[Opinion] The Brilliance Of Kendrick Lamar, Illmatic Comparisons And The Fear Giving Classic Ratings
There is a heated debate going on in hip hop right now. On one side, you have a legion of Kendrick Lamar fans (many of them hopping on the bandwagon post-Section.80) who are championing good kid, m.A.A.d city as an instant classic and have even suggested that it is the Illmatic of this generation. On the other side you have those that enjoy Lamar, but figure that the hype is simply overbearing. While they may agree that his major label debut is excellent and perhaps the album of the year, calling it a classic may be a stretch while uttering it in the same breath as Illmatic is downright blasphemy. Even my column that suggested that Kendrick Lamar was the best emcee of the Digital Era was met with much skepticism.
Both sides have their points of argument that make perfect sense. However, as always, it comes down to who presents the best educated argument. Ultimately, there is no authoritative voice representing both sides as the line between blogger, journalist and fan are all stirred into the same social media cauldron.
You see, Kendrick Lamar may very well have a classic album on his hands with good kid, m.A.A.d city. However, it is because of how our music is distributed to the masses that we are scared to jump out and stick that label on an album. As for the Illmatic comparisons, let’s not act as if everything great doesn’t get compared to something. It’s more about what you are being compared to rather than the actual comparison. If LeBron James wasn’t being compared to Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan there’d be a problem. Although it places a high expectation on the individual being compared, it’s a vote of confidence as well. It’s the way of the world, but I digress…
Once upon a time, a credible journalist would have access to an album months before the general public caught wind of it. They would sit with that album and dissect every bar, snare and kick. The focus was on that album and that album only. What followed was a carefully crafted review of the album that was unleashed upon the masses and would sway their opinion as to whether they should spend their hard earned money on the CD or cassette. If they disagreed with the review, they would have to write a letter to the magazine’s editor, which wouldn’t be published until a month or so after the album was released.
These things took time to happen. Today, not so much.
In the era of instant gratification. Take that top paragraph and replace CD with “download link.” Or, take away journalist and enter
jackass with the internet ”blogger.” That long wait wondering whether your letter to the editor would be published in the next edition of the magazine has been erased by the “Tweet” function. We have become an impatient bunch that want answers now but are also hypocritical once we get those hurried answers by saying it’s “too soon.”
Unfortunately, in this era of readers and reviewers receiving an album simultaneously, it is rather difficult to digest an album in its entirety before unleashing a review to the masses. A review was once a guide to whether you should or should you not buy an album. Today it’s more of an affirmation of what you may or may not already think, considering you heard the album at the exact same time as most of these people writing reviews. Totally different scenarios, but one that prevents journalists from handing out a classic rating as most classics need to stand the test of time before being deemed as such. It’s manufactured a fear of being premature in an assessment. Rather than going with a gut feeling, many journalists are scared to pull the trigger. Too many classic ratings have been handed out, only to regret the statement months later as the album crumbles over time. Since Illmatic, the golden 5-mic standard has been handed to albums that we would likely chuckle at the mere thought of it being a classic. Lil Kim’s The Naked Truth encompasses how the gold standard has been tarnished.