Kendrick Lamar is a living legend in the world of not only hip-hop but music too. Before his fame, he was just known as Kendrick Lamar Duckworth. For his stage name, he dropped his last name Duckworth and just went with his middle name Lamar. He did not drop his last name completely, on his new album Damn, he has a song entitled Duckworth. Lamar was born and raised on the streets of California, but his parents were originally from Chicago, Illinois. Ironically they left California to escape the city’s hard-core violence. The family couldn’t escape too far cause Lamar’s father was affiliated with the Gangster Disciples gang. California is home to some of the world’s biggest gangs in the country. To their surprise, they would run back into it living in Compton. Lamar did not appear to be threatened by Compton, instead, he was highly influenced by it and raps about it a lot in his songs. Lamar was born on June 17, 1987, and he is the eldest child of the Duckworth’s. In school, Lamar was seen as the average student, but very intelligent. He wrote poetry and stories. As he entered his teenage phase, he turned his stories and poems into lyrics. His rap name at the time was K. Dot. On the streets, K. Dot was more than popular. He was heavily influenced by west coast rappers such as Dr. Dre, Snoop Dog, Prodigy and especially Tupac. K. Dot’s mixtapes caught the attention of top record producer Dr. Dre. Dre then proceeded to take Lamar as his prodigy to guide him through his rap career.
Unlike the rappers today who promote drug user music, Lamar does not use drugs. He does not smoke weed or drinks alcohol. At the age of 16, Lamar decided that it was not the type of person he wanted to be or the influence that he wanted to produce to his followers especially young black boys. Lamar decided to put all his effort into his rap career when he saw Dre and Tupac film the hit single, California love at the young age of 8.
His parents had moved to Compton from Chicago to escape the city’s gang culture
Lamar grew up around precarious street activity, but he seemed more influenced than harmed by it
He was a good student who enjoyed writing, first stories and poems, and then lyrics
Dr. Dre, one of hip-hop’s most respected and influential producers, took the young artist under his wing, becoming his mentor in both music and business.
Aftermath was distributed by major label Interscope, which would have the marketing, sales and distribution muscle to take Lamar’s career to the next level.
Lamar got rid of his alias name, K. Dot and decided to permanently use his stage name Kendrick Lamar in 2010. In the same year, he released the mixtape Overly Dedicated. His first album Section.80 was also released that same year with Top Dawg Entertainment record label. After the success of Section.80, hip-hop legends like Snoop and Dre passed the torch of West Coast hip-hop to Lamar during a Music box show. Lamar gained, even more, attention when he would tour with leading artists such as Lil Wayne. Afterwards, Lamar joined Dre’s record label, Aftermath Entertainment working the Eminem and 50 cent.
Good Kid, Maad City was his first album with Aftermath and it was a success. He had chart-topping hits, including Swimming Pools, Bitch Don’t Kill my Vibe and Poetic Justice. Lamar became popular amounts a mass of people including hip-hop A-listers such as Kanye West and Jay-Z. This album permitted him to be nominated for 7 Grammys thou he did not win any. A white rapper, Macklemore won best rap album of the year and felt sorry for Lamar’s lost. After the show, Macklemore expressed his feelings to Lamar and apologized. He expressed how Lamar was robbed of the Best Rap Album award. Macklemore has not produced a hit since the single “Thrift Store”, which permitted him to win. In 2013, Lamar stirred some trouble in hip-hop paradise when he took shots at ASAP Rocky Drake and Tyler the Creator. In Lamar’s mind, he was the king of NY. That same year, he graced the cover of GQ magazine as the rapper of the year.
Later on in his 2015 album, “To Pimp a Butterfly” Lamar used this album especially to speak about political issues and social injustices. From the album, he performed “The Blacker the Berry” and “Alright”. Alright became the anthem for the black lives matter movement. Protesters were in the streets calmly yelling, “We gon be alright!” The song rose to fame after the unjustly killing of the innocent Trayvon Martin who was gunned down for being black, tall and wearing a hoodie. Rolling Stone stated, “Thanks to D’Angelo’s ‘Black Messiah’ and Kendrick Lamar’s ‘To Pimp a Butterfly,’ 2015 will be remembered as the year radical Black politics and for-real Black music resurged in tandem to converge on the nation’s pop mainstream.”
Around the same time that Lamar released, “To Pimp a Butterfly”, he also was working on the “Untitled Unmastered” album. It included eight different demos that also reached numbers on the billboard charts.
Lamar’s most recent album, Damn has swept the nation by a storm. Almost song on the album has been repeatedly played on the radio. The album includes the following songs, BLOOD, DNA, YAH, ELEMENT, FEEL, LOYALTY, PRIDE HUMBLE, LUST, LOVE, XXX, FEAR, GOD, and DUCKWORTH.
HUMBLE was one of the first hits from Damn. People gravitated towards it because of its lyrics. The video has more than enough symbolism inside of it to make his points.
In the beginning of the video, Lamar is seen, “Standing in a holy beam of radiance, dressed in papal garb” This scene reflects how important Lamar takes his Christian faith. God and religion seemed to always be the focal point of Lamar’s music.
“My left stroke just went viral” will ring out in the streets and timelines of those with the confidence to back it up. Funny play on the line as Kendrick dresses up as a black Tiger Woods (get it?!) and hits balls in a California canal.” Woods is known for denying his blackness as if he is above others for being mixed. Wood’s also only dates and marries a white woman as if being with a sister is not good enough for him. Wood’s needs to be humble.
In his cornrows, Lamar “reenacts Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper,” with Lamar seated center as a Christ-like figure of hip-hop.” Lamar never takes God out the equation, but instead, he puts in right in front of your face. Kanye West has been given the title of “crazy” for referring to himself a God.
In another scene, K. Dot is shown dressed in a suit with a bunch of other men as if he was being inducted into the infamous Death Row Records label. ” This shot here, which gives us pause to consider that 2Pac is being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on April 7th… Does that have something to do with Kendrick Lamar’s latest efforts? Also, if you haven’t noticed by now, Kendrick’s wearing all white through most of the video because that’s what you do when you’re feeling godly.” Only a true hip hop fan and historian would know all these scenes. This video was not intended for the ignorant, but to enlighten and entertain the audience simultaneously.
“But the more literal and accessible visual is when the Compton MC raps “I’m so f–kin’ sick and tired of the Photoshop.” Just then a woman in full makeup is shown on the right side of a split-screen. When she crosses over to the left, her smooth ponytail is undone and the light acne that the foundation and blush hid are visible. “Show me something’ natural like afro on Richard Pryor/ Show me something’ natural like a– with some stretch marks,” he adds, before mentioning that such things certainly won’t stop him from bedding a woman. “Still will take you down right on your mama’s couch in Polo socks.” The screen then focuses on a shot of a woman’s behind, unedited and showcasing cellulite and stretch marks.” Social media went crazy over these lyrics because Kendrick was throwing shade to reveal light and beauty. In today’s society, women with perfect tailored bodies are idolized more than women with natural curves. Women attempt to cover and remove their stretch marks and put on tons of makeup. It is a good thing that black women are taking over the hair business and selling hair instead of the Chinese, but still, we have a long way to go to truly appreciate our natural beauty. Lamar does turn around to say that he would happily engage in intercourse with a dolled up women, but her worth is not in the body that she buys. That is the Gemini part of him, he has multiple sides to him. Since the release of the Humble video, women have been posting more videos and pictures of themselves in their natural hair and bodies to gain acceptance from the outside world.
Lamar is more than a political rapper, as said before he is a Gemini. For instance, in the song “Lust”, he gets very sexually explicit with his choice of words to show that he is not only conscious rapper, but he loves the ladies (though he is engaged). In the chorus, he says,
“I need some water, Somethin’ came over me, Way too high to simmer down, Might as well overheat, Too close to comfort, As blood rush my favorite vein, Heartbeat racin’ like a junkie’s, I just need you to want me, Am I askin’ too much? Let me put the head in, Ooh, I don’t want more than that, Girl, I respect the cat, I promise just a touch, Let me put the head in, “It’s okay, ” she said, “It’s okay.” In “Lust”, Kendrick portrays how lust takes over the mind, especially for a man. He is quite comical also when he asks “Let me put the head in” because that is a phrase that is commonly laughed about as a play for men to get a foot in the door. Lust is a sin that seems to be a common sin amongst the nation and Lamar has no issue talking about it. Lamar explains the lust for sex, people and worldly properties and how it consumes the mind if one is not careful. But again, Lamar never fails to mention God, he says, “Lately, in James 4:4 says, Friend of the world is enemy of the Lord, Brace yourself, lust is all yours.” Social media has sexualized every aspect of the black man and woman, people lust after money and fame and neglect their spirits and souls.
All throughout the Damn album, Lamar has been saying, “New Kung Fu Kenny, Ain’t nobody prayin’ for me, Y’all know, what happens on Earth stays on Earth.” Lamar steadily tries to emphasize that he is alone in the hip-hop world because rappers are not conscious, they dumb down their talents. Mumble rap has become the new rage; rappers focus on meaningless hooks. Every song that Ku Fu Kenny has is colorful. Many artists have taken God out of the equation and instead talk about how much they spend on a jewelry. That line is so powerful for Lamar it says a lot because he constantly talks about God. Someone is praying against him and not for him. Prayer is what keeps Lamar and if no one is praying for him, he foreshadowing that he is going to go off and not be remorseful.
Within Lamar’s lyrics, one can see mix of gangster rap, funk, neo-soul, hip hop, and rhythm and blues. He alternates his speed and voice depending on how he is feeling. K. Dot’s music is very real and raw. He does not mind getting gritty or being a little soft. Lamar is a lyricist and a poet before rapper. He tells a story in every song without sugarcoating a snippet.
Lamar is a humanitarian too. “If you visit Compton … Mr. Lamar is a familiar face in the neighborhood,” Senator Hall said. The rapper has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Compton Unified School District’s music, sports, and after-school programs “to help keep Compton students off the streets and in the classroom.” It is a priority of Lamar to give back all that he can to influence children to stay in school. Much of K.Dot’s lyrics are diverse and this comes from his love for words from his education. Great rappers like Tupac, Kanye West and Kendrick has a long list of vocabulary which makes their music more interesting. It makes the artist stand out. The more famous one becomes, the more duty one has to educate the mass. Being a role model is one of Lamar’s most precious role. To inspire these young black boys has been the challenge since the abolishment of slavery. Young brown and black either have dreams of playing professional sports or being a superstar. They must know that there are other options. Black people have special powers because we are still here though we have repeatedly tried to be exterminated. They may emulate our bodies, style, and culture, but they will never emulate our spirits. Blackness is not a fad, it is not a thing, it is not a trend, it is a gift from God only given to those strong enough to take it.
Lamar says, “I always thought how great the opportunity would be to give back to my community off of what I do in music … [to] have these young kids look at me as some type of inspiration is an honor, Tell your story to these black and brown kids … Let them know you were just like them, but you still rose from that dark place of violence, becoming a positive person.”
Ku Fu Kenny, K. Dot or Kendrick Lamar, whichever personality you get that day, he is never dull, he never hides and he is always truthful. Lamar does not plan to stop nor does anyone wishes him too.
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4. Holt, Joseph Devin, “‘You’re Nobody Till Somebody Kills You’: How Tupac Shakur Secured His Place in the Hall of Fame” (2016).
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6. Linder, Matthew. “”Am I Worth It?”: The Forgiveness, Death, and Resurrection of Kendrick Lamar.” Toronto Journal of Theology, University of Toronto Press, 12 July 2017, muse.jhu.edu/article/664536.
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Deja Bond is a Senior Computer Science major at Spelman College. She was born and raised in Philadelphia. Her interest include music, tech, and family. Upon graduation, she will be the Lead Technical Consultant at Appirio. After working, she plans to attend Columbia University to pursue a Master’s degree.