Kendrick to Ice Cube: Damn is the Death Certificate of his catalog
It is very well established that To Pimp A Butterfly has a direct connection to Tupac’s Me Against The World. If you don’t believe it go to https://freemusicempire.com/2016/06/09/nihilism-in-rap-music-2pac-shakur-me-against-the-world/ and do the full podcast run. I think Kendrick has a different base point this time that accomplishes a very different thing.
Before Death Certificate Ice Cube was definitely respected, his first solo album Amerikkka’s Most Wanted is one of the best rap albums ever released with wonderful production from the bomb squad but his follow up is more in every way. In 1991 we didn’t have a real understanding of the concept album in hip hop. Death Certificate gives a template that you can still follow.
First step: Start with scorched earth
Both Damn and Death Certificate start with a brief intro into a scorched earth don’t F_ with me song. The scorched earth first song gives the emcee absolute command and leaves the audience wide eyed and patiently awaiting more. Some of the old classical composers used to write massive swells into their symphony’s to wake up anyone in the audience sleeping. This method is very similar. Cube starts by yelling “GOD DAMN! It’s a brand new payback!” He shouts half of the first verse to make sure you are dialed in.
Mike Will Made It laces a world rattling bassline and Kendrick is off to the races daring us to catch up. With a minute and seven seconds left in DNA we hear Geraldo spewing his evil nonsense and then Kendrick is back spitting in response while the sample scratches. This switch is to let you know that while Kendrick lives in a very confusing world where he is used as a political football, etc he will never be drowned out by it. Same reason Ice Cube called his first song The Wrong Nigga to Fuck Wit.
Ice Cube-Wrong Nigga To Fuck Wit
Second Step: Takedown
Ice Cube tried to be nice on Amerikkka’s Most Wanted. He didn’t spend a second on N.W.A. After Niggaz4Life (where N.W.A. feverishly threw shots left, right and center) Cube had no choice and took command of the music industry for the next five years with the most unforgiving diss premise of all time. On No Vaseline he is saying you are being raped without lubricant and I am not.
If Kendrick had a No Vaseline moment it was probably that Control verse. He did bring that back in the lead up to this album, The Heart Part 4 with the second verse “My fans can’t wait for me to son ya punk ass and crush ya whole lil shit. I’ll Big Pun ya punk-ass, you scared lil’ bitch. Tiptoein’ around my name, nigga, you lame and when I get at you, homie. Don’t you just tell me you was just playin'” Kendrick doesn’t think of the rap world as full of people individually important enough to diss. He has his reasons.
Ice Cube-No Vaseline
Kendrick Lamar-The Heart Part 4
Third Step: Vision
Ice Cube was consumed with correcting the perception of blackness. His second verse on True To The Game is absolutely the father of a lot of discussion on DAMN.
“When you first start rhyming It started off slow and then you start climbing But it wasn’t fast enough I guess So you gave your other style a test You was hardcore hip-hop Now look at yourself, boy you done flip-flopped Giving our music away to the mainstream Don’t you know they ain’t down with the team They just sent they boss over Put a bug in your ear and now you crossed over On MTV but they don’t care They’ll have a new nigga next year You out in the cold No more white fans and no more soul And you might have a heart attack When you find out the black folks don’t want you back And you know what’s worse? You was just like the nigga in the first verse Stop selling out your race And wipe that stupid-ass smile off your face Niggas always gotta show they teeth Now I’m a be brief Be true to the game”
1991 Ice Cube wanted to be in control of every aspect of his presentation and was very frustrated by people who just didn’t have the determination to shoulder that responsibility. Kendrick talks about this on verse 2 of Feel “I feel like debating on who the greatest can stop it. I am legend, I feel like all of y’all is peasants. I feel like all of y’all is desperate.” The lesson to learn from DAMN is the one rap learned from Cube in 1991. The best rapper is not that because of pure mic skill. The best rapper in the world has command and vision. The best rapper gives you vulnerable personal experiences like Cube on Doing Dumb Shit and Kendrick on Duckworth. Political messages might be overt or laced inside the songs but the total concept and vision will be challenging even if it offends you sometimes. The best rapper brings his own sound to the table (Sir Jinx for Cube, Sounwave for Kendrick).
Ice Cube-True To The Game