Last year, Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city was nominated for Best Rap Album at the Grammys. He lost out to Macklemore’s The Heist. Kendrick fans were enraged, and I was one of them. It was a farce, Macklemore even felt it necessary to apologise to Kendrick. It didn’t make sense to me.
Back then, Kendrick was still an up-and-coming rapper. He put out a really solid debut album in 2011 called Section.80, a year later he dropped a few singles for his follow-up record, which performed well on the R&B and Rap charts, but failed to crack the top 10 on the Hot 100. However, the album was a success, hitting #2 on the Hot 100. A remarkable achievement for anyone, let alone a 25 year old making a commercially successful Hip Hop concept album. How often do we see concept albums anywhere nowadays, let alone those which hit #2 on the charts?
When I first heard good kid, m.A.A.d city, I reckoned it was a game-changer. Subtitled “A short film by Kendrick Lamar”, the album is an overwhelmingly ambitious piece of art, with first-person narratives of Kendrick’s experiences growing up in Compton, dealing with issues such as gang violence, drinking culture and drug addiction, and crucially the incredible production handled by Dr. Dre gave it the substance it needed. Hip Hop hadn’t seen anything like it since the golden era. Yet it still lost. This is nothing new when it comes to institutionalised award ceremonies, commercial success is often the deciding factor. What deserves to win doesn’t always win.
Things are different this time around. Kendrick’s no longer an up-and-comer. He’s established himself. He’s the King of New York. Hip Hop fans don’t hesitate when calling him the best rapper going around. He collaborates with his closest rivals, there’s no animosity between them. In fact, come next year we could see a project between Kendrick and J. Cole, if the “Black Friday” release is anything to go by. More importantly, To Pimp a Butterfly has had much more of a significant impact, not just commercially, but in terms of affecting cultural consciousness. The singles are wildly infectious, and for the most part, preach positive, uplifting and hopeful messages. People are singing “I love myself” and chanting “we gon’ be alright”. The same couldn’t be said about the singles from good kid, m.A.A.d city, as great as they were.
For the 58th Grammy Awards, Kendrick has received a staggering 11 nominations, including Album of the Year, Song of the Year (“Alright”) and Best Rap Album. He might win all of these. He should win at least one. Does that mean he’ll win any? No. I’ve learned my lesson from last time. He could easily lose Album of the Year, most likely to Taylor Swift or The Weeknd. I won’t care. Kendrick’s well past the point where getting one or many small replica gramophones actually means anything. He’s attained a far greater achievement – the hearts and minds of his listeners, and judging from the interviews I’ve seen of Kendrick talking about the album, that’s exactly what he set out to do. In that sense, he’s already won.