Mic Check: J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar

Mic Check: J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar

What classifies as good hip hop these days? Is it the repetitive hooks and choruses? Lyrics that are dominated by violence, drugs, alcohol and women? Or singing the same sad ol’ autotuned song time and time again? No. Real hip hop seems to be sitting in the shadows lately. Although motifs like sex, drugs, alcohol and violence are present in all hip hop, in great hip hop these subjects are not simply thrown at you and they are not the primary focus. They are details of stories. Stories that give birth to thoughts. Thoughts that inspire and connect with you in some sort of way. That is what good music, of any genre, is all about. Two MC's who are doing exactly this are J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar.

J. Cole’s 2014 Forest Hills Drive from start to finish is an instant classic. The studio album was released in December 2014 and followed by Forest Hills Drive Live, recorded in Cole’s hometown of Fayetteville, North Carolina in 2016. The concept behind this album is the idea that as children we are constantly spoon fed images of the celebrity lifestyle. This always includes a big house, flashy cars and beautiful women. We are told, only when we have this, we will truly be happy. Cole describes his journey of reaching that fantasy but ultimately realizing that it is counterfeit and that the only thing that matters is the people you love. No rappers these days are poking holes in this lifestyle, they are only glorying it. Other themes found in the album are today’s deceptive rap culture, reminiscing of past relationships and removing yourself from toxic situations. As you listen to these stories of Cole’s journey some piece will resonate with you. J. Cole’s ability to make this connection, with anybody and everybody, is incredible.

Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly shows an experimental side of the Compton rapper. Listeners who were hoping for another Good Kid, M.a.a.d City could have been very disappointed without taking some time to get to know the album. Common themes include political corruption, race inequality, gang violence and depression. Funky jazzy samples, spoken word, bizarre interludes and tips of the hat to Tupac Shakur and Nelson Mandela are peppered throughout the album. This is not a collection of random lyrics thrown together over a beat made on GarageBand. They are pieces of thought provoking stories that will grip you and take hold. No matter what your age, race or religion you will relate to some part of To Pimp A Butterfly.

J.Cole and Kendrick Lamar are leaps and bounds above the modern hip hop scene. Their albums include important lessons that people of all creeds can respect and understand. In a world of Futures, Drakes, Desiingers and Travis Scotts, these two artists have breathed life back into the soul of hip hop. If you haven’t listened to them already, do it now. You just may feel the connection.

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