I conducted this research by finding articles and biographies about Kendrick Lamar Duckworth beginning from his early childhood and ending with recent post about his current career. Because his music is a product of Compton, California, I researched other artist and leaders from that area who influenced his music and rap career. My main source of information was his actual music; the albums, mix tapes, and cyphers he created told more stories about his life than any article ever could.
On June 17, 1987 the hip hop musical songwriter and rapper Kendrick Lamar Duckworth was born into the rough streets of Compton, California. His birthplace has special significance pertaining to his music. The most influential artist, Tupac Shakur and Andre “Dr. Dre” Young, for Kendrick’s music were born in that very place. The picture that is commonly portrayed in the media of what life in Compton, California is like are not very far from the truth. Movies like “Boyz N the Hood” and “Friday” depict the same truths mentioned in songs by the artist who were born in raised in Compton. A person’s birthplace can be taken as a blessing or curse, Kendrick counted his as a blessing. The world around him is what shaped his musical career, he uses references to the gang violence, police brutality and mistreatment of blacks in society, and stories of his family struggle in order to express his childhood plight to listeners. The experiences of Kendrick Lamar throughout his childhood in Compton affected his talents as an artist which enabled him to join Top Dawg Entertainment, develop his influential rap career, and bring awareness to the mistreatment of black people in American society.
When Kendrick was born, his parents chose to move to California in order to escape the violent streets of Chicago, Illinois. Although this plan seemed perfect, they did not account for the crack epidemic of the 1980s which spread rapidly throughout the West Coast. Kendrick was careful not to become heavily involved with the criminal activity in his neighborhood but he did use what he saw as an influence for the poems, stories, and lyrics he began writing in grade school. At the age of 16, under his stage name K Dot, he dropped his very first mixtape entitled Y.H.N.I.C. (Hub City Threat: Minor of the Year). The acronym Y.H.N.I.C. standing for Youngest Head Nigga in Charge. As expected, this tape caught the attention of the independent record label of California, Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE). This was both strategic and fate because this record deal would change his life forever as Kendrick shares in the songs of his most recent album.
Following Y.H.N.I.C., on September 24, 2010 Kendrick proceed to release another mixtape entitled Overly Dedicated. This tape included hit songs “Alien Girl”, “P & P 1.5”, and “H.O.C.” He reached number 72 on the Billboard’s Top R&B/ Hip Hop album. His music highlighted the gangster lifestyles and street mentalities that were developing around him, lyrics from the song “Ignorance is Bliss” caught special attention from other artist in Compton.
We drink and smoke marijuana, want us to change our ways? Uh-huh
You see this game we play come from uncles that raised me in Compton
Ask me what I have accomplished, I don’t know I don’t have conscience
I just load up and start dumping on enemies; I’m head hunting
No sympathy, ain’t no love when you in these streets just get something
The lyrics peaked the interest of hip hop producer and idol of Kendrick Lamar, Dr. Dre. He created a contract between his record label Aftermath Entertainment and TDE. This connection was critical for Kendrick’s career because Dre’s label had the correct marketing and sales distribution techniques to properly launch his musical career. Under Aftermath, he networked with major artist like Lil Wayne, The Game, and Snoop Dogg. In that same year he released his first full length album exclusively on itunes, Section. 80. This album included hit songs “Ronald Reagan Era”, “Poe Mans Dreams” and “Keisha’s Song”. The lyrics dissected the current role of impoverished black people in American Society. Lamar addresses controversial topics like the crack epidemic and how it affected the children of the neighborhood as well as rape inside of households that lead to women being involved in sex trafficking and prostitution. Following the release of both of the albums, Kendrick was chosen to be apart of XXL magazine Top 10 Freshman Class of 2011 and chosen to cypher during the 2011 BET Hip Hop Awards. As he continued to prosper, he continued to drop fire albums for the people of California and his fans around the world.
In 2012, Kendrick official signed with TDE, Aftermath, and now Interscope Records which meant he was no longer and independent artist. This was the same year he released good kid, m.A.A.d. City with hits including “Don’t Kill My Vibe”, “Money Trees”, and “Poetic Justice”. This album was unique because it included soundbites of phone calls between Kendrick and family members, friends, and rival gangs in the community. His storytelling capabilities which he developed when he was young were exceptionally showcased. More than any other album he released, this m.A.A.d. city incorporated the main theme the artist represent, being an innocent kid placed in a dangerous city fighting to survive. The song that gained the most acclaim was his single “Swimming Pools”. This song addressed the alcoholism that existed in his family history as well as how peer pressure influences people to binge drink until all other problems no longer exist. He began releasing a series of videos to accompany the album which premiered on 106 & Park and helped secure interest and an extensive fan base for the artist. In November 2013 he was named GQ’s Rapper of the Year.
Kendrick always shared how hip hop artist, Tupac Shakur, was his number one musical idol and inspiration for his musical style. To pay homage to the late artist, he began preparing to release an album entitled Tu Pimp a Caterpillar. As a recurring acronym user, Kendrick was strategic to ensure the album title would spell out the artist name Tu. P. A. C. This album was intended to be socially conscious and very politically charged. The topic of the plight of blacks in America society which he discussed in Section. 80 became an extended metaphor when he dropped his next album To Pimp a Butterfly. Regardless of the album name change, the message was just as powerful. He wanted to convey to his fans that despite how characters like Uncle Sam and Sally Mae are used to suppress blacks in society we would still be “Alright”. Alright was one of the his hit singles, it represented the resilience that has always existed in the black community since the Transatlantic slave trade. The album included other hits like”King Kunta” and “Hood Politics”. The album cover quit possible spoke louder than any of the lyrics ever could.The final song “Mortal Man” included a conversation between Kendrick and soundbites of the late Tupac Shakur. The song ended with a poem that perfectly dissected the meaning of the album and explained the metaphor of both the original title and the final title, as well as the transition of black men with the ongoing metaphor of them being considered caterpillars changing to butterflies.
“The caterpillar is a prisoner to the streets that conceived it
Its only job is to eat or consume everything around it, in order to protect itself from this mad city
While consuming its environment the caterpillar begins to notice ways to survive
One thing it noticed is how much the world shuns him, but praises the butterfly
The butterfly represents the talent, the thoughtfulness, and the beauty within the caterpillar
But having a harsh outlook on life the caterpillar sees the butterfly as weak and figures out a way to pimp it to his own benefits
Already surrounded by this mad city the caterpillar goes to work on the cocoon which institutionalizes him
He can no longer see past his own thoughts
When trapped inside these walls certain ideas take roots, such as going home, and bringing back new concepts to this mad city
Wings begin to emerge, breaking the cycle of feeling stagnant
Finally free, the butterfly sheds light on situations that the caterpillar never considered, ending the internal struggle
Although the butterfly and caterpillar are completely different, they are one and the same.”
Rightfully so, he won five Grammy Awards, including Best Rap Album of the Year, for To Pimp a Butterfly. The cover featured the faces of himself and his close neighborhood friends posing with chains and money outside on the White House lawn standing on the body of a dead president. This cover was yet another form of resistance to the way blacks in American society are unjustly treated. Following the release of this album he dropped Untitled, Unmastered. With and olive green vinyl cover, he released eight songs without titles or production mastering which were demos that did not make the cut on his previous album. Although this album remained untitled and unmastered, it still reached number on the Billboard Top 200 and 178,000 units of album sales.
On March 23, 2017 he released his latest album entitled DAMN. The cover featured Kendrick in a white tee shirt (which he mentioned on Big Sean’s single, “Control”, he would only wear from that day forward) with a disappointed face, corn row hairstyle, and the words “DAMN” plastered in red across his forehead in all caps. This album can be considered his most prolific album to date, he incorporates themes of religion and sin as well as damniation and recovery. The synopsis of the storyline is made clear in a sound bite by his cousin Carl, a minister.
“Because He said He’s gonna punish us, the so-called Blacks, Hispanics, and Native American Indians, are the true children of Israel… Until we come back to these laws, statutes, and commandments, and do what the Lord said, these curses are gonna be upon us. We’re gonna be at a lower state in this life that we live here in today, in the United States of America”
Each song was a prelude to the next , forcing listeners to enjoy the entire album in sequence. The production of beats were unique and each song’s theme matched perfectly to their title. The songs included “Love”, “Lust”, and “Loyalty”. The very last song told a story of how K Dot became Kendrick Lamar, the influential rapper and songwriter. The title of the song is “Duckworth”, which is his last name but is more directed towards his father “Ducky”. The story is about TDE owner, Anthony “TopDawg” Tiffith, who planned to rob a KFC his father Ducky worked at. Because Ducky was aware of Anthony’s habitual criminal activity, he proceeded to “hook him up” with extra chicken and biscuits each time he came to the drive through. On the occasion he planned to rob them at gunpoint, Ducky’s life was spared because of their previous interactions. Kendrick believes that if his father was not so wise, he would have died, Kendrick would never have been born, and Top Dawg would not have started a record label because he would be serving time in prison for murder.
Over the past five years, Lamar has won 73 awards out of 183 nominations. These awards include 5 BET Awards, 18 BET Hip Hop Awards, 10 MTV VMAs, and 7 Grammy Awards. He has been honored with the “Key to the City” of Compton twice and still has several award nominations pending for the 2017 year. With names like Barack Obama and Beyonce Knowles being amongst Lamar’s fan base, it is clear to see how he managed to gain influence amongst people of all different communities. He is a talented performer as well as a giving philanthropist that influences the growth of the black community. His community initiatives included assisting the homeless through benefit concerts and being a role model for the children of his hometown. Kendrick Lamar Duckworth is an influential leader who did not allow his circumstances throughout his childhood hinder him as an artist, the experiences both he and his family faced formed him into the amazing artist he is known as today.
“News.” Kendrick Lamar, TopDawg Entertainment/ Interscope Records , www.kendricklamar.com/news.
“Kendrick Lamar.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 31 May 2017, www.biography.com/people/kendrick-lamar-21349281
Blanco, Alvin. “XXL Magazine Unveils 2011 ‘Freshman’ Class.” MTV News, 22 Feb. 2011, www.mtv.com/news/1658441/xxl-magazine-freshmen/.
“Song Lyrics & Knowledge.” Genius, http://www.genius.com/.
Released: July 2, 2011
good kid, m.A.A.d. city
Released: October 2012
TDE, Aftermath Entertainment, and Interscope Records
To Pimp a Butterfly
Released: March 16, 2015
TDE, Aftermath Entertainment, and Interscope Records
Released: March 4, 2016
TDE, Aftermath Entertainment, and Interscope Records
Released: April 4, 2017
TDE, Aftermath Entertainment, andInterscope Records