Is Kendrick Lamar the Best Behind the Mic?
“I’m beginning to feel like a rap god…” Eminem sang on one of his more recent hits. The song was a tongue in cheek nod to the preeminence and massive popularity Marshall Mathers had attained in the “rap game.” While many bristled at this overt braggadocio, it’s something fairly common in rap, deserved or not. Eminem, even his critics agreed, was at least in this conversation for this unofficial beatification.
While it’s fair to say Eminem deserved the accolades, but there’s one rapper currently at the top of his — and THE — game, that has done it with a bit more humility. Kendrick Lamar did not take the consumerist way to the top. You know, radio-friendly hits and collaborations with anyone who’s had a Top 40 hit in recent memory. He didn’t try to create tabloid scandal or Twitter feuds or ancillary drama. He just dropped what many are calling the best rap album in years.
There have been a lot of wrappers with mad flow, and a lot of socially conscious emcees who really got people thinking with their lyrics. There have been clever lyricists and catchy hooks and quotable lines that everyone knows in songs no one can actually sing all the way through. On “DAMN,” Kendrick Lamar has done a little bit of some of that and a lot of others. Not that anyone’s particularly surprised.
Lamar was already a platinum-selling star before DAMN ever dropped. His first single from the album came out guns blazing against some anonymous targets. Then he followed that up with Humble, which laid bare the current self-absorbed consumerist culture. Some industry personalities are actually calling Lamar “what the forefathers of rap would’ve wanted” the genre to become. Others are praising Lamar’s substance as it is pulling the genre out of a Bentley and bullets obsession with too much glitz and far too much violence.
Critics have called DAMN “complex” and “beautiful” and “great quality”… And the fans? Well, they just went out and immediately snapped up a million units.
So, now the biggest question looming after Lamar’s third major label success is this: Is Lamar the future of rap, is he a turning point or is he a brief glimpse into what rap could be?
It’s an impossible question to answer. There’s no doubt that many studios will rush out and try to find rappers that can mimic his flow and his lyrical style, his honesty, and on-point topical delivery … but will they succeed? Let’s ask rap’s last “god” … Eminem had something to say about what happens when an artist with a particular style or looks gets over: “… Hey! There’s a concept that works … 20 million other white rappers emerge…”
Will this happen with Lamar? Probably. But there’s one thing you can’t fake, and you can’t clone: authenticity.
Eugene Schneur is a real estate mogul and the co-founder of Omni New York.