The new face of South Central L.A. rap, Dr. Dre protégé Kendrick Lamar is part of a strong crop of fresh players at Sunday's Soundset festival.
It was the hologram heard 'round the world: Tupac Shakur, magically reflected onto the stage at the Coachella Music Fest during a set last month by his producer and mentor Dr. Dre. Of all the people who mocked and decried the holographic rebirth of the late rap legend, Dre's newest protégé, Kendrick Lamar, was not one of them.
"I thought it was a beautiful thing," said Lamar, who shared the stage with Dre at Coachella and shares a similar South Los Angeles background. "My little brothers and a lot of people their age don't know Tupac or his music, so I think to be able to bring him in front of young audiences like that again was a powerful thing. They need to understand the impact he had."
Lamar himself is starting to make a strong impression. His Coachella appearances were widely deemed a career breakthrough, prompting the Los Angeles Times to declare him "a bright hope for a resurgent L.A. rap scene." This weekend, the 24-year-old Compton native is taking the stage at a whole other kind of festival, Soundset in Shakopee.
Although he knew little of the Twin Cities scene or Soundset hosts Rhymesayers Entertainment -- only Brother Ali and Rhymesayers import act Freeway rang a bell -- Lamar believes the lines are blurring between the mainstream rap world and the underground/indie hip-hop scene of Soundset.
"People like me bridge those worlds," he said/bragged by phone last week. "I know the recipe to make it happen."
His comment was likely a wordplay on his slow-grinding, sexplicit new single with Dr. Dre, "The Recipe," which is the young protégé's first release for the hip-hop guru's Aftermath label (see also: Eminem, 50 Cent, the Game). Lamar is reportedly featured on Dre's long-delayed "Detox" album -- a mere mention of which prompted the label's publicist to cut into the interview and declare the topic off-limits.
K.Dot (Lamar's current alias) also has been hard at work on his own full-length album for Aftermath. A year into recording, he admitted he still doesn't see an end in sight.
"I have so many ideas, I just keep going and am continually recording," he said. "I'll probably just keep going until somebody finally presses stop."
The working title is "Good Kid, Mad City," a reflection of his upbringing in the notorious city of Compton. He said, "I got to experience and see all the hard things that people go through, like having to go on welfare or seeing someone they love get murdered, people doing what they have to do to survive."
Compton, of course, was also the home turf of Ice Cube, Dre and the rest of the N.W.A. crew. Lamar said he doesn't feel any pressure to live up to or carry on their legacies. "I'm trying to create a new Compton sound," he said. "I don't feel any more weight on my shoulder now than I did when I first picked up a pen in my mama's kitchen. My goal is the same now as it was then: to be the best."
It's at least fitting to call Lamar's 2011 independently released album, "Section.80," one of the best of the year. The digital-only release showed off his nervy, deep, somewhat nasal and atonal rapping style alongside a songwriting talent that's evocative, edgy and imaginative. One of the standout tracks, "A.D.H.D.," offers a bleak look at partying lifestyles of the poor and young, things that his peers at the forefront of the L.A. rap scene, the Odd Future crew, seem to celebrate. Sample lyric:
"My generation sipping cough syrup like it's water / Never no pancakes in the kitchen / No wonder our lives is caught up in the daily superstition / That the world is about to end."
"I'm not being preachy or holier-than-thou," Lamar insisted of the song. "It's about me being a part of that party scene, too, and opening my eyes to what's going on around me. I'm trying to put that in people's ears, in the ears of children trying to figure things out for themselves."
Other tracks off "Section.80" that Lamar might unleash onstage Sunday include his backhanded celebration of diversity, "[Expletive] Your Ethnicity," the politically firebranded "Ronald Reagan Era" and an ode to natural beauty, "No Make-Up (Her Vice)." Lamar said of the Reagan-lambasting track, "That's the era my generation was born into, and look what we got: crack, no father figures, widespread poverty."
As for "No Make-Up," where he braves the unthinkable and tells a girlfriend to lay off on the face paint, he said, "Women today have so many artificial, material things thrown in their face, telling them they need to look a certain way. I feel for them." Asked what type of reaction he has heard from female listeners, Lamar said with a sly laugh, "They love it."
He's smart, and he's smooth.
Follow Riemenschneider onTwitter: @ChrisRstrib