Whenever I come across a tweet about music preferences that may or may not apply to me, it’s always interesting to see how these “foreign” opinions contrast my own. As stans of one of the most prolific and top-pedigree arte forms, we are obligated to dissect the content we encounter with no shame; no scruples. After all, the “empirical evidence” these experiences form is our contribution to the evolution of our Language. Music has had it’s eras: from the classical foundations and their Baroque and Romantic (etc.) sub-periods, to the folks, the jazz, the funks and souls all the way down to the traps and alternatives. We’ve all reveled in one or a few of these trends, have memories to specific beats or syncs or lyrics and subscribe to views where we see fit. Identity has been a key factor of our stanship, now more than ever. We tend to identify more with certain genres or sub-genres more than others, or a select circle of musicians we deem “elite” or “Top 2” over the majority that remains. And all this is because of how these factors resonate with our respective tastes, from inception all the way to the latest project they’ve offered up on the sacrificial altar for our — or their — satisfaction and regular consumption.
Usually when we first hear of a new artist as an avid consumer, there are some reservations (as with anything new regarding what some consider a coping mechanism). We go into that new potential Utopia with half our consciousness because if we go in fully, the desertion could cripple us — if at all it was to come. Take ¿Téo?, for example. Of course, his self-titled project of 2018 (one of the decade’s most important years music-wise, in my opinion) was a hit for fans of his work, but then he went completely quiet. No new music for his avid followers for more than a year could be considered a crippling decision, yes, but at the end of the day the artistic process is grossly subjective to each artiste. Ergo, we’ll all have to wait to be blessed with something as monumental as his song featuring musical whizz kid Jaden Smith, Uno Dos. Now, a musician like Jaden Smith is a different entity because he’s been quite consistent with his offerings in recent years. Since his debut in 2012 with The Cool Cafe at just 14 years old, with an iconic 2 year old role in the Karate Kid remake featuring Jackie Chan, he successfully put himself out there as a versatile Hollywood staple. After his sophomore tape CTV2 that he dropped in 2014, he took a 3-year break from putting out bodies of music, a period some attribute to his growth from teenagehood to adulthood, a tumultuous time for any person. From 2017 to date, Jaden has gifted us with FOUR critically acclaimed projects in SYRE, the Syre Electric Album, Sunset Tapes and ERYS. The future is very bright for The Smith’s golden boy.
The culmination is upon us now. The perfect specimen to stress these points, you ask (or not)? I present the maverick mind of Compton native and advocate, Kendrick Lamar Duckworth. First gaining recognition with his debut mixtape “Youngest Head Nigga in Charge” in 2004 (at just 16 years old), he never looked back. Fast forward 6 years to 2010, “K-Dot” as his fans affectionately still call him released probably his most important mixtape career-wise, Overly Dedicated. A sizeable few would argue that O.D. was a critical tape for him to drop as it more or less cemented his household name status outside of Compton, specifically at a more global scope. The first song in the mixtape, “The Heart Pt. 2” is still referenced today as with most of his work.
Enter 2011, another pivotal year for Kendrick, the year he dropped his debut studio album Section.80 — and personally the album that introduced me to his prowess on a beat. His use of samples, instruments and lyrics have continued to expose him to a larger fanbase because of the diversity he possesses and harnesses through his art: the success of his subsequent albums Good Kid, M.A.A.D City (2012) and To Pimp A Butterfly (2015) are testament!
And it really has worked wonders in terms of his identity because he established a working brand and ran with it his whole career. He made sure that people don’t just focus on the music that’s made to sell, but the passion projects as well, case and point being 2016’s ‘impulse’ release untitled unmastered. which I’d like to think was more a collection of songs he held dear to himself.
Kung Fu Kenny has never shied away from advocacy (and the controversy it comes with particularly in the States), and his 2015 drop To Pimp A Butterfly — which was also set up as an ode to the late great 2PAC — is the perfect exhibit of that famed work ethic. In 2017, in true “Kendrick the pint-sixed visionary” fashion, he brought a different approach to his album build-up for DAMN. And if we’re talking strategy, in just 3 weeks he managed to build more hype around his album release than most of the popular artists of the time. First week; The Heart part 4 drops, his most recognizable “song franchise” if you will. He dedicated the second week to promoting the release of the album name, then the following week to promoting the album itself. Heck, the project won a Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2018 for the exceptional writing that went into it, not to mention 2018’s Grammy for Best Rap Album!
So, as far as The Evolution of a Mastermind is concerned, Kendrick may very well be the modern benchmark.