It's not a simple binary, but someone like Kendrick Lamar — lyrically skilled yet decidedly un-preachy, quick-tongued but hook-driven — has what it takes to split the difference between unflinching gangster rap audiences and ponderous "conscious" hip-hop heads. Hailing from Compton and boasting the endorsement of West Coast vicelord/expensive-headphone impresario Dr. Dre, Lamar has cited 2Pac, Biggie, and Nas as the primary informants of his style. However, his rise was predicated by his affiliation with L.A.'s "Black Hippy" crew, a mélange of thoughtful yet concise rappers like Schoolboy Q, Ab-Soul, and Jay Rock. Lamar is just as quick to turn inward on his own shortcomings as he is to decry the injustices of the world. His forthcoming major-label debut, good kid m.A.A.d city, shows his ability to address both without alienating anyone. "Swimming Pools (Drank)" is a hazy slow-stepper about the romance (and subsequent downside) of alcoholism, harnessing a slick groove that doesn't get weighed down by its own message. Dre-produced first single "The Recipe" is a funky nocturnal snap-back that shows off Lamar's honed chops, his tight phrasing not dwindled by the sheer speed of his rhymes. Lamar shows why fans in both camps can agree on masters like Dre or 2Pac: be real, and be real clear.
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