BET's Music Staff Collaboration originally published here. My contributions below.
- 'KUNG FU KENNY IS A PERFECT NICKNAME. LET'S KEEP IT.' – KC
Growing up, I felt like everyone had a cool nickname but me. It's a blessing I was born with zero musical talent because all too often a rap moniker is not self-selected, it is given to you from someone else, someone older and wiser, and I probably would have been stuck with something I hated. With the transition of Cornrow Kenny ("He was born with a vision") into Kung Fu Kenny ("Ain't nobody prayin' for me"), a name assumed to have been selected by the likes of Kid Capri, Kendrick Lamar takes on these alternate egos with grace, allowing each one to enable him to freely explore a different facet of his creativity. With Kung Fu influencing hip-hop from the formative days of Wu-Tang and beyond, Lamar expresses his lifelong commitment to perfecting his craft ("I'm willin' to die for this s**t / I done cried for this s**t”) further proving why this is a nickname that not only will happily stick, but is one that makes a lot of sense at this point in his journey. Nothing was given to him and therefore everything is at stake. This is serious, serious business. Lifeblood business. Willing to die for it business. How can you greet that with anything else but the utmost respect?
- 'YOU SMART, YOU LOYAL.' – KC
When Drake raps about loyalty, he's whining he doesn't have any and interpreting that unfortunately missing quality as "fake love." Rather than shine a light on those who have betrayed them, when Kendrick Lamar and Rihanna talk about loyalty, they bring an entire new meaning to the word. For their collaborative track “LOYALTY.,” Rihanna and Kendrick (can you name a more iconic duo?) address that with loyalty, the second it has to be questioned, it's lost forever. Such a loss isn't mourned, however. Instead it’s a revelation that is looked at simply as a blessing. Now that's real AF.
- 'INTROSPECTION IS EVERYTHING.' – KC
As someone who believes religion is a sacred thing that should be allowed to be kept private (a sentiment my outwardly Christian family does not share), Kendrick's introspection on "PRIDE." is a personal call-to-action to challenge my own instinctual perspectives and really let his words resonate. As he dives deep over a fittingly whimsical beat, he allows his conflicted critical thinking to freely question various idiosyncrasies surrounding religion and wonder aloud what is expected of him as a religious man. As he plays with the idea of how he'd be different in a perfect world or in another life, he explores pride, one of the original seven deadly sins, in an extremely captivating way. While bringing it back to the present moment with the line, "I can't fake humble just 'cause your ass is insecure," it becomes clear that, regardless of who you are (or where you're at with your own faith), this is a song to get lost in, especially if, like Kendrick, you care even when you don't necessarily know or understand why. Without the integral art of introspection, we'd be even more lost than we all too frequently appear. This track welcomes a vulnerability that in turn requires multiple listens and, naturally, introspective reflection. Even though we often look to Kendrick to have all the answers, especially regarding the bigger picture, this track reminds us that he, too, is human after all.
- 'OUT OF ALL THE PEOPLE IN THE ENTIRE WORLD TO COLLABORATE WITH, HE PICKS U2?!' – KC
Has Kendrick Lamar been a closet U2 fan this whole time?! What? Huh?! As one of the most curious collaborations in the rapper’s entire storied discography, it's hard not to raise an eyebrow at the news of this extremely unlikely pairing. However, the direction "XXX." takes us in is nothing like either party has created before and somehow as much as it doesn't make sense, it works, especially considering the song’s political heat. U2 is on a rap record in the year 2017 and everything is wonderfully weird. F**k it. The song is a roller coaster of emotions and instrumentation alike, as they all switch it up just when you start to warm up to the idea that this collaboration is actually happening and is amazing at that. Whoever said they saw this one coming is straight up lying.
- 'LET THIS SOAK IN: KENDRICK LAMAR IS GETTING BETTER AND BETTER.' – KC
The idea of progress is a weird one. How does one measure if they are getting better? Or more creative? One could argue that progress is directly related to how many risks you take over time. With DAMN., Kendrick takes all the risks, in turn raising his own bar to an unprecedented level, all while reminding himself that there are no ceilings in the first place. At this point in his career, he technically has nothing left to prove. His legacy is solidified. We love him. The culture needs him. The internet literally cannot even. For argument's sake, such an overwhelming amount of support could kill off all creativity. How do you motivate yourself to get better if you're consistently being hailed as the best? Do you quit while you're ahead? Do you wonder if it’s time to pass the torch? Luckily for us, Kendrick Lamar is as unpredictable as he is talented and, for now, he’s got plenty of fight left in him. While we don't know what the future may have in store for him, it's hard not to feel some type of way about the fact that Kendrick. Lamar. Is. Still. Getting. Better.