Kendra Mars - Remember When I Was Your Dad

Turning heads in Tulsa, Langston, and OKC of late, the provocative styles flaunted by this small-town hip-hop artist are not for the faint of ear.

“I’m takin’ rap back to pissy floors and crack in the walls,” proclaims “RAP-TURE,” one of four new cuts on Remember When I Was Your Dad?, the debut EP of Kendra Mars. The line isn’t unearned. The Muskogee artist is bold, crass, and unapologetic on the mic, and this is just one of numerous such examples. It would be a disservice, though, to relegate her style to a sensationalist and unsubstantive lane. Not only does she dish her ballsy verses with a smooth, humorous finesse uncharacteristic of much self-serious lyrical bomb-dropping in modern hip-hop, but she also proves by the end of the EP that an unplumbed depth of songwriting versatility lies beneath her brash exterior. 

click to enlarge Kendra Mars - Remember When I Was Your Dad
Album art for Remember When I Was Your Dad by Kendra Mars.

Kendra Mars released a series of singles leading up to Dad, a run which includes 2021’s adrenaline-pumping debut “The Takeoff”, but the new EP clears the air with a proper reintroduction for both newcomers and her day ones. Here, the femmecee is confidently at ease in mid-tempo beats, showing off a smorgasbord of personality and serving bars like it’s tennis practice.

Opener “Is This Thing On?” shapeshifts through at least five vocal demeanors within its first verse. Slipping between duplet and triplet flows seamlessly, she is hard-edged and playful in turn, murdering the beat with the verbal footwork of a boxer. It isn’t a perfect track. The rap feature from LayLo Junior Kami and the instrumental backing don’t quite meet the high bar Kendra Mars sets, and Kendra is bound to irk sci-fi nerds with the way she conflates Star Wars and Star Trek references at one point. As an intro, however, it is as attention-getting as her dramatic throat clearings. This thing is indeed on.

From here, the EP rolls into more rap cuts. “Space Jam” is a catty, braggadocious number with tons of rhymes and nuggets of provocative wordplay such as “fuck life, no plan B.” The aforementioned “RAP-TURE” samples a luxurious vintage string section to accompany some of Kendra Mars’s coldest lines, and feature emcee Zorro makes the most of his tight 16, cramming a speed run of rhymes to the last literal second. 

By this point, listeners will either be too prude to have lasted this long or will be accustomed to this explicit album’s ample mentions of penises, anuses, and titties. It is important to note, however, that Kendra Mars is not particularly sexual on this record. She invokes references to, say, pussy popping whenever it fits the lyrical flow, but she never relies on sexual imagery the way some artists do. The bulk of her writing is an ode to living loudly without remorse, and this happens to include a rude sense of humor. 

It is this context which makes the closer even more jarring. Nothing in her studio work has hinted at a stripped-down acoustic guitar number like “This Is Not a Lullaby”, so when Kendra Mars bares all in a melancholy closer about growing up in America’s tumultuous foster care system, it is a sucker punch to the feels. It tackles heavy subject matter with lines like, “I put music in a needle / And inject it in my veins / Thought I loved it for the pleasure / I need it for the painpain,” and it gets darker from there. The album art hits in a tragic new way, too, since this low-fidelity photo of Kendra as a child is one of the few known to exist. Her identity is one built out of impermanence.

She has a Spotify playlist called “Songs I Wish I Wrote” that includes the likes of Hozier and Reba McEntire alongside Lupe Fiasco and Denzel Curry, and she credits her eclectic music taste to moving from household to household as a kid. Knowing that her artistic instincts can so proficiently adapt to different styles like this and hearing the proof in her debut EP, there seems to be no limit to what a Kendra Mars song can be. 

Before signing off, Remember When I Was Your Dad? tucks in an alternate version of “Is This Thing On?” that would serve as a hidden track in the days of compact discs. This is not the only time Kendra Mars pays homage to 90’s culture — she makes clear references to TLC and Meredith Brooks at points on the EP — but in bringing to this “405 Edition” one of OKC’s best bar-for-bar lyricists currently rising in the ranks, she ensures that this is music for the present. Husl’s feature verse writes not just for himself but for the context of the song, picking up and handing off the baton with clever lyrical integration that is rare in any music genre. 

If an EP is meant to be a hint of bigger music to come, Remember When I Was Your Dad? is a Bat-Signal of hip-hop. That artists are not already lined up around the block to get a Kendra Mars feature on their studio work suggests she is still undiscovered to most. If she continues this trajectory, though, not only is that bound to change, but she is also poised to release an incredible full-length album in the future. That is good news because even with a fast flow and stacked verses, four tracks are not nearly enough to contain everything Kendra Mars has to say.

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