Growing up with hip hop in the 90’s, it was all about crews. You rolled with a crew, that is just how things went. You look back on some of the biggest acts of the time and they were all crews. Tribe Called Quest, Onyx, Wu-Tang, Pharcyde, hell, don’t make me name drop the Fu-Schnickens on your naive asses, you get my point (I am true, WHAT, I am a true Fu-Schnick!). The reason for this was, different MC’s with wickedly different and unique voice stylings could ALL come to the table and spit a verse, there were grimy voices, smooth voices, more educated voices, angry voices, and added altogether and blended, there was something for everyone listening and that was the biggest selling point for many people. I mean, come on, everyone has a favorite member of Wu-Tang, they tend to vary widely, and no one is wrong. But then Dr. Dre, Jay-Z, and Eminem (though that motherf*cker stayed true to his roots and his real squad by forming D12) helped usher in the age of the rap superstar. That one persona that stands on the stage spitting and commands all ears to stand at attention. This meant the death of the ‘rap group’, which was kind of a rough stage of evolution for those of us who loved multiple voices and styles on a record (shoutout to Poor Righteous Teachers, who were a 90’s rap crew that ONE of you will have ever heard of). And there are rappers (Eminem being another great example) who use multiple voice styles to rap, but NO ONE has mastered this art form in the current age of music more than Kendrick Lamar. He is one of the greatest rappers alive and has a style so versatile, dude doesn’t need a crew, dude IS a crew.
The man IS essentially a one-man Wu-Tang which totally justifies the ‘one superstar on the stage at a time’ formula hip hop now follows because Kendrick vocally fills the void left by other
styles in most modern rap records, and he does it all himself.
The Voices in Your Head (are the Voices on the Wax)
We all have them, and though we may want to pretend that voice in our head is uniformly OURS, if you listen closely, it changes. When it wants us to get amped up about doing something stupid it gets louder. When it wants us to hate ourselves for a mistake, it whispers that regret to us, over and over. When we feel betrayed and wanna do something destructive, the voice takes in a sinister tinge. There is much truth to this, and any linguist specialist can confirm this as fact.
Rap crews used to kind of rep that. The one raspy voice coming out spitting the dark shit. The one dude with higher voice singing the cornier verses that still worked because of how they were delivered. The one dude who sounded like a preacher so you would have him spit all the educational bars. It worked like a well-oiled machine, with each cog having its place.
But since that went away, what do you do as an artists who wants to reach more people and show the true level of your genius to others in the field, but are stuck as one man?
You grab those voices from your skull and you make them work for YOU. You transcend the label of one man and become a one man crew, which is just what KL did and does.
Proof, you ask?
Let’s Talk Kendrick Lamar’s MANY Rap Voices
You best make sure you are sitting down for this (though who the fuck reads standing up is also a fair question, though if you’re on a phone right now I guess it makes sense) because once we go down the ‘Kendrick Lamar voices’ rabbit hole, we’re gonna be gone for a while.
That shit goes DEEP.
Truth is, he may have up to 10(00) voices and phrasing styles he uses, and we know for a fact at this point in his career, we still haven’t heard them all. But it really conveys quite a bit (changing voices during verses, using different voices to convey different emotions) and does a much better sense of really selling all he is feeling and manipulating the listener’s emotions to feel those same emotions in those exact moments, too, which is just what the best art does. It manipulates us and makes us feel things Kendrick has even said it himself. The importance of vocal range to him. How he finds a perfect vocal tone for a particular mood, and the way he varies, modifies, and manipulates that flow. He says it helps the audience understand the feeling and emotion being expressed in that exact moment, and he is right.
Here are some solid examples.
The “Frantic” Voice
The Frantic Kendrick voice is a blast, because it jumps up and down with shaking vibrato and is
used to send a sense of insanity and urgency. He has not used this voicing too often, but his Game of Love verse with Eminem and how schizophrenic it feels (and that is to represent how schizo love makes us all feel, BTW, he is not just changing voices for fun, that is the whole point of this piece).
Here, see just how FRANTIC he is by the end of his verse, voice warbling like a motherf*cker, and please note the genius of the opening line to his verse, because voices aside, a rapper is only as good as his writing, and this shit is tight butthole:
That’s that “love is making me act like a stupid fuck” feeling, and we ALL know it and have felt it before. You will aso hear this frantic phrasing SHINE on the track “u”, where it is really highlighted.
That “LOTR” Voice
Yes, other rappers dubbed it the LOTR (A.K.A Lord of the Rings, Gollum type shit) voice, because it is high-pitched and weird and kinda creepy, but grabs the audience and demands they pay attention, and it is quite unlike any other voice that has ever come out of rap.
Many fans consider his use of this style on Institutionalized as his most impressive use of that voice yet, as well as the most recognizable. It makes you feel uneasy, uncertain, but you can’t turn your ears away, and that is exactly his goal with this voice style.
That’s that “I ain't got enough sleep in days and you better be careful cuz I am unstable and dangerous” kind of voice we all get from time-to-time. Kendrick just utilizes it like a true artist would.
The ‘Rage” Voice
Think of rappers like DMX and rap crews like Onyx when you think about this vocal style. This is Kendrick reaching his boiling point. This is all of us watching the news and being fed up with how far down the drain this world is going. This is that voice that rises up in you when all you want to do is climb the tallest mountain so the whole world can hear you rage-scream until your lungs bleed. Like some “rock n’ roll” type of steez. Just pure aggression.
The “Backseat” freestyle is where you can hear this grime really shine through. Rage reaching a boiling point and simmering over.
Another great example of this is the crescendo he reaches on his Imagine Dragons collab verse. I know, busting out this white bread song may seem like a bad example, but you will only feel that way until you see how he ends his verse here, at which point, you will be covered in goosebumps and wondering how he managed to spit so many words in between actually
It is like with this voice, he becomes death or a raging fire and just consumes everything in his wake when he spits like this.
Seeing it live drives home how impressive it truly is:
That is some “I am alpha, hear me roar” type of shit right there.
The “Lethargic/Numb” Voice
This is another one you wouldn’t even find in many 90’s crews, but it brings certain verses and feelings to a level of depth and despair rarely reached in this genre. This is when Kendrick Lamar is spitting about something that he is indifferent about or beaten down by. It is a voice that is almost passive (which is why, as an alpha, he uses it so rarely) but a decent example of this is on The Art of Peer Pressure.
Think of it is the voice that doesn’t want to get out of bed that day. It’s head is heavy and it is distracted and well, a little numb (like we all are these days).
It works incredibly well at making the user feel that lethargy too, as they listen to that voice permeate certain verses.
The “Playeristic” Voice
“This dick ain't free.” Oh man, dude is just the shit.
Anyway, another vocal style among many is what some call his playeristic style. That is his sexy, smooth side coming through. You usually hear this phrasing when Kendrick is talking about sexy time and tapping that ass. Just keeping it real, it is “player” shit.
What makes the playeristic voice so dope is that it harkens back to 70’s soul music, and in doing so, introduces a whole new generation to that exact sound. Baby making music, we call it, and this the voice he uses for that.
Best example, by far:
Your panties just dropped without you having to do anything, huh? I know, mine too. Um, I mean…*walks out of room slowly
His Beloved ‘Gemini’ Alter-Ego Voice
Kendrick has straight called this Gemini“character” out, proving it is very important to him. Ultimately calling him his alter ego, the Gemini alter ego voice is can sometimes jump around and be a little frantic as well, but it is where Kendrick will almost always bring himself musically if the verse or song in mention has “conversational” tones.
Kendrick has admitted the verse he spits on Isaiah Rashad’s Wat’s Wrong is ALL GEMINI.
He will use his own voice as one of the two, with Gemini being the other. It is one man as two, playing off each other. Truly a mind-blowing skill.
D.N.A is a decent example of this phrasing and technique (and the video is genius, so watch it):
And really, to end this with a total WHAT THE F*CK for those who don’t know, THIS voice also belongs to Kendrick Lamar (the “Authority” voice) and he achieves it just using some tools to downpitch his normal voice, but the end result is a completely different PERSON altogether.
Yup, this is the one that sold me that Kendrick was truly “other level” compared to most in the game right now.
Honestly, in 2017, hip hop belongs to the KKK. What I mean is, Kendrick, Kid Cudi, and Kanye, straight up, people can talk shit all they want, I spit only facts. And if they don’t get together and do a KKK tour, they are missing out on a great opportunity to tell race relations in this fucked up country right now to fix themselves by taking the power away from those three letters, real talk.
But back to the matter at hand, this kush got me sidetracked right now.
If you don’t find the above displays of Kendrick Lamar’s vocal range impressive I just have one thing to say to you:
Bitch, be humble.