Ol’ Dirty Bastard once proclaimed that “Wu-Tang is for the children”, a claim so absurd it’s been a perpetual meme ever since.
ODB made the audacious claim at the 1998 Grammys after crashing the stage when Puff Daddy’s Forever beat Wu-Tang Forever to Best Rap Album.
Exactly 20 years later, at the 60th Grammys, Kendrick Lamar staked the claim without being explicit. Even if he’s not for the children, he’s for everyone — one of the most artistically gifted rappers to ever cross over. And with less baggage than A-listers like Kanye West and Jay-Z, and a flawless run with critics, Kendrick could well be the top trumps card in all of pop music right now.
With seven already in his trophy cabinet, Kendrick walked home with five Grammys last weekend — Best Rap Album for DAMN., three for his track Humble and one for Loyalty. And the idea that Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic is a better LP than DAMN. makes a joke of the big industry back-slap session.
But at least Mars is a real pop star, whatever your tastes — when Macklemore beat Kendrick to Best Rap Album in 2014 he was so mortified he texted Kendrick to say he was robbed. But even if he’s on 80 awards and counting, it’s not really Grammys, MTV Awards and MOBOs that’ll be Lamar’s legacy.
Over his four studio albums and various mixtapes since 2003, he has helped shift the narrative surrounding his home city of Compton, and the role of the MC. 30 years after fellow Compton rappers NWA chanted Fuck the Police as an act of nihilistic defiance and protest, Kendrick approaches his own street life story with more light and shade.
His first masterpiece, Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City is a concept album on the teen Kendrick’s ducking and dodging in Compton’s drug-ridden streets, without the gang-bang glorification. Follow-up To Pimp a Butterfly has since gone down as one of the decade’s classic albums. Over the last few years, he’s added an artful triumphalism to his protest music — from Alright being the unoffi- cial Black Lives Matter anthem, to his stunning perfomance at the 2016 Grammys in an orange jumpsuit.
And even if there won’t be much protest, expect some fist-pumping from the pulpit — Kendrick was for the chil- dren at his last Dublin show, Longitude 2015, with every line chanted back. With such a partisan rap crowd, I’m wondering how James Blake’s delicate R&B-noir will go down — maybe he’ll dig deeper into his dubstep past to get things shaking.
- Kendrick Lamar plays Dublin’s 3Arena tonight (February 7)