The infamous LP broke the record on Spotify after being streamed 9.8 million times on its first release day and dethroned the previous winner (Drake’s If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late). Its story brings the penned words of manifesto mixed with unexpected genre influences, creating a time-line which resembles at least one life aspect of any listener. That being said, let’s start off from the beginning and dissect why however this album deserves its place, it’s not all milk and honey.
Wesley’s Theory pleasantly combines psychedelia elements with Kendrick Lamar’s own style and having a look at George Clinton’s name I can only assume he is one of his first artists to look up to. It’s an engaging intro, does justice to the one who influenced his work and it manages to remain distinctive. A more abrupt transition is made through the free-jazz/funky For Free? interlude, as if there is a disgruntled personality developing throughout the flow.
What comes next it’s a bit disappointing lyric wise, King Kunta turning out to be the speech of a self-righteous “motherfuckin’ baller”. “Life ain’t shit but a fat vagina”? C’mon Kendrick, you’re better than that!
Institutionalized compensates for its predecessor and brings back a mellow mood of trip hop beats and shows how he has a knack for contorting his choice for poetry with simplicity. He may fool you with repetitive hooks like “Shit don’t change until you get up and wash your ass, nigga”, but the signs of being a prior straight A student are quite clear and it’s a shame this doesn’t show through the whole LP (possibly for the fear of coming off as too niche).
These Walls brings back a soft ‘90s r’n’b vibe, and I have to give it to him for using female back singers that don’t confirm his pimpness and actually have something to say. Alright has an unruly rhythm which is not that often seen in artists of this particular scene to make it in the charts, so there’s not a better time and place for Kendrick to claim here he’s better than anyone at the moment (if he thinks this is the case, I honestly have no idea when artists want to be in the lime light or pretend they’re misunderstood).
The For Sale interlude sounds as if it was taken from one of his prepubescent tapes, I’m not sure whether he’s trying to be Lil Wayne or whatever, but please stop. Now, with Hood Politics it would’ve been a great break for some eye opening message of this generation (or at least parts of it), but all hope is lost once I found out he “don’t give a fuck about no politics in rap”. I thought he was looking at things from a different perspective, as a voice of the disenfranchised, but instead we’re left off with trivialities such as debauchery and expensive cars.
Moving on to the last interesting part of the album, I sounds like the block party funk tune anyone with some West Coast hometown pride should be able to rock to. The Blacker the Berry is in my opinion the true gem of the album, somehow overlapping completely different layers, such as Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit message and The Black Panthers taking a stand. The writing is dense but not rough and it unfolds the true commitment to his roots. The slightly oriental outro is surprisingly engulfed into the entire flair of the song and leaves a subconscious positive note.
The last track, Mortal Man, leans into an epilogue which clocks at more than 12 minutes, a bit too milked out for the core statement, but a suiting ending nevertheless. All in all, the album melds a peculiar palette of genres and it doesn’t show any sign of hindrance from a major label. There’s plenty of good stuff and meh stuff, but at least Kendrick is not rampantly aiming vitriol at other artists of the kind that came before or after him.