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What Is It About Kendrick Lamar?

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What Is It About Kendrick Lamar?

Music News

What Is It About Kendrick Lamar?

What Is It About Kendrick Lamar?

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"I think that there are moments in hip-hop culture and pop culture when we become ready for somebody to complicate our lives," says NPR's Frannie Kelley of rapper Kendrick Lamar. Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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Courtesy of the artist

"I think that there are moments in hip-hop culture and pop culture when we become ready for somebody to complicate our lives," says NPR's Frannie Kelley of rapper Kendrick Lamar.

Courtesy of the artist

Kendrick Lamar put out his most recent album (and major label debut), good kid, m.A.A.d. city, in 2012. That album was acclaimed by both hip-hop critics and fans, and their mainstream equivalents, and Lamar's fame has only grown since then.

In the past two years, he has opened for Kanye West on the Yeezus tour, worked with SNL-affiliated comedy music group The Lonely Island on the song "YOLO," contributed a verse to the Imagine Dragons radio hit "Radioactive" and performed with the rock group on the Grammy telecast. Macklemore even made a show of texting "You got robbed" after he beat Lamar for the Grammy for Best Rap Album. Lamar declared his ambition with a pair of aggressive performances (in a guest verse on Big Sean's leaked non-album track "Control" and in the 2013 BET Awards cypher) that made waves even though they were never officially released.

Just last month, Lamar released the "That Lady"-sampling single "i." The single is in advance of an album that doesn't yet have a release date or even a title. Still, the release was a major event in both the hip-hop and mainstream music worlds, and the buzz around the album is mounting. Lamar's debut album was a singular artistic statement, a rare mix of sensitive lyrics and literary storytelling that still managed to go platinum. How did he do it?

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"It's partly the vulnerability," Microphone Check's Frannie Kelley tells NPR's Steve Inskeep. "It's partly his ability. It's partly a years-long strategy, laid out by his management team in partnership with, now, a major label. But I think maybe, also, it's the time. I think that there are moments in hip-hop culture and pop culture when we become ready for somebody to complicate our lives."

This new single is another left turn, a self-esteem-boosting rap over a recognizable sample that feels miles away from the gritty good kid. "He says to the fashion police, 'I'm wearing my heart.' If that doesn't tell you ... 'I'm really comfortable [with] who I am,' " says Microphone Check co-host and A Tribe Called Quest member Ali Shaheed Muhammad.

Hear the rest of the conversation between Inskeep, Kelley and Muhammad at the audio link.