At the heart of pop royalty rapper, Kendrick Lamar has made a place for himself as both messiah and revolutionary for hip-hop and all its defining aspects for black culture. Over the weekend, the Compton MC released his fourth studio album DAMN., ending a two year wait for a project since the release of his Jazzy opus, To Pimp a Butterfly and its collection of Untitled throwaways in an EP a year later.
Kendrick Lamar is prolific for a few things: his mastery of storytelling, his vast vocabulary, and a somewhat critical mind. One defining feature outside of his music however is aesthetics. From intriguing album covers to spoken word cuts and his tendency for jazz, Kendrick has subtly but effectively given the non-musical aspects of his artistry the same level of dedication as the musical aspects. Even when Kendrick Lamar’s management was local independent imprint TDE, having little resources didn’t mean the rapper compromised on well thought out narratives and imagery rolled out with an unavoidable amateurish tinge at worst.
Kendrick Lamar’s dedication to aesthetic has largely paid off in the global recognition of his conceptualised albums, with each record marking the beginning of a new era and story. His success is also mapped in the cult-level following of every element of his art even to exaggerated conspiracy levels, a viable proof that carefully curated art will always be rewarded with meticulous following.
What this should tell the average Nigerian artist is the need to tie individual brands around elements that are not only consistent, but also tie into the music. Anyone watching the video for Kendrick Lamar’s “Humble” will quickly discern that the rapper does not only care about the message he passes across, he also knows the purpose of his art should exist beyond effacing elements that don’t say anything.
In its simplest from, African music should at least hold some of the continent’s rich cultural architecture but true ingenuity would be combining its symbols to create something new. It’s 2017, and we really should be capable of more beyond bottle popping videos with vibrating behinds.