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Free Samples: Kendrick Lamar’s Poetry and Politics

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I decided to take a page out of Kendrick Lamar’s book with this article. Much like the Compton rapper did with his fourth studio album, DAMN., after completing my first three pieces for CKUT, I took more time than usual to craft the latest instalment of Free Samples. (The fact that I was on vacation for the past two weeks with limited wifi access obviously had nothing to do with it). However, unlike DAMN., I doubt this article will go on to win a slew of awards, sell millions of copies, or leave a lasting impact on its genre and pop culture as a whole. Just a hunch.

Known for his clever lyricism and bold subject matter, Kendrick has sampled everything from a 2015 Fox News report to Bruno Mars’ “24K Magic,” making him one of the most unique and prominent voices in rap today.

 

alicia keys“Compton State of Mind” (2009)
Song Sampled: “Empire State of Mind” by Jay-Z feat. Alicia Keys (2009)

Almost a parody of sorts, Kendrick puts his own spin on Jay-Z’s love letter to the Big Apple. Borrowing the beat and hook from the smash hit featuring Alicia Keys on vocals, Kendrick paints a gritty picture of the notorious LA suburb, while also making it clear that he’s “just a good kid hoping [he] can spread love.” Kendrick reworks the chorus of Jay-Z’s track from “In New York/Concrete jungle where dreams are made of/There’s nothing you can’t do/Now you’re in New York/These streets will make you feel brand new/Big lights will inspire you” to “Compton, concrete jungle where dreams are made of/There’s nothin’ you can’t do/Now you’re in Compton/These streets will make you or break you/Expire or inspire you.”

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“Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe” (2012)
Song Sampled: “Tiden Flyver” by Boom Clap Bachelors (2008)

The second track off his major-label debut studio album, good kid, m.A.A.d city,Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe” heavily samples “Tiden Flyver” by Danish electronic group Boom Clap Bachelors. The song originally featured vocals from Lady Gaga; however, her contributions were ultimately excluded from the final cut due to timing issues. Lamar stated, “We had a date, but we had to meet the deadline for the pre-order date. That’s just the business side coming through and messing things up. But you know it’s God’s plan. I’m not really too tight about it because I know we have something special.” After the song was officially released, Gaga posted the original version on Twitter. Gaga was also supposed to collaborate with Kendrick on the song “Partynauseous,” but it was never released due to creative differences. The female vocals on the song are instead performed by Anna Wise.

isleybros“i” (2014)
Song Sampled: “That Lady” by The Isley Brothers (1973)

The first single off his critically-acclaimed To Pimp a Butterfly, “i” took home Best Rap Song and Best Rap Performance at the 2015 Grammy Awards. The track utilizes the main riff from “That Lady”, written and originally performed by R&B group The Isley Brothers, which was re-recorded rather than being directly sampled from the original record. K.Dot personally visited Isley Brothers’ lead vocalist Ronald Isley to ask his permission to sample the song: “I actually had to go to St. Louis and get the blessings from Ronald Isley. That was a trip. We got in the studio and just vibed and talked about how things were back then and how they are now, and you can actually hear him on the record with a few ad-libs that he actually did. We got it on camera and things like that, it’s a beautiful thing.” Kendrick later stated that “i” is the best song he’s ever written because he never thought he’d be in the mindset to make a positive song having grown up around so much negativity in Compton. He explained that the song’s main theme of self-expression was inspired by the lack of self-love he witnessed on the streets of his hometown.

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“DNA.” (2017)
Audio Sampled: Fox News’ “The Five” Discusses Kendrick Lamar’s BET Award Set (2015)

Who knew Fox “News” could be this funny? During a round-table discussion on “The Five” — which featured so-called “journalists” that were so incompetent, the panel resembled more of a Saturday Night Live skit rather than an actual news program– Geraldo Rivera criticized Kendrick’s opening performance of “Alright” at the 2015 BET Awards. Rivera claimed that “hip-hop has done more damage to young African Americans than racism in recent years.” Shortly after, Lamar responded to Rivera’s controversial comments directly in a conversation with TMZ: “Hip-hop is not the problem. Our reality is the problem.” Kendrick used the audio of the Fox News segment at the end of the album opener “BLOOD.” and throughout “DNA.” On the album’s third track, “YAH.”, he addresses Fox and Rivera once again: “Fox News wanna use my name for percentage/My latest news is my niece, she’s worth livin’/See me on the TV and scream, ‘That’s Uncle Kendrick’/Yeah, that’s the business/Somebody tell Geraldo this nigga got some ambition.”

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LOYALTY.” feat. Rihanna (2017)
Song Sampled: “24K Magic” by Bruno Mars (2016)

Producers DJ Dahi, Sounwave and Terrence Martin were hoping to appeal to mainstream listeners by sampling the intro of Bruno Mars’s infectious smash hit “24K Magic.” Martin said of the track’s production: “‘LOYALTY.’ came about because I was working with Rapsody and 9th Wonder […] It was a Bruno Mars sample off 24K Magic […] I said, ‘I wanna replay it, reverse it, change the key, add a third harmony — do all these things to it. But still make it sound just like the sample, but with a different edge.’ […] From there, me, Sounwave, and DJ Dahi got in the studio and started to put drums on that motherfucker. Right there, on my mama, Kendrick said: ‘Imma get Rihanna on this.’ That day. Right when the drums started, he looked at me saying, ‘Aye, I’m gonna get Rihanna on this record.'” And the rest, as they say, is history.

– Matthew Martino