Why do we like Kendrick Lamar so much?

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| April 26 2016,

00:30 am


Why does listening to Kendrick Lamar feel so good? It might be more than just because of the artistic qualities of his music. It might be because he is a great expresser of the tragicomic and the tragic — the two hip-hop traditions that we believe produce cultural genius, and that how he expresses them matches this community’s customs
Commercialized hip-hop began its history as the expression of the comic. It then ambitiously veered to expressing the tragicomic, whether the subject was love, life, or liberty. Look up old rap albums and you’ll see them just having a good time. Then look at more recent hip-hop and it becomes about tragicomic self-hood. As hip-hop became an ultra-commercialized expression, tragicomic hip-hop was preserved as “real hip-hop,” whereas most of the commercial hip-hop came to be the expression of glamorous prosperity and, because of it, indifference. Rappers became hip-hop’s most interesting sign, which, to use a traditional African funeral rite as a metaphor, almost shattered the water jug. Certain commercial hip-hop artists, such as Jay Z, were able to play the romantically patrimonial game of expressing new ultra-commercial glamour, all the while being committed to expressing classical tragicomic emotion true to being young, soulful, and either living in a ghetto or having lived in a ghetto. A few hip-hop artists express tragedy and the tradition began with tragicomic hip-hop. Those who decide to, like Tupac, do it as a political or a social project. Tragedy is also given an aura in black culture, maybe because of the social history of this community.
Enter Kendrick. Kendrick Lamar is now well-known for artistically expressing tragedy, which we respect. We even saw him perform the tragic during the Grammys. Regardless of the weight of the subject, the masculine elegance of his delivery is always on point and it’s exactly what makes his tragedies so good. He seems to uphold the visual and cultural tradition of being erudite, whether you call it a pastor or a panther, while under fire and until the other
fire. There is a certain, almost gothic hint that comes with any black funeral, in an MLK suit or even the most horrifying Toni Morrison passage that we can feel in his raps about the tragic. His chanting thrills. It isn’t intellectual jargon to say that his incredible chants might just be bringing his listeners back to the feeling of living the foundations of contemporary black culture: Hunter chants in hunter-gatherer societies that existed much before the domestication of agriculture and the foundations of cities, states and our modernities (hunters who were tasked with protecting a society). The energy with which that they are expressed might just do that. His musical hero, Tupac, is well known for expressing tragedy and he has been very open about Tupac’s influence on his music. Kanye West also expresses tragedy, and the term “new slaves” still resonates. However, unlike Lamar, West does not choose to go with traditional modicum and instead does so with populist street ethos.So maybe we love Lamar so much because his raps match our traditions.
It’s great that he is expressing tragedy. It hurts to be black today. Black social life is not only suffering from a multitude of agonizing killings but also a terrible amount of unemployment and the general morbidity that comes with it and has been in some form since the heyday of Reaganomics. Through our struggles and accomplishments, may he continue to make us feel this fulfilled.What do you think sets Kendrick Lamar apart from the rest? Let us know in the comments below!

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