Crucial to Kendrick Lamar’s 2012 breakout album, good kid, m.A.A.d city, is the Compton rapper’s keen grasp of setting. The sensual Janet Jackson song sampled on “Poetic Justice” led recent remixers Busta Rhymes and Q-Tip to recast the song as an endearingly goofy homage to the singer, who actually acted alongside the A Tribe Called Quest rapper in John Singleton film Poetic Justice. On the album, though, Lamar’s lyrics about “fatal attraction” take place against the backdrop of the tough neighborhood that shaped — and haunts — him.
The song’s cinematic, Singleton-style video grounds the music’s smoky atmospherics in that tragic world (unlike yesterday’s similarly shrewd video for Disclosure and AlunaGeorge’s “White Noise,” which used urban decay as a backdrop for something more whimsical and charming). Drake shows up briefly to leave an iPhone message from the realm of the rich and famous. But where Lamar’s protagonist finds love here, where he writes his rhymes, is truly a hopeless place. The video has a patient sense of pacing; when it hits, it’s a punch through the chest.
Don’t miss Lamar down in Austin, Texas, where on Friday, March 15, he’ll be headlining SPIN’s annual party.