Note: This article was written a ways back, but right before I was ready to send it off I came down with some of the worst strep throat I’ve ever had. 103 degrees type shit. So anyways, to my understanding some of this, mainly in regards to the free vs. for pay version, may no longer be accurate.
When I first heard The Kendrick Lamar EP, it brought me a revival of faith in hip-hop like I had not experienced in years. His flow was so complex, and his content was so genuine, progressive, thoughtful and full of insight, that it more than satiated my intellectual desires as someone who lives music all day everyday. Yet to balance things out, Kendrick was clearly someone who was hood, and didn’t blatantly criticize the way people get it in streets. I’ve always thought that this balance was way too rare in rap. It always seems to be that an MC has to be either a super thug, the pimp of all pimps, a revolutionary, or a snobby brainiac, with little in between. Yet The Kendrick Lamar EP perfectly seemed to depict a multidimensional man, who has gone through a lot of formative life experiences. Then to think that this all came from a rapper who I had never heard mentioned once (I didn’t realize he used to be K Dot upon the first couple listens), gave me some humility and hope. I realized that no, I don not know about every dope MC in existence. And that yes, there is a new generation of MC’s who make the type of music that I want to hear rather than what suburban teenagers want to listen to. So it goes without saying that that EP quickly sent Mr. Lamar to the top of my list of artists of whom I was excited to see and hear progress.
Obviously I was thrilled to hear that he was coming out with a new project. I even went as far to buy it off of itunes, even though it was available for free download as well, and I loathe purchasing MP3’s. I appreciate Kendrick’s music enough that I really wanted to support him, and for less than I pay for lunch on some days it seemed like the right and easy thing to do. Yet before I get to mention any of the music, as a consumer and a fan I must say that I feel like Kendrick Lamar has done me wrong. When you offer a product for purchase and simultaneously for free download, if someone is going out of their way to give you their hard earned money rather than just get it for free, at the absolute very least they should receive everything given to those who chose to simply download that product. In theory, it should actually be the other way around; they should get more than those who took advantage of the free download. Yet in this case it was the exact opposite. Most importantly, the free version offers 3 songs that the for pay version does not. And on a smaller scale, the free version offers a secondary image with production credits and contact info, while the itunes version does not. This may seem minor to many, but to me this was a disgrace. It’s almost like asking people to not buy it, and laughing at them if they do. If I’m going to take the time and risk to bust out my credit card and send that information through the ultra sketchy internet to make a purchase, why should I have to do more to get all of the intended content that comes with that product? It just seems stupid and poorly handled.
Now that I’m done with that bitch session, I strongly urge you to download the project, FOR FREE, here.
Overall this project is on a much more dark, depressed, and somber tip than The Kendrick Lamar EP. Yet when (O)verly (D)edicated is good, it is far and beyond what most other hip-hop artists have to offer. On the other side of the coin, when it is average, it’s not very memorable. Lets start with the successes. Content wise, Kendrick continues to bring that balance and honesty that allows him to stand out from his peers, all the while continuing to make his flow more precise and complex. “The Heart Part 2”, which features Dash Snow and was produced by Roots (REF), is a great example of this. I’ll let the music speak for itself, but you can’t tell me that by the end of this track he didn’t just black out and fucking GO OFF on the instrumental. Str8 bodied. Same goes for “Ignorance Is Bliss”, which is produced by Willie B. The flow is impeccable and the content is exactly what Kendrick does best. He typifies how shit goes down in the hood while also explaining his personal life in contrast.
Yet if I had to decide between my two favorite tracks it’s between “R.O.T.C.” ft. BJ The Kid and produced by Jairus “J-Mo” Mozee and “Cut You Off (To Grow Closer)” produced by TaeBeast. “R.O.T.C.” is one intense verse about the choices many have to make on a daily basis. Do you grind out life and do things the right and legitimate way, or do you take penitentiary chances to get some serious bread? And if you stay away from a life of crime, how do you deal with the fact that society doesn’t seem to want to reward you for making that decision? It’s some real shit delivered with unmistakable passion. While “Cut You Off (To Grow Closer)” is probably the track that deals with the most universal subject matter on the entire project. Everyone has spent time with someone that you truly care about, but always seems to be bringing you down in one way or another. It’s never easy, but sometimes you just need a break from that shit. And in this track Kendrick expresses those feelings through rhyme in a more clear, understandable and relatable manner than probably if you were to just have a conversation with somebody about it. This is the type of song that I expect that I will listen to for years and still find that it has an equal impact as when I first heard it.
Yet for all of Kendrick’s stellar performances, there was some serious problems as well. Lyrically my biggest complaint is probably “H.O.C.”. How do you start The Kendrick Lamar EP and this project by telling your audience to smoke to it, and then make some song about patting yourself on the back for not smoking? It’s not only contradictory but it’s kind of arrogant. Also from just a listeners perspective, I think Snoop once said it best when describing one of the many incarnations of Detox. Back when the mythical album was going to be about getting sober, I read an interview where Snoop said that the disc was gonna flop because nobody wants to spend their time listening to someone getting holier than thou about getting clean. In my opinion that mos def applies to this situation. I also have beef with the choruses on “Alien Girl” and “Michael Jordan”. Listing off perfect women that some made up chick that you have never met, and will never meet, is better looking than, is not only played out but fake and lame. Then on “Michael Jordan” why do you have to repeatedly kiss Wayne’s ass? I know you like his shit and are inspired by his style, but why do rappers feel the need to constantly woo him on record? I’d say his name is mentioned on other people’s tracks only second to Pac, and to be 100 with it, it’s not merited. At the same time if those are my biggest lyrical complaints, obviously Kendrick did a lot right. Though one area he could really improve on is beat selection.
The instrumentals on (O)verly (D)edicated have improved in terms of the size of the soundscape, but the drums are at times absolutely terrible. It’s’s not that they aren’t audible, it’s just that they don’t go anywhere. In this day in age it is absolutely unacceptable and straight up lazy to have a one bar drum loop stretch through an entire song with no variation, and unfortunately that’s the case with way too many of the tracks on this album for my tatste. On “Opposites Attract” ft. Javonte and produced by Willie B, I actually love the music. The keys mixed with the strings fits the theme of the song perfectly. Additionally Kendrick’s provides one of his most relatable performances. Listening to it almost invariably makes me pause the album and think about my past relationships. Yet that horrible one bar drum pattern is just so boring, that it takes away a lot of the tracks replay value. Same goes for “Average Joe” which was produced by Wyldfire. Musically it’s a classic California head nodder with dope bass line, synths, piano and all, but the one bar drum loop keeps it way to stagnant. Even the two tracks I listed above as my favorites have this exact same problem. Finally, all the beats are too somber. There’s nothing like “Celebration” from the past EP that just puts a smile on your face. There’s nothing that makes you want to get out of bed and get shit done. Nothing other than “Michael Jordan” to really get you excited for the night ahead of you. Nothing smooth for the ride or for the ladies. All the beats seem to create or reinforce a subdued and kinda sad/bummed mood. I’m not saying that there isn’t room (and a lot of it at that) for tracks like these, but from a listeners perspective who was in a good mood when he copped this project, it would have been great to have more balance.
As you can tell my sentiments about this project are mixed. There’s a lot of highs that I feel totally eclipse most of the rap world, but there’s a lot that I wish was handled differently as well. Yet one thing I can say without mixed emotions is that this album has kept my enthused about this West Coast MC’s career. He remains in my top 3 emerging rappers, and I don’t see him coming down any time soon. Also if he doesn’t make XXL’s Freshman cover next year, that’ll be some straight bullshit because he no doubt deserves it.