Archive for October 2012

A Good Kid, Great Rap Album: A review of Kendrick Lamar's good kid, m.A.A.d. city

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I always find it hilarious when we listen to the work of a musician and think we know them as a person. I understand that music is a way some people express themselves, but the true meaning of a song is only known by the artist and the artist alone. It's like 50 Cent said, "It's just music man, it's just music."

But sometimes, it feels like more than just music. On good kid, m.A.A.d. city, Kendrick Lamar gives us an idea of his life growing up in the streets of Compton, and his evolution from a good kid trapped in the life of a gangster, to a highly intelligent, incredibly talented, role model for everyone around the world trying to "make it."

The 12-track GKMC is an album that tells a story. In fact, when taken out of context, some of his songs make Kendrick look like the cocky, shallow, mainstream hip-hop artists we often hear on the radio - where in reality nothing can be further from the truth.

When Kendrick wants us to know what he life was like when he was 17-year-old, he raps about what's important to a 17-year-old: money, power, women, and "the homies". When Kendrick wants to talk about his evolution to a man, he talks about family, faith, and influence. But regardless of what he's rapping about, or who he's portraying at the moment, he executes it all so masterfully to a degree we really haven't seen in rap music for a long time.

Lyrically, Kendrick is on another level. His flow is unlike anyone's in the game right now and is a flow that can match every possible scenario - something Kendrick uses to his advantage. On "Backseat Freestyle" Kendrick raps as his 17-year-old self, sticking out his chest and hardly stopping to breathe as he tears apart another memorable Hit Boy production. But on tracks like "Sing About Me, I'm Dying of Thirst" he slows it down to articulate stories of loved ones lost, seemingly from the perspective of the mature 25-year-old man he is today. Both extremely different styles and subject matter, both equally impressive and impactful.

Many publications predict GKMC will go down in history as "a classic." After hearing Kendrick tell his story in such an artistic way and honest way - it's hard to disagree. The features feel natural (Drake, Jay Rock, MC Eiht, Dr. Dre), the production compliments the content, and the story is simply captivating.

I could go through track by track and try to explain the story of Kendrick's life, but he does such a good job that nobody ever needs to try again. But what I will say is that in a business ran by suites and regulations, Kendrick tells his story his way - and we should all be thankful for that.

Best Tracks: The Art of Peer Pressure, Money Trees, Sing About Me/ I'm Dying of Thirst, Real

Smile While You Work

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When you talk to people about "going to work" you're likely to get a wide range of reactions. But regardless of if you love going to work, or dread it every day, it's a part of life that certainly isn't going anywhere.

After you graduate high school, the idea of working for the rest of your life becomes a harsh and inevitable reality. And for myself, I've experienced work from both sides of the spectrum as I've dreaded some jobs that I've had, and absolutely loved others.

Although I'm not one of those people whose resume would look like a short novel if they didn't cut anything of it out, I feel like I've had enough experience to develop somewhat of an idea of what makes a good workplace. And from my small, but somewhat credible experience, I've found the key to a good job is actually pretty simple, but we'll get to that in a second. 

I bring this all up for two reasons. First of all, the Creative Communications program lead me to some awesome employment opportunities that have been an absolute blast so far. Whether I'm webcasting for a university hockey game, writing the game story for a Pewee hockey game, or teaching radio to grade nine students (although that doesn't start until next week), I have really been enjoying going to work, and not just waiting to get paid. 

Secondly, I spent time at a certain workplace this month where I got to witness the happiest employees I have ever seen. Wherever you looked you would see people smiling and laughing, and everyone you talked to gave you the impression that they cared for you and were genuinely happy that you were there. The crazy thing is this place wasn't a candy store or Disney World - it was a homeless shelter!

The homeless shelter I am referring to is Siloam Mission, who are an organization that provides food, shelter and other services to help the less fortunate stay happy and healthy, and get them back on their feet again. A rewarding job? Certainly. But the stereotypical idea of a homeless shelter is a grimey old building in the shadows of the metropolis, where it's always raining, and nobody is ever really happy. So what do they really have to smile about?

Fortunately, Siloam Mission is the opposite of that stereotype. It's has a warm, inviting atmosphere where communities are built, friendships are made, and the employees and volunteers running the programs wouldn't want to be anywhere else in the world. 

As we toured the building, our guide was visably joyful telling us about how the organization was run, and was well equipped with stories not of despair and heartbreak, but of perseverance and victory. Stories that he didn't read from a script, but first-hand accounts of lives being changed because of the organization he worked for. And our guide was not the only one who carried that first-hand passion for Siloam Mission, as everyone we came in contact with (and there were a lot of them), seemed to be able to go on and on about how Siloam wasn't just a job they reluctantly woke up and drove to every morning, but a job for an organization they were honoured to be a part of. 

The phrase "Smile while you work," wasn't even enough for these people, as it felt a lot more like, "Smile because you're working." 

But what's their secret? As I said earlier, it's simple: Passion. 

These people are passionate about what they do. Nobody at that job was there because they had to be, they were there because they truly wanted to be a part of what was going on. And as I enjoy my odd jobs in the midst of my full time education, I see on the horizon not just the opportunity to make money after graduation, but I look towards an opportunity to be passionate about what I do, and to change the world while I'm doing it. 

Will that mean when it's time to look for a job, I'll have to be picky? No, that's not really what I'm saying. I'm saying that I want to find a job one day where I won't have to read someone an organizational mission statement to tell them why what I do is important, but I'll be able to tell stories, just like our guide, about how my job has changed my life, and how other people's lives were changed as well. 

Good Friday, I hope you have a nice weekend.

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There are two things you need to know this weekend:

  1. If you miss watching hockey, you can get your puck fix at as the Manitoba Bisons are in action Friday and Saturday night against the Saskatchewan Huskies. I got the call and the camera, so your not going to want to miss it. 7pm both nights.
  2. If you like hip-hop, or you like me, check out my new hip-hop show on Red River Radio. It will be coming at you live at 7-9 Sunday night, and that's happening all year long. Stream it on

Have a good Friday. 

New God Flow - Part Two

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We left off part one with the words of Pusha T:

I believe there's a God above me, I'm just the God of everything else.

It was a good illustration of religion in rap music, as it seems many rappers are willing to shout God out to the mountaintops, but when it comes to living their live accordingly...well that's another story. 

But who can blame them, right? Fame alone can easily lead you astray, never mind finding fame in a hip-hop culture filled sex, money, drugs, and violence. 

But what if I told you that it's possible to rise above all of that, shout out God in your music, and live the life of a devoted Christian, while at the same time actually producing a good rap album? 

A few years ago, I would have been sad to tell you that it probably couldn't been done. I don't think I was the only one who looked at Christian rap with something like this in mind...

However, in the last few years, a rapper emerged to seemingly change Christian rap forever. 

From working at a Christian Bible camp, the name Lecrae inevitably popped up in casual conversation about music. I, being the Christian rap skeptic as I certainly was at the time, allowed that name to go in one ear and out the other, as I was simply not interested in the genre. 

However, almost a year ago today, I saw the name Lecrae yet again, this time it was during one of the BET Hip-hop Awards Cyphers. For those of you who don't know, the BET Cyphers are the best part of the awards show every year, where some of the best rappers in the game get together and show off their best freestyles. Last year's cypher saw the likes of Eminem, Rick Ross, Busta Rhymes, and B.O.B lay down a verse, and I was very shocked to see that Lecrae was lined up to do the same. 

What I was more shocked about was how good he actually was, and how on a national stage, amongst some of the greatest rappers in the world, Lecrae perhaps made the boldest statement of them all. (Lecrae starts at the 1:16 point of the video)

After the cypher, I needed to do a little research to see what this guy was really all about. After listening to his music catalogue at the time, it turned out he was consistently pretty good. I gave him a head-nod of my approval, but didn't even go as far as adding his music to my iTunes library.

Months later as I was browsing one of my favorite hip-hop blogs, I came across a post promoting Lecrae's new mixtape, Church Clothes. I was shocked because not only was a Christian rapper on a secular hip-hop blog, but the post said the mixtape was hosted by the secular American DJ and credible co-sign, Don Cannon. Had Lecrae left his Christian roots and gone mainstream?

I immediately downloaded the mixtape as I was overcome with curiosity for this new project, and was delighted to hear that Lecrae hadn't left his Christian roots. But, after reading reviews and features of the mixtape in XXL, The Source, and Complex magazine, an argument could be made that he had in fact gone mainstream. 

Why was this outspoken Christian rapper getting all of this mainstream coverage? Had he found the answer on how to shout out God in your music, live the Christian life, and sell records?

After reading countless articles and listening to Church Clothes again and again, it was clear that he had in fact found the answer:

Make good music, and people will listen. 

It was that simple. Every feature article on Lecrae talked about how you may not agree with his religious views, but he sure is one dope rapper. And the statistics backed that up as Church Clothes was downloaded over 100,000 times in the first 48 hours alone.

Last month, Lecrae released his newest studio album, Gravity. The album debuted at #3 on Billboard 200, and reached #1 on iTunes in the United States. Lecrae was again featured in all of the top hip-hop magazines in the world, and even got an article on the TIME website.

Regardless of what you believe in life, Gravity is simply an excellent rap album. Lecrae's lyrics are honest, well constructed, and masterfully executed. Add that to some first class production, catchy hooks, and a guest spot from Big K.R.I.T., and you have yourself something special.

If you haven't heard of Lecrae yet, then it's only a matter of time, because Lecrae is coming, and it doesn't seem like he's slowing down any time soon.

So here's the moral of the story:

If you want to be on top, you don't have to sell your soul.