review intern Oscar Anderson brings you a playlist built on the music of Kendrick Lamar and the music that foreshadowed and inspired his work.

Every artist on this playlist influenced the next. The last artist on the playlist is under the spotlight. This time, it’s Kendrick Lamar. Ever since the release of his second studio album, Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, it seems like everybody’s talking about Kendrick Lamar. His next two albums, To Pimp A Butterfly and DAMN were both met with critical acclaim. Kendrick is at the forefront of “conscious” rap; making social commentary that you can still blast at a party. In his own words: “I'm not the next pop star, I'm not the next socially aware rapper/I am a human mothaf***in' being, over dope ass instrumentation/Kendrick Lamar.”

Kendrick cites Tupac Shakur, The Notorious B.I.G., Jay Z, Nas, and Eminem as artists who have influenced him. It’s a winning formula, as they are often considered some of the greatest rappers of all time. Tracking Kendrick’s influences is a good example of the evolution of hip-hop, from the very beginning to today. It all started with early blues; like delta blues artist Son House, and his progeny, blues icon Muddy Waters; and then rock and roll’s beginnings with pioneer Chuck Berry. Chuck Berry’s rock and roll led to the the innovative funk of James Brown and Rick James.

Early rappers were essentially funk artists with rhythmic, spoken lyrics. Monosyllabic rhyme schemes like the ones used by Kurtis Blow paved the way for later rap’s more complex poetic structures, exhibited by Kool Moe Dee and Rakim. Rakim greatly impacted the new wave of rappers emerging in the ‘90s—including those that Kendrick Lamar cites as his greatest influences—and revolutionized the concept of ‘flow’ in hip-hop. Rappers from the ‘90s, like Nas and Tupac, spoke openly about issues surrounding drugs, violence, and poverty that affected them, in contrast to earlier rap’s relatively tame lyrics. Nas’s lyrical imagery of Queens is vivid, and comparable to Kendrick’s descriptions of Compton. Kendrick is often compared to Tupac Shakur, even likening himself to Tupac on occasion. Kendrick’s unique brand of introspective hip-hop feels like a logical progression from Nas and Tupac’s street poetry, and his beats incorporate funk inflected bass riffs that call back to hip hop’s origins.


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