Rapper Kendrick Lamar performs at the Bonnaroo music festival in Manchester, Tenn.
Whenever rap fans start anointing some rising rapper as hip-hop's savior, it's hard to take seriously for a number of reasons. For one, rap doesn't need saving. Yes, everyone thinks they're a rapper and that has led to quality control issues. But having tons more people making music means the quantity of good music being made increases at least a little bit. Secondly, rap fans are always hyping up some dude as rap's next savior and they rarely deserve the hype. Finally, even if said rapper was that great, once that rapper makes it to the major labels, the labels will almost invariably force them into making concessions and going for that crossover pop appeal. It's just what they do.
And yet, here I am, girly-girl giddy at the prospect of seeing Kendrick Lamar this Wednesday at Soma. (Tickets here.) Kendrick is the L.A. lyricist currently anointed rap's prince and savior. He built his buzz organically by releasing a slew of excellent, free mixtapes and albums online, including last year's much-lauded Section.80, which showcases his dense, East Coast lyrical style as he addressed the issues facing a generation born under the maligned Reagan Era. His talent attracted the attention of West Coast legend Dr. Dre, who signed him to Interscope Records under Dre's Aftermath imprint. His major label debut, good kid, m.A.A.d city, is slated to drop on Oct. 22.
The major label signing is usually about the moment when things turn sour. In 2010, Southern white tongue-twister Yelawolf released an amazing mixtape-album, Trunk Muzik. Then he signed to Eminem's Shady Records and released the confused mess that is Radioinactive. Hip-hop history is rife with such examples of what A Tribe Called Quest labeled "Industry Rule #4080: Record company people are shady!"
So why get excited about Kendrick Lamar? He made a few songs with pop star Lady Gaga...and rejected it from his debut album. He's already made music with the biggest pop star in the world right now, a move that had to have his label excited at the thought of him making a sellout move on his own. And he's just like, "Nah, it doesn't fit this album." That's gotta be the biggest middle finger to his label and that's plenty of reason to be excited about good kid, m.A.A.d city.
Quan Vu Quan Vu is the founder and editor of local music blog sdRAPS.com. He has also written about local and national hip-hop acts for San Diego CityBeat and the San Diego Reader. You can nerd out on rap trivia by becoming BFF's on Facebook or e-mailing him directly.