By Sharieka Breeden
Kendrick Lamar is up for 11 Grammy nominations. J.Cole is up for three. If the matchup for “Best Rap” Album was determined by who had the most nods for their work, it is evident that Lamar would be leaving with a win. It’s not though and honestly while Cole might not have as many nominations as Taylor Swift who has seven, in my opinion he is the only artist deserving and questionably worthy of exiting the stage with the award in a category where Lamar is featured.
Let’s see the lineup: Shedding some light on Art that illuminates
“A reflection on “To Pimp a Butterly, Lamar” and “Forest Hills Drive, Cole”
The number alone make’s it evident that Lamar is a gifted artist with the ability to create music that people relate to and love. His lyrics are stimulating conversation-starters for many. As my partner and I delved into his third studio album, we found ourselves fascinated and immersed in his reflections on issues involving race, black masculinity, and economic status (to name a few).
As an artist Lamar uses “To Pimp a Butterly” his work ranges songs like “King Kunta” where he embodies the energy and attitude of a character in the popular series, “Alex Haley’s Roots.” A psychedelic beat sampling and accompanied by catchy lyrics shed light the rise to fame, what that journey is like and who is with you along the way. It’s an introspective look at what it means to stay true to self and roots while moving up the ladder. The work also does what art is supposed to which is bringing people up to speed about parts of culture and life that they could’ve missed. It’s a nice tribute to a historical showing of the slave experience in America and the strengths of blacks willing to lose a foot to maintain themselves (to me it’s deep, thought provoking and lends itself conversation which far exceeds what I touched on in a few lines.)
References to biblical scriptures and stories in “How much a dollar cost” question self worth and accountability while forcing us to think about self and what our obligations are as people.
The way that Lamar forces us to take a deeper look at reality is refreshing. Occasional comical undertones compliment the work helping to soften a message that is delivered in hard, impactful fashion.
For me, Lamar’s music makes him a leader in times where many aren’t willing to accept the role. His interview-styled conversation with Tupac during “Mortal Man” left me with chills and allows us to revisit the thoughts of another genius while reflecting on how too many black lives are lost prematurely to senseless violence and systematic practices.
“U” and “I” are both spiritually tuned reflections of self that are relatable for many listeners who battle with what it means to exist in a world where we are forced to have a grasp on who we are and who we are trying to become. Recording music is one thing and taking it to the next level to use it as an educational tool is another. Kendrick’s thought on the debated “N” word is powerful. The breakdown and delivery of his knowledge of the roots of the world was a brilliant way to jump into tracks where the uses it While listening, I reflection and continue to question the usage as I kept his insight in mind.
Addressing the black community is a must, especially in a time where accountability seems to be a failed practice for many. Lamar challenges the black community in “The Blacker The Berry” These lyrics ring out loud and proud on days where t’nice enough to roll my windows down or on morning runs. “You never liked us anyway, fuck your friendship. I meant it I’m African American, I’m African. I’m black as the moon, heritage of a small village. Pardon my residence. Came from the bottom of mankind. My hair is nappy..” Being real and powerfully voicing truths about identity, expectations, stereotypes along with publicizing the power and beauty that comes with being black is a strong point for the Compton based rapped. He also doesn’t shy away from talking about the harsher realities that come with the skin tone. His work makes you recall leaders during the civil rights moving who endlessly work to deliver the message of “Black Pride.”
The brother is deep combination of many things. The 5’5 rapper eloquently relays a message with radical thoughts and sounds that push boundaries. He’s deserving of the nominations and there’s only one category where I’ve even thought to question a victory.
Rap’s modern day: Ali vs. Frazier– Cole’s Corner
I don’t see anyone as a formidable opponent for the lyricist other than J. Cole with “Forest Hills Drive” album. (Contenders in the Best Rap Album category).
While I see Lamar’s album as the album of the year and him as deserving of each nomination he is up for, Cole’s work can’t be forgotten and his lyrical wordplay forces you to hear him, embrace every word and then listen again. “What’s money without happiness?”. It’s questions like these that make Cole’s album feel like a conversation experience throughout. His work is the blueprint for looking within and seeing what it means to go for success and to truly value your circumstances.
Cole’s work embodies hip-hop flare and flavor. It’s also the journey of a rapper/artist who has progressed and taken great leaps to far exceed his previous work (Born, 2013 and Cole World: The Sideline Story, 2011)
The album is one that can be played while in any mood and also serves as a mood-setter.
Cole demands attention and respect in tracks like “January 28” and labels himself as the games greatest mc with lines like “You n*(gg*s might be L, or you might be Kane or you might be Slick Rick with 19 chains or you might be Drizzy Drake or Kendrick Lamar, but check the birthdate… You ain’t the God.” The line is accompanied by poetic and memorable remarks about black on black violence and continually working to be at the height of hip hop and life.
While he effortlessly makes his argument for being the games best and calls out white rappers for their imitation of what started as black art (appropriation) in “Fire Squad“, Cole draws minds to subject matters that parallel many issues in society such as the gentrification of neighborhoods, the devaluing or art and work for capitalistic gain and history’s role on modern day.
He also delves into the hearts and experience of listeners in “Wet Dreams” as he talks about his first time and shares the nerves and excitement of a young inexperienced virgin. In “No Role Modelz” he shares an inside look at himself as well as his perspective on today’s women vs. women respected and culturally loved like Nia long and Lisa Bonnet. He paints a picture of the now and then and how culturally we’ve stepped away from values, attachments to not being sold for a dollar sign and the power we possess to get back there.
The tempo and pace on tracks like “G.O.M.D. and “Apparently” make you vibe out and just get lost in the content. Cole delves into his emotion on “G.O.M.D“. where he talks about the value of love and how it’s absent in society. The song is the perfect balance of reality and asking questions about stereotypes that plague our community. I spent many road trips listening to Cole serenade and pump out uplift “I keep my head high…I keep my faith strong.” He makes feel good music that make you think about what is necessary to feel better.
In songs like “A tale of two Citiez” Cole shows the world what it feels like have ambitions of obtaining materialistic that are praised and sought after in society. He effortlessly tells stories and brings you into his world of how robbing and crimes in cities where opportunities are lacking become the option. Cole is socially aware and focused on helping others get to that point. He’s honest and doesn’t shy away from revealing his ambitions and what it means to endure, and be involved with certain experiences based on circumstances.
Forest Hill Drive was a hugely improved showing of his ability to use his work as activists.
Both Lamar and Cole have created work worthy of listening to, worthy of discussing and repeatedly playing. It’s work that depicts the times and tells the individualized stories and experiences of two individuals that have great insight on what’s reality for an often overlooked population.
The albums dropped at a time where social and racial injustices are at the surface of societal issues that are echoed by terroism, violence, poverty and poor nutrition. As a black woman, proud of my heritage, culture and ambition to stay connected to my roots, I take pride in listening to artists who take pride in making art. Both Lamar and Cole do this because they shed light and raise awareness to the ills of the world while challenging us to do our part and put a mirror up for reflection .
As I said before, in my opinion Lamar is deserving of every grammy he is up for. The only category I have questioned involves both him and Cole “Best Rap album” Cole says he’s the best, while Lamar arguably just shows it.
Here’s Part 2 in the “And the Winner Is?” series.