A classic rap album is born every five years or so. Extraordinary hip-hop bodies of art captured on a disc, though, are birthed more frequently, but the two aren’t always synonymous. Kendrick Lamar has something special. Indisputably. His 2011 digital only release Section.80 kicked off the co-signs of countless hip-hop fans, including his peers. Everyone wanted to see him win. The buzz around the 25-year-old Compton native grew while he continued to work on his first major label debut Good Kid, M.A.A.D City. With all the hype, the pressure to deliver was heavy. There’s nothing worse than an album being overhyped then failing to live up to said hype.
Days after the official release of GKMC (October 22) it had already started. The “C” word was being tossed around way prematurely. Although the album had leaked a few days prior to its release, skeptics like myself questioned whether or not it was too soon for the album to hold that title. Grantland writer Sean Fennessey proclaimed it was the best rap album of the year. Music journalists and hip-hop fans alike jumped in the ‘album of the year’ boat. Fair enough. Lamar’s a dope lyricist. The compelling storytelling of a kid growing up in Compton surrounded by gangs, violence and poverty on GKMC along with the lyricism earns it the nod of a good debut album, perhaps even great. It’s also probably the most influential rap album of the year, one that when in retrospect will define music for 2012. Still, let’s pump the proverbial brakes on the too loosely thrown around honor of ‘classic.’
Merriam-Webster’s defines classic a number of ways. The two definitions making the most sense in the case of Lamar’s project are: “Serving as a standard of excellence: of recognized value” and “historically memorable.” In hip-hop, though, there is an element of timelessness that must be weighed as it relates to classic albums. A record can serve as a standard of excellence and not be classic.
The rap albums widely considered classics in the last couple of decades prove why it’s too soon throw a robe over K.Dot’s shoulder and crown his album with such a revered title. Illmatic, Ready To Die, Reasonable Doubt, The Chronic, College Dropout and Get Rich or Die Trying just to name a few are classics because they’ve withstood time. And as Rap Radar creator Elliott Wilson stated in his “The Truth: What Makes a Classic Rap Album?”video, “I think when it comes to classic hip-hop albums it has to be undisputed.” GKMC is far from being an undisputed classic.
While fans and writers who document the genre debate over whether Kendrick’s incredible album is a classic, the young man who was once jealous of his fellow Compton idol The Game, can celebrate a No. 2 album on the Billboard charts. Had he not released an album the same week as Taylor Swift it’s safe to assume GKMC would be the number one album in the country. Selling 241,000 copies with little radio play or heavy promotion deserves major props. Going from somewhat of an underground artist to selling more than Kanye/G.O.O.D. Music’s Cruel Summer, Rick Ross‘ God Forgives, I Don’t and Nas‘ Life Is Good says something about music lovers wanting quality music to win.
Kendrick represents the refreshing wave of hip-hop artists emerging within the last 10 years. He has substance. He doesn’t glorify violence. His rhymes are complex and intricate. GKMC embodies everything that makes hip-hop remarkable. It’s an album that has been in constant rotation on this writer’s iTunes. And a record I felt immeasurable joy to witness top the charts. None of those things make it a classic after only two weeks. As much as I want to see great music like GKMC get its due in the moment, it takes time to determine whether a thing is timeless. Walk away from it, sit with it, let the hype die down, revisit. Only then can we all have better perspective on if it’s classic worthy or just simply damn good rap.
[Photo: Getty Images]