Adam Wray: continuing to ensure that Passion of the Weiss employs more Canadians than Tim Horton’s.
There’s a lot of big talk about this Kendrick Lamar record. Classic, this. Voice of a generation, that. It means nothing. We have no idea how good kid m.A.A.d. city will stand the test of time. It looks and sounds like a quote-unquote “classic” right now, but people said that about Common’s Be, too, so, what the fuck? A year out, it may have lost its luster. Or, it may no longer be possible to make a classic in the image of Illmatic or Blueprint, given the ever-shortening half-life of popular music. All we know for sure is that this record has a lot of people talking.
I want to speak specifically on the much-maligned “Poetic Justice,” which is being framed as the album’s weak link. I want go to go to bat for it.
Let’s start with the plush, spacious Scoop DeVille beat.. Warm chords, sonorous kicks and snares, and that Janet sample pitched up just so. My shit. Once the vocal loop (from the, ahem, classic slow jam “Anytime, Anyplace“) gets its hooks in you, it’s game over. It’s the kind of beat I could toss on loop and accidentally listen to for two hours. Scoop plucked a great sample and set it off with sharp, unfussy drum programming. He trims away the fat and lets a good thing be a good thing, which allows the lyrics to the sit atop the track more than any other beat on the record.
And the lyrics are really, really great. They’re subtly virtuosic and wise, a calm, thoughtful meditation on being young and in love and not beating yourself up when it doesn’t work out. Kendrick displays startling emotional maturity for a 25 year-old: “I mean, you need to hear this: love is not just a verb, it’s you looking in the mirror. Love is not just a verb, it’s you looking forward, maybe.” Yeah, she needs to hear it, but so does he.
It’s a reminder: the people in your life are more than just your foils. They’ve ambitions and histories and thoughts of their own. Spelled out, it sounds oh so trite, but it’s remarkably easy to forget. When you’re young, love can express itself as an act you perform at someone, a pose you strike. But Kendrick gets that it’s just as much about being at peace with yourself. It’s a theme he returns to throughout the record, and an important lesson most of us learn the hard way. And even after we’ve learned it, we sometimes need reminding.
Our mental topography plays a huge role in how we respond to art. Not a new observation, but a true one. I am a silk-soft motherfucker at the best of times, and am currently coming to terms with the dissolution of a serious relationship. So, for me, right now, good kid is a break-up album. (Of course, when you’re in the midst of a break-up, everything is a break-up thing. The cheeseburger you just ate is a break-up cheeseburger.) It’s no wonder “Poetic Justice” connected so strongly with me. The song is about getting over yourself and treating each other well. It’s a message that I needed to hear as much as Sherane or Kendrick did.