The Spiritual Rap Legend: Kendrick Lamar.

Research Methodology – The information in this paper was collected through thorough research conducted prior to and during the time frame of this course. As a huge fan of the artist, I have spent much time understanding the meaning behind his music as well as his influences. Through information learned in this course, I have been able to further examine his music composition in relation to other genres as well. As far as research, considering Kendrick Lamar can be considered an urban artist, there is not many scholarly sources available on his music however there is a plethora of information, analysis, and research available on the internet. As a result, many of my sources are from reputable websites and publications. A close eye was used to choose the most accurate sources available. Lastly, there is a mixture of qualitative and quantitative research used in this paper as both provides insightful information into his career, life, and music.

INTRODUCTION

Kendrick Lamar is an American musician who has found a name in the music and entertainment industry. He is an award-winning songwriter and rapper. He was born on June 17, 1987 in Compton, California. Lamar was named after musician Kendrick, one factor that is said to have motivated him to venture into music.  His parents, Kenny Duckworth and Paula Oliver had moved to Compton from Chicago when he realized Chicago gang culture was a bad influence to his life. It was alleged that he had been part of the notorious Gangster Disciplines, which was associated with myriads of illegal activities. As a child, he grew up tough, and at times he would stay out in the streets where he gained experience in life of hardship. Lamar attended Centennial High School. According to the academic reports, he was an excellent student who scored high grades. It was during his school days that he would write music and keep them for future before venturing into full time music as a career. Kendrick Lamar’s success as a musical artist can be highly attributed to his childhood and adolescence as much of his music stems from the hardships, realizations, and overcoming of obstacles experienced throughout this time of his life. He has managed to transform himself into an advocate of the oppressed in society through his music which focuses strongly on his faith in God as well.

EARLY LIFE

At the age of 8, Lamar watched a video by Dr. Dre which inspired him to become a musician. During the beginning of his musical career, Kendrick rapped under the stage name K-Dot. He wrote several children stories, which he later converted into music and performed on stage. One of the major driving factors that motivated his music was the rough life on the streets of Compton, where life was relatively hard. His family was directly affected by the life experience in the streets, violence, and robbery, lack of basic needs and even false accusation and stigmatization that are prevalent in this part of society. Despite the fact that he lived around the precarious street life, he allowed the experiences to define his path in life by using the opportunity to tell his story through music, essentially highlighting these hardships. In essence, this experience taught him to look at life from a different perspective; he lived a reality rather than being absorbed by the hostile life on the streets.

LIFE AS K-DOT

As s student, Lamar enjoyed writing stories about life, poems and lyrics, which he would later translate into songs and rap to his friends before he could record and release them to the public. In 2003, he composed and circulated his mix tape called The Youngest Head Nigga in Charge. This mix tape was an instant hit as many people enjoyed it in his home state of California and beyond. This mixtape also landed him a record deal with Top Dawg Entertainment. He recorded two more mix tapes; Training Day in 2005 and C4 in 2009. Using the earnings from these mix tapes, he formed his rap collective, the Black Hippy.

                                                                                                       

It was until 2010 that he dropped his stage name K-Dot and started using his official name. He continued releasing the mix tapes, which helped in making him more popular, considering that he was just entering the music industry as an upcoming rapper. After releasing series of mix tapes, Dr. Dre noticed his talent and helped him record some of the songs that he had initially written. In 2010, Lamar released his first full-length debut when he was still with the Top Dawg Entertainment; Section 80, which was released on iTunes. His interest in writing and composing music grew stronger and he collaborated with other artiste who had already penetrated the music industry. For instance, he collaborated with artistes such as Young Jeezy, Talib Kweli, and Lil Wayne among other famous musicians in the US. After Dr. Dre noticed his talent and took him under his wing, Dr, Dre used that opportunity to mentor him by giving guidance and direction on how to go about music as a career in the music industry. After years of guidance and motivation, Dr. Dre signed Lamar to his record label, “Aftermath Entertainment” where he would work with popular rappers such as Eminem, and 50 Cent. Joining “Aftermath Entertainment” was a big step in his music career as it provided the platform under which to promote his music and help in moving his music career to the next level. It is important to note that Eminem and 50 Cent had made a name in the music industry beyond the US and their genre was selling globally. As such, joining them through “Aftermath Entertainment”, he become popular under their popularity in the music industry.

SUCCESS IN THE RAP INDUSTRY

In 2012, Kendrick Lamar’s major debut that brought him to the limelight was the recording of Good kid, m.A.A.d. City. The debut marked his start in the music industry with high sales, considering that he was an upcoming musician in the music industry. Also, his award-winning To Pimp a Butterfly became an instant hit, which made him famous when he won the Grammy award of 2015.  Several of his most popular songs are on this album including “Swimming Pools (Drank)” and “Poetic Justice”.  Most American hip-hop lovers had started to notice his talent and the difference in his performance, and would request for his appearance on television talks shows to discuss his music and the journey to where he had reached in his career in music.

Even after taking his career to the next level, appearing in TV shows, releasing songs and even making powerful collaborations, Lamar’s ambition to become an international icon in the music industry grew stronger. His music remained relevant for his keen observation of street culture and spirituality as he often used his music to pass a message to the masses regarding the kind of life and psychological experiences of the streets. In essence, his rap had a unique message that caught the attention of hip-hop music lovers.

POPULAR DISCOGRAPHY

In 2015, Lamar released one of the most popular albums under his name; To Pimp Butterfly, where he featured artistes such as Bilal, and Pharrell. To Pimp Butterfly was well received because of the unique mix of bravura, which the contents that relates to politics and vulnerability. The theme in this piece of work was tailored to highlight what happens in society with regards to politics and the fact that some members of society, in particular people of color, find it relatively hard to live, given the unfair social evils meted against them. Based on the relevance of the themes in his songs, he was nominated for 11 Grammies and won his first Grammy award in 2016; the Best Rap Album Category. Lamar took the opportunity to use this performance at the Grammy award ceremony to promote one of the most relevant themed performances, “The Blacker the Berry” and “Alright”. The performance was received positively as it conveyed a political message to the fans, highlighting the role of politics in shaping the lives of the American society. It was one of the most politicized performances, fused with African dance and reference to social problems such as death.

 

SPIRITUAL ANALYSIS WITHIN HIS MUSIC

The primary factor that drives his music and distinguishes his music from other hip-hop musicians is the genre and the content of his music. Lamar has a mixture of spatiality and social issue, all embedded in his music, giving his genre a unique characteristic that puts his music part from the rest of the musicians. While he has not come out clearly to defend his belief in Christianity, the moral themes in his songs point to a person with reverence to God and has given his life in using his talent to bring about change in the manner in which society treated the less fortune in society. However, it is interesting to note that Lamar believes in the existence and power of God, but not religion. When he was asked about his stand on religion, his response pointed out that he had a strong belief in the existence of God, and that God was important in his life and that is the reason some of his songs are religious in nature, his reply was,

“I wouldn’t say I’m the most religious person, neither were both of my parents. I always do religious songs or whatever you want to call them from the standpoint where I’m trying to find answers…I’m a sinner and I’m trying to figure myself out.” This is a critical response with regards to understanding Lamar’s religious beliefs and practices.[3] In his response, he admits that he is a sinner and he is trying to figure out his life. This means that he acknowledges the weaknesses of man and the need to attempt to live a righteous life, one of the major characteristics of religious societies. He admits that man should mend the relationship between his and God to live achieve their goals in life. [4]

 

Based on his beliefs about religion, Lamar openly disregards the significance of religion in one’s life. In fact he says,

Believe in God, it’s only one God. Fuck all that religion shit. Believe in one God, and do right. Try your best to do right, we ain’t perfect. Just do that and everything will be straight.” Here, he cites the need to focus on the significance of God in one’s life and the need to be monotheist. He says people should focus on one God and try to do right to please God. However, religion, according to Lamar is insignificant. A close analysis of the themes of his songs gives an impression that Lamar is a Christian with little faith in the religion but a strong commitment on the existence of one God.

In his song, good kid, m A.A.d City, Lamar performance is a reflection of his street life and the role God played in his life while in the streets. Although it may not be easy to notice the theme of the song, it is clear that he intended to show the elements of God in his song. For instance, he starts the song while driving through a street, where he meets more sinners than saints, more darkness than light and series of events that illustrate the spiritual life of the people. As the song later revealed, Kendrick was baptized and started a new life. In fact, he raps on the song and declares that he believes in God’s ability to save but not the religion of Christianity.  He sings, “Faith,” “I opened my Bible in search to be a better Christian. And this from a person that never believed in religion. But shit, my life is so fucked up, man; I can’t help but give in.” here, he admitted that religion was not helping at all as most of the people he came across were short of his description of righteous people. However, he reiterates in the lyrics that God’s presence in his life was relatively important. His song continues to show how hard it is to keep faith despite the fact that everyone prays to remain faithful in their own given the temptations that human beings undergo.

SOCIETAL ANALYSIS WITHIN HIS MUSIC

Lamar has a unique music composition that is driven by factors that have direct influence in the lives of people in society. As noted above, he was a keen observer of what took place on the streets and used them events observed to create themes that would be significant in his lyrics. Most of his lyrics were directed to correcting a society issue he had witnessed in society. For instance, the composition of the song, “The Blacker the Berry” was instigated by the fact that politics was the fundamental issue that affected the lives of the American society[5]. In fact, he believed that good politics would bring about change in society and there would be less street urchins, whom he attributed to bad governance.

In addition, the song, good kid, m A.A.d City highlighted the social evils and the hypocritical nature of people. As he performs the song, the viewers can notice that he picks on the sinners and the street life to give the accounts of what needs to be done. In the essence, the songs are tailored to teach society about faith and politics, which are the key factors that influence people’s behaviors.  He observed the political events in the country and related them to the lives of the people in society, and used metaphorical statements to refer to the realities in life. More often than not, it required a deeper analysis of his songs to note the themes that intended to pas to the viewers.

 

Lamar in the song, good kid, m A.A.d City attempts to show how young children sought salvation through the teachings of the faithful. He sees society from a critical angle where the people with knowledge and information about faith and God do not want to give the right information to the kids. In addition, in the song, To Pimp a Butterfly he tries to argue with both God and the devil. He argues that God has the power to change people’s life, but wonders how the devil comes in different colors and shapes to fight the good seed God has planted on people. In the essence, his composition of music is driven by life’s realities and the experiences he had gone through as child, growing up in the streets. [6]

A critical look at his music and the journey to his music career, it is clear that Lamar is spiritual and believes in a just society. However, he disputes the common notion that all people that confess the existence of God are religious and completely disregards religion as the foundation of faith. In some of his songs, he directly makes references to Bible verses. For instance, on Lust, he quotes the verse James 4:4, which shows that he acknowledges the significance of the teachings of the Bible and the contributions of such teachings to righteousness.

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, Kendrick Lamar is a modern musician that has made a name in the music industry. Beginning with being born to poverty-stricken parents, he has experienced many obstacles throughout his life. However, he changed the perception that history determines the future and become one of the best advocates of the oppressed in society through music. His music career is driven by realities in life, the hardships and the faith in God. As a musician, his role in society cannot be underestimated as he enjoys a huge following in the United States and beyond.

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Links to Other Online Resources

Kendrick Lamar | Official Site

www.kendricklamar.com/
 

KendrickLamarVEVO – YouTube

https://www.youtube.com/user/KendrickLamarVEVO
 
 
 

Bibliography

“Kendrick Lamar Revisits Importance of Music in Black Freedom Struggle.” The Odyssey Online, 26 Aug. 2017, www.theodysseyonline.com/kendrick-lamars-single-alright

Brunben, Aneka . Empowerment and Protest in Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly”. Bachelor Thesis.

ListsDesire Thompson@desire_renee | April 16, 2017 – 6:00 am. “10 Biblical Elements From Kendrick Lamar’s ‘DAMN.’.” Vibe, 17 Apr. 2017, www.vibe.com/2017/04/kendrick-lamardamn-biblical-elements/.

Reed, Ryan. “Kendrick Lamar Talks Spiritual, ‘Urgent’ New Album.” Rolling Stone, Rolling Stone, 1 Mar. 2017, www.rollingstone.com/music/news/kendrick-lamar-talks-spiritual-urgentnew-album-w469883.

Bristout, Ralph. “The Book of K. Dot: Exploring the religious themes tucked in Kendrick Lamar’s catalog.” REVOLT TV, 13 Apr. 2017, revolt.tv/stories/2017/04/13/book-dot-exploringreligious-themes-tucked-kendrick-lamars-catalog-07008acdf9.

Tomxbarnesx. “Kendrick Lamar ‘Damn.’: A glossary of all the spiritual, political and personal references.” Mic, Mic Network Inc., 14 Apr. 2017, mic.com/articles/174230/kendrick-lamardamn-a-glossary-of-all-the-spiritual-political-and-personal-references#.ktb3oAyuu.

LyricsNMotion. Kendrick Lamar talks Jesus and Spirituality in his music, YouTube, 3 Dec. 2012, www.youtube.com/watch?v=qhVg8H-OR6I

Lewis, Miles Marshall. “Kendrick Lamar Talks Politics, Spirituality, Music More [INTERVIEW].” Http://Www.ebony.com/, 26 May 2015, www.ebony.com/entertainmentculture/kendrick-talks-politics-spirituality-music-more-333#axzz4x0YUBukc.

 

[1] The Book of K. Dot: Exploring the religious themes tucked in Kendrick Lamar’s catalog

[2] Kendrick Lamar Talks Politics, Spirituality, Music More [INTERVIEW]

[3] Kendrick Lamar Talks Spiritual, ‘Urgent’ New Album.

[4] Kendrick Lamar talks Jesus and Spirituality in his music

[5] Kendrick Lamar Revisits Importance of Music in Black Freedom Struggle Kendrick Lamar Revisits Importance of Music in Black Freedom Struggle

[6] Empowerment and Protest in Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly”. Bachelor Thesis.

[7] 10 Biblical Elements from Kendrick Lamar’s ‘DAMN.’

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