Five years after the success of his previous opus, “DAMN”, the rapper from Compton unveils this Friday, May 13 his new album “Mr Morale & the Big Steppers”, carefully scrutinized by his audience.
Rewarded by 13 Grammy Awards, 8 BMI Awards, 6 Billboard Awards, 17 ASCAP Awards and 1 Pulitzer Prize for his music, Kendrick Lamar has managed, since his debut in 2003, to make a name for himself on the American rap scene alongside of the greatest.
While the artist from Compton has just unveiled his new album Mr Morale & the Big Steppers, this Friday, May 13, the enthusiasm of the artist’s fans is more than ever at its peak. Evidenced by the 19 million views accumulated by the clip of The Heart Part 5the first excerpt from the project unveiled unexpectedly on May 9.
How to explain this fervor and what makes Kendrick Lamar so popular? Nicolas Rogès, author of the biography Kendrick Lamar: From Compton to the White House analyzes for BFMTV.com the reasons for this success.
A contrarian artist
In 1995, during a walk with his father, Kendrick Lamar stumbled upon the filming of the music video for California Love, a song performed by his idols Tupac Shakur and Dr. Dre. At the time, he was only eight years old but he already knew it: he would become a rapper.
Almost 30 years have passed since that premonition, but Kendrick Lamar has never lost sight of his childhood dream. In the space of four albums, he stands out today as one of the most influential American rappers of his generation. An impressive rise which can be explained in particular, according to Nicolas Rogesby the assumed positioning of the artist on the margins of the music industry.
“What is strong with Kendrick Lamar is that from the start, he wanted to mark his difference. We see it with his first album, Division 80which is a kind of “laboratory project” where he tests different formats and explores many sounds to find out what he is most comfortable in,” he says.
As the author and specialized journalist explains, this propensity to go against the current of what is being done on the American music scene has become a red thread in the career of the rapper. Kendrick Lamar makes music how he wants and when he wants to, to the delight of his fans.
“When he unveiled his album in 2012 Good Kid MAAD City, he takes once again the opposite of what was done at the time. In particular, he brings the innovative notion of the concept album – a story that unfolds over the songs – at a time when American rap was more in the logic of making hits”, specifies Nicolas Rogès.
Since this opus, certified triple platinum in the United States, Kendrick Lamar has managed to surprise his audience with each new release with new concepts and unique themes. An originality which has fed all the more the expectations of its fans for Mr Morale & the Big Steppers.
“I think he will surprise us and offer what he knows how to do best: things that we do not expect”, assures Nicolas Rogès.
A touching and unifying pen
Another reason for the artist’s success: his pen. If in his early days, Kendrick Lamar magnifies the features of his experience in Compton in his texts, imagining a rather artificial life, the rapper eventually manages to free himself from these clichés to tell a much more personal story.
“With hindsight, he laughs himself today at his first songs in which he said in particular that he had killed people, that he had a lot of women … At that time, he was quickly realized that these stories did not really represent him”, notes Nicolas Rogès.
To mark a turning point in his career, Kendrick Lamar changes his pseudonym. The one who, in his beginnings was called KDot then opts for his real name, ready to reveal his own story.
With this new stage name, Kendrick Lamar depicts the violence of his neighborhood, injustice, spirituality and other societal themes that are dear to him, through the prism of introspection and his own torments.
He also takes on major current topics in the United States such as the Black Lives Matter movement, at the heart of his album. To Pimp a Butterflyreleased in 2015, whose track OK has become one of the unofficial anthems of the mobilization.
“What makes Kendrick Lamar famous, among other things, is that he does not hesitate to show himself vulnerable and to admit his weaknesses. He shows that you can be a “Good Kid” while maintaining your “street -cred”. By doing this, he creates a real closeness with his listeners who find themselves in his texts”, specifies the journalist and author.
This powerful and unifying pen will also be rewarded with the Generational Icon Award presented by the California State Senate in 2015 and then with a Pulitzer Prize in 2018, a first for a rapper in the history of music.
A cryptic communication
Discreet in his public speaking and totally absent from social networks, Kendrick Lamar created a surprise on April 18 by revealing on a funny website called Oklama.comthe release date of his new album.
Soberly announced with the help of a letter, not unlike the letter written by basketball player Michael Jordan in 1995 to inform of his return to the NBA, Mr Morale & the Big Steppers has since given rise to a large number of more or less eccentric theories concerning its content.
“The sounds of the project, the explanations of the title, the hypothetical featurings. Everything is scrutinized closely by the fans while nothing has yet been officially revealed. No doubt, we are in the promotion phase of an album by Kendrick Lamar”, jokes Nicolas Rogès.
As the only foretaste of the album, Kendrick Lamar unveiled on May 9 the clip of The Heart Part 5. This track completes the “The Heart” series, always published before an album and in which the rapper subtly compiles what listeners will find later in the project.
If it is difficult, even for fans of the artist to read between the lines of these different indices, one thing is certain according to Nicolas Roger, Kendrick Lamar will “push his limits and go there, we do not expect him. ”
“That’s how he always envisioned his career, like his influences such as Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, David Bowie or Prince. These are people who have never made the same album twice” , he says.
And to conclude: “So what we can be sure of is that this project will be different from what he did before. For the rest, you have to listen to the album this Friday.”
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