[Editor's Note: Kevin originally came up with this article before "i" dropped. At the risk of inducing Kendrick-overload this week, I thought that now - when seemingly all of hip-hop's talking about Kenrick's past, present and future - would be the perfect time to drop it. - Nathan S.]
“If you was in a pine box
I would surely break the lock
I'd jump right in and fall asleep
Cause you are the death of me”
Welcome ladies and gentlemen to a new series that could easily be called, “The San Antonio Spurs of Rap.” In other words, it's now time to salute those sweet pieces of hip-hop that for some reason haven't been widely recognized by the masses; even though they are of high quality, they should at least be awarded with a stand alone article. (Or in the Spurs case, a championship ring and the satisfaction of knowing that you have made millions of Heat fans worldwide around Miami cry.)
But enough with the intros. It's a great day to serve justice where justice is due, especially to all the kick ass songs, verses, beats and random music moments that have gone under-appreciated. So let's gather around and be prepared to be left wondering how we could have overlooked the following beauties of rippety rap!
This inaugural edition had to be about the verse that actually inspired me to come up with this concept: Kendrick Lamar ́s "Buried Alive (Interlude)" of off Drake ́s Take Care album.
Back in autumn of 2011, when he was mixing up the ingredients of his sophomore album that would later win him his first Grammy (I still feel your pain, Mr. Nasir Jones), Drizzy was looking to round up something special for an anthem dedicated to all the heartbroken players out there - better known as "Marvin's Room." What he came up with after the 5:47 minute marker would go down as by far the best verse on the entire album, and debatably one of the best verses that Kendrick himself has ever laid down, at least in my book. (The last verse on m.A.A.d. City, "I Am" and his contribution to The Game's "The City" are close behind.)
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Every time I am listening to this beauty I can't help but wonder why nobody comes up with this as an argument for Kendrick in the Best Rapper Alive discussion. The good kid from the madd city managed to rap about a ton of - at least for Kendrick at that time in his life - career changing topics within a short running time of around 2:31 minutes* ... and somehow he manages to connect them all together!
On a first listen it appears as if K.Dot is just picturing how he and Drizzy first hung out in Toronto (I pray that he didn ́t welcome himlike this), but there is much more behind it. While the "Interlude" doesn't have a topical connection to "Marvin's Room" it does fit in when looking at the whole picture that Take Care is drawing. Issues like the road to success are being rapped about, as well as fame and how it effects one's connection to other people, envy, concerns about losing control of life, the competitiveness in the rap game, egos, Mr. OVO XO himself and, of course, aliens. (Kendrick ́s favorite analogy for girls, as heard in "Alien Girl.")
Digging deeper into the verse, it's even more about Kendrick standing on the edge of blowing up in terms of worldwide success and becoming an artist that’s targeting a mainstream audience, yet he fears that fame will force him to drift away from his path of becoming a modern day rap messenger and staying true to himself. Then again, he feels like he is determined to blow up (“I'm in the matter of man arm wrestling hands I was dealt/ when I said the music business was all I needed”). Plus, the fact that he has the same vices as you average rap artist, as heard in “My vice is similar, women love when you're my type and you're winning from everything that your palm write,” only helps him so much when trying to figure out this career-determining solution. And this is where his conversation with Drake comes into play...
Not only is the variety in subjects tremendous, but also the way Kendrick is describing these topics is remarkable. Take the way he starts off the verse in his classic Kendrick-weirdo-voice-thing manner. Just mention the song among your friends. If someone knows about it, they will respond with “pine-box ...BOOOXX." I guarantee it. Also, K.Dot delivers top notch bars, which are filled with metaphors (“Looking in the mirror, I'm embarrassed, I'm feeling like a suicidal terrorist”, meaning that he fears that his upcoming rise to fame is eventually going to kill him, as well as the metaphor for selling out and becoming mainstream as “death”), and then he weaves it all into a calm but still interesting flow founded on pure honesty.
Speaking of which, the essential topic of the record is seeking success while trying to stay true to one's self, keeping in mind that with incoming success one might trade the right path for the one with money trees (pun intended), an issue most of us will fight at some point in life. While legit pro and con arguments can be made for both sides, Drake is dropping knowledge on Monsieur Lamar that once you've chosen the path of fame, you depend on the masses to stay relevant. Fame and success are both a hell of a drug, but the supplier, the fans, might love you today and then hate you tomorrow, and in between you might become stuck in the hype (“Live the ambiance all cause the audience, one day said I would do it”). According to Drizzy, there is only one legitimate way out. To “dig a shovel full of money, full of power, full of pussy / Full of fame and bury yourself alive.“
The final question left to be answered is, of course, why this track has been overlooked by so many. Remember, this would become Kendrick's introduction to a far wider fan base and earn him a ton of respect in the game... back in 2011. Yet his popularity can't at all be compared to what it is now. The most likely answer is simply that most of the at least 2,000,000 listeners who bought the album didn't pay much attention to the song considering that it doesn't directly feature the album's artist. (Note to myself: write a feature about album cuts that doesn’t feature the main artist.)
Anyways, if this article helped you to appreciate one hell of a song at least a little more than you did before reading I'm all good, because that’s what reminiscing about overlooked music is all about, right?
* Kudos to Aubrey (or whoever at Young Money) for deciding to split up the song into two separate pieces so that no one could claim Kendrick overshadowed Drake on his own track. Lil Wayne actually had the same strategy when he featured Tech N9ne and Andre ́3K on his interlude on Tha Carter 4. Anyways, brilliant album cutting strategy, guys *slow clap*.
[Kevin Taylor is an aspiring music writer and master of the killer crossover. This is his Twitter.]