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Kendrick Lamar Creates Novels as Albums

Music By
AUSTIN, TX - MARCH 16: Kendrick Lamar poses for a portrait backstage at Fader Fort presented by Converse during SXSW on March 16, 2012 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Roger Kisby/Getty Images)
(Roger Kisby/Getty Images)

 

The best music tells a narrative, taking the listener on a journey with the artist as the story’s narrator. Just think of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” or even Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Critics often draw a parallel in their critiques of the music with devices used in heralded literary works. However, sometimes an album transcends one or two literary devices and becomes a novel in its own right. Novels explore the experience of something previously untold, recognizing the character’s place in that world and following him/her as their role adapts and morphs.

Mensah Demary argues that hip-hop juggernaut Kendrick Lamar has done just this with his two albums: Good Kid, M.A.D.D. City and To Pimp a Butterfly.

Kendrick Lamar’s debut album Good Kid, M.A.D.D. City contains the basic, essential elements of a novel: a protagonist faced with an antagonistic outer world, plot and its arc—from opening scene to crisis to climax on down to denouement, a narrative connected through scenes, and character development and expression through dialogue,” Demary writes. M.A.D.D. City has the structure of a coming of age story, like Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. The listener goes on a journey as Lamar matures as each track is finished.

To read Demary’s full argument, click here. Listen to Kendrick Lamar’s song “How Much a Dollar Really Cost” below.