Given the taste for experimentation that Kendrick Lamar demonstrated on last year’s Section 80, it isn’t really surprising that ‘Cartoon & Cereal’ opens with the Compton native rapping like a singing robot with a malfunctioning battery about cartoons and handguns. It also isn’t surprising that the beat switches between beat-less sputtering screeches and a trap-beat married to a stirring string sample that wouldn’t be out of place on one of the RZA’s soundtracks.
The real surprise here has to be the guest spot from Rick Ross’s mate Gunplay, a looming dreadlocked maniac of a rapper who is much, much better at rapping than you might expect him to be, considering his swastika tattoo and notoriety for being captured on video snorting coke. It’s certainly unexpected to witness Gunplay, a resolutely “street” rapper, entering Kendrick Lamar’s somewhat avant-garde orbit. But – surprise, surprise! – the result is mildly spectacular, and will please those of us who are waiting impatiently for his much delayed Bogota mixtape.
Gunplay steals the show here, in fact. Or, at least, he does on the first few listens. Kendrick’s verse is predictably tricky to penetrate, full of multi-layered imagery and word-play, and will doubtless reward further study. Gunplay on the other hand is all about direct communication – something his booming Rick Ross-a-like voice is singularly well suited to carrying out. His lyrics here, simplistic but delivered with amazing energy and presence, are all about pain and the seriousness of his words: “Salt all in my wounds / Hear my tears all in my tunes / Let my life loose in the booth, just for you / Muthafucka hope y’all amused!” Though once he might have seemed a merely amusing figure, increasingly rap fans are going to have to admit that – when it comes to rapping, at least – Gunplay ain’t no joke.