It seems quite fitting that in Kendrick Lamar’s opening refrain for “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe,” the Compton emcee methodically croons “sometimes I need to be alone.” It was his refreshing and personal narrative he crafted on good kid, m.A.A.d city that allowed for listeners to take note of his distinct delivery and unbridled enthusiasm in crafting a rap record that didn’t rely on dated production gimmicks or featured artists who jumped aboard to serve various label interests. While he notably shared duties with the likes of Drake, MC Eiht and Dr. Dre, Kendrick ensured that he was never merely a spectator on his gold vessel.
It’s with that same zeal that Kendrick unleashed his Jay-Z-assisted remix for a record that is pure mood music. But it begs the question, in today’s complicated hip-hop landscape, who benefits more from a Shawn Carter verse: the aforementioned youngster who has already gone gold and has platinum intentions, or a proven mogul who aims to stake his relevancy not only on top 40 radio, but on an insatiable culture that still begs for the grittiness he left behind millions of dollars and several records ago?
While people like to haphazardly throw around the word “classic” when it relates to records, it’s ultimately the test of time that cements whether or not a singular entity is in fact a quintessential example of time, place and innovation. Yet, Lamar’s debut album proves to be diverse and varied enough that several listens don’t unlock the mysteries and artful blend of street reporting and fictitious accounts that serve his bars. He has somewhat stumbled upon a group of supporters that seem as if they were pulled out of a book of Mad Libs: young, old, street, naïve, white, black, brown, affluent, indigent. Even in his relatively short career, one can note that Kendrick has a fan base that reflects the current consumers of the culture: wide-ranging. There was a time when a Jay-Z co-sign would completely bring a freshman artist into a new stratosphere of recognition – say on his addition of J. Cole to “A Star is Born” on The Blueprint 3 – which one could indirectly link to the success of Cole’s Cole World: The Sideline Story which to date has sold 600,000 copies. It’s not to say that Cole wouldn’t have succeeded without Jay’s help, but the curious case of appearing on a hit record before crafting his own could only help propel Cole to another level. Simply put, Kendrick Lamar didn’t need Jay-Z at the time of this remix.
When your net worth is in the hundreds of millions of dollars, it’s hard for the average joe to imagine that a person still possesses an insatiable desire for more and more. While he’s segued to more lucrative aspects of popular culture, like deals with Live Nation and his interest in a small stake with the Brooklyn Nets, it seems like rap music will forever be a leading interest that ultimately fuels and feeds the subsidiary. It’s his “roc.” Whether it’s one part challenge to himself – to see if he’s suited to hop aboard a song with undeniably the most-buzzed-about lyricist – or equal parts a strategy to marry luxury rap with the Jack Kerouac of m.A.A.d. city, his willingness to play second fiddle on someone else’s song proves his want outweighs his obligation. Consider Kendrick’s thoughts on the remix: “Always looked up to the greats to be a great. So to actually be on a track with him, it’s an accomplishment.” Although they’re in a different financial tax bracket, there’s reasonable doubt that Kendrick sees himself as a peer rather than merely a burgeoning wordsmith caught up in a public relations updraft.
“If Shawn’s a black Beatle then I need a ten second drum solo/ Bitch see you at Woodstock.”