**Note** This is Example 5/5 of our “coiski 101: 4 Steps on Writing an Effective Personal Narrative” lesson.
When it comes to music, I can be stubborn with my personal music choices. I can bang a popular song in the car or during a workout or even love it when I’m out in any sort of partying type situation, but that very same song would not even make my rotation during a 26-hour, cross-country car ride. Call me picky, but I like for my music to sound a certain way. I want it to emit a certain feeling and evoke emotions. It is difficult for me to give a new guy a shot. My initial thought on any up-and-comer gaining buzz is normally a negative connotation of his possible wackness. So, my affinity for Kendrick Lamar’s music came as somewhat of a surprise, but I’m glad it happened.
All my family and friends know and fully understand my finicky music taste. They know that I value lyrics above everything else. I prefer to tune in rather than turn up, so to speak. What can I say? I’m the guy who wrote notes filled with lyrics of love songs and poems to girls of interest in my younger years. WORDS MATTER!
On a random day back in 2011, a high school friend posted a link on my Facebook wall with the caption, “Figured you would like this.” I let it sit for a while because usually things that people think I would like, I do not. Also and more honestly, I’m a jerk with my music preferences. I do not want to hear hyped things. I will listen on my own time, or find an artist organically. Before your judgmental thoughts and eye rolls set in, understand that music has always played a major role in my life. I grew up in church. Black church. No time-limit church. Any-song-may-last 10-minutes church. Choir-so-good-they-may-run-it-back church. Pastor-used-to-sing-in-his-younger-days-so-he-may-burst-into-song-at-any-moment church. My family was into music. My cousins and play cousins all sang, my uncle was a choir director, and my family had a popular gospel group back in the day called The Void Brothers. I think you get it. My upbringing wrote the script for my approach to music.
Back to the 2011 Facebook post. At the time, I was a 28-year old intern working on a second career that never materialized. I spent my days in a storage closet that turned into my office. I had to take mental breaks from the mindless work of internship, so I finally clicked on the Facebook link, and it was some kid named Kendrick Lamar with some song called “Cut You Off.” Before I knew it, I had listened to the song three times. The song itself wasn’t my favorite – and it still isn’t – but something was different here. The honest delivery and the complexity and truth from such seemingly simple lyrics sent me down the Google Tollway. Come to find out this Kendrick Lamar kid had more music than I realized—much more. Hell, I was 2-3 mixtapes behind. I headed to Spotify (no Apple Music at the time) and pulled up “Overly Dedicated.” The title alone gave him points. The cover art gave me an Outkast feel, which added even more points because Andre 3000 is top 3 rapper for me.
The intro of that mixtape, which truly was more of an album, was unbelievable. For me, it doesn’t get much better than hearing a rapper go in like it’s just him and his homeboys rapping in a circle in the living room or parking lot. That’s what that first song felt like to me. He rapped until he ran out of breath. Whether it was a planned marketing tool or not, it was dope. That lead to “Growing Apart”, which was a completely different feel, and is still one of my favorite Kendrick joints. I swear I didn’t get anything done the rest of that day. I listened to Overly Dedicated front to back and back again before I just went home.
The next day, I put O.D. on the backburner to check out Section.80. This certainly was a step up. The nuances of the lyrics, and the wide range of topics solidified this boy as different. Kendrick covered everything from equality on “F*** Your Ethnicity” to a woman’s insecurities on “No Makeup (Her Vice)”, which led to a conversation about relationship struggles on “Tammy’s Song (Her Evils).” The placement of the woman voice pleading, “Don’t judge me” before Tammy’s Song gave a small glimpse into Kendrick’s impeccable ability to set up the tone of songs. He then lent his lyrical prowess to the fragile egos and internal conflict of a man with “Ronal Reagan Era” and “Poe Man’s Dreams.”
The hip-hop fan in me was loving what I heard. This Kendrick Lamar dude was actually saying something. The rap fan in me, though, wanted to hear some of the competitive claims of being the best that made rap and sports synonymous. As I pecked away at the computer working on item number 758988 on my checklist for the day, the mixtape hit track #12. Track #12 is “Rigamortis.” Man, listen. I stopped everything to listen to this song again and again and again and again. The bars and proclamation of killing your favorite rapper was enough to sell me. I dang near threw my stack of papers in the air and walked smooth up out of that closet office. I sat with the gas face for at least 30 minutes.
In my opinion, the lackluster “Swimming Pools” had me afraid that Kendrick’s debut album would take the route of J. Cole’s debut. I was wrong. From that first harmonious note, I knew this was an amazing album. The way he navigated from song to song was a work of art, especially for a debut album. I hadn’t heard such genius from a lyrical cat in a long time. Good Kid, M.A.A.D City had everything I wanted in an album. Anthems and lyrics. That was it. I was a fan. I mean, “Backseat Freestyle?” Come on, man. I tried to sell everybody I could on Kendrick.
Then came To Pimp a Butterfly. Listen, I heard “I”, and had the same reaction as everybody else. I saw visions of Common in a yarn hat and knit clothes and thought Kendrick may be going a bit far with the conscience stuff. But I was a fan. I had to give the CD a shot.
I typically have to give albums a few spins prior to making a judgment. Unless it’s complete dumpster juice, then it’s a Frisbee. More often than not, you have to sit with an album. I like to listen while I clean. Then, I’ll take it in the car on a trip. Then, I may listen while I work out or do work on the computer; just in case I’m missing something. There’s something to be said for listens at different times in different arenas.
On first listen, I was not feeling To Pimp a Butterfly at all. I was almost agreeing with Joe Budden’s assessment that it wasn’t for me. However, on that third spin – that very third spin – I heard something. I noticed that the link from song to song was the same phrase, just added a word or two after every song. That discovery drew my attention. That was all it took for me to start to peel away at the layers of lyrics on this album. I literally listened to that album for an entire day. I was amped. I had to tell somebody. Luckily, my boys, including this site’s founder, George Kiel, and I were set to go on a deep sea fishing trip which required a long drive. George and I talk music all the time. He is one of the few people who understands when I nerd out on music. We rode for 45 minutes, and he had to endure my To Pimp a Butterfly 101. I stopped and explained lyrics like I was teaching a course in that car. I spoke with such vigor and conviction that he didn’t even realize that I was catching gems I had missed during that conversation. It is currently one of my favorite albums ever.
For me, K. Dot has stamped his name to the top rappers list. Not many can weave in and out of lyrical prowess, multiple deliveries and voices, and make it work with a level of creativity that makes you stop and think. How many, ‘Wait, what he say?’ moments of pause did you get listening to To Pimp a Butterfly? If none, listen again. Just listen to “These Walls” and count how many different “walls” he’s actually talking about. Or turn on “u”, and hear Kendrick discuss his struggles with fame from the perspective of a drunken, scorned city of Compton. Dude is ridiculous. Jay-Z is my favorite rapper of all-time, but Kendrick Lamar’s music does what I want music to do. It makes me think, bob my head, and appreciate the genius of it simultaneously. What more can one ask for?
**Note** Read the five steps we implemented in creating this article here.
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