Prior to its cancellation, Glastonbury Festival announced Kendrick Lamar as one of its 2020 headliners. This follows his ground-breaking Pulitzer Prize win in 2018, when he became the first hip hop artist to win an award that is heavily-dominated by the classical genre. With much fan adoration, and critical success, many have suggested that K Dot is on a trajectory to become as iconic as The Beatles.
Like The Beatles, Lamar’s music has seemed to capture the zeitgeist of the era. While The Beatles’s message of “love, love, love” coincided with the anti-Vietnam War movement, Kendrick Lamar’s Alright serves as a Black Lives Matter anthem. The similarities do not end there: The Beatles provided Americans with an insight into everyday British life, with songs such as Penny Lane; Kendrick, on the other hand, tells the story of life in South Central LA through his works. To quote the Pulitzer board: Kendrick’s album DAMN. was “a virtuosic song collection… that offers affecting vignettes capturing the complexity of modern African-American life” (emphasis added). His ability to write, and deliver, introspective and complex lyrics, in an era where ghost-writing is the norm in pop music, is analogous to the harmonisation prowess of The Beatles. Lamar’s success, like that of The Beatles (at least in America), was largely against the odds, as an African-American male from a deprived neighbourhood.
A commonality Kendrick Lamar shares with artists whose work possess enduring effect, such as The Beatles or Charlie Chaplin, is the homage he pays to his predecessors in his music. The Beatles famously infused their music with blues, a genre that had existed prior to their time, while Chaplin’s success is often attributed to nostalgia. Unlike Chaplin, however, Kendrick manages to emulate the style of old school rappers while offering vignettes of contemporary life. He infuses vocal dexterity with expert storytelling in his songs, so that they are catchy enough to be popular but also possess enough gravitas to mollify critics.
Applicants for Music can consider how critics, and industry awards, have often overlooked artists in emerging or popular genres.
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