The GOAT of Our Generation:
Kendrick Lamar

Introduction & Research Methodology

Kendrick Lamar is best known for his creative storytelling and controversy lyrics/performances. He is regarded as one of the “most skillful and successful hip hop artists of this generation”. Many describe him as the “new king of hip hop” and the “Tupac of our generation”. Lamar is the greatest artist of our time because he simultaneously raps towards a greater purpose, delivers the message successfully, and shows his humanitarianism through community outreach. There are not many artists that can do all of this on consistent basis like Lamar. To validate my assertion, I used credible web sources and thoughts from experts in the music industry.
 
 To gather information about Kendrick Lamar, I first searched for books written by or about him. I came across Lamar’s website where there was biographical information as well as information about his performances and philanthropic efforts. This website served as the primary source for the information in this paper.

 

Background

 Kendrick Lamar Duckworth was born on June 17th, 1987 in a high crime area in Compton, California. He witnessed his first murder outside of his apartment at the age of 5. Despite his surroundings and struggles with growing up in a low income household, he still graduated from high school as an A student. At the age of 16 (2003), he released his first mixtape, Youngest Head Nigga in Charge. From then, he continued to use his voice to tell his story and reach the youth.

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Music

Lamar covers many topics that is prevalent in the black community such as the importance of mental health, Black pride, and gang violence (just to name a few). He is the master of storytelling by creating music that we all can relate to. Lamar does all this while delivering the message successfully with creative flows that have jazz, blues, and hip hop influence. Here is an analysis of some of Lamar’s most popular songs:

Overly Dedicated and Section 8.0

The track titled “Ignorance is Bliss” is from Lamar’s Overly Dedicated album and it highlighted gangsta rap and gang violence. In this song Lamar wrote: 

Coroners comfort your mama
“Mama he’s dead”, the next morning I toasted up with my homies
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 dumpin’ on enemies; I’m head hunting
No sympathy, ain’t no love when you in these streets just get something

Cause ignorance is bliss

These lyrics talked about the violence Lamar witnessed in his childhood. He made it a point to mention the event when a mother identifies her son as the dead body in the coroner’s office while then proceeding to talk about how the killers continued with their life. The purpose of this verse was to emphasize the point of the senseless killings that occur in inner cities and how the people that made these decisions of taking away a life do not think about the consequences or the people it may affect. He then ends the verse with “ignorance is bliss” which can have two meanings. The first meaning is to again emphasize the fact that the killers are not aware of what took place once they took away a life. The second meaning is for those who would never have to experience the life of growing up in a dangerous inner city. 

From Section 8.0, the song titled “HiiiPower” is about a movement Lamar “treated like a religion”. The three i’s in HiiiPower stand for heart, honor and respect. The purpose of this movement is to uplift the generation in this destructive society. In this song he wrote:

Everyday we fight the system just to make our way
We’ve been down for too long, but that’s all right
We was built to be strong, ’cause it’s our life, na-na-nah

Just call this shit HiiiPower
Yeah nothing less than HiiiPower
Five star dishes, food for thought b—-s
I mean the shit is, Fred Hampton on your campus
You can’t resist his HiiiPower
Throw your hands up for HiiiPower
Thug life, thug life!

 This song talked about the ideas of the movement as well the government’s involvement in famous murders, criticism of society, and encouragement to build a better future for the youth.

Good Kid, M.A.A.D City

Lamar’s album Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City talked about his childhood experiences he had while growing up in Compton, California. He highlights throughout this album that in spite of all of the times he could have made that one decision that would have changed his life drastically he still got an opportunity to escape the negative influences of his environment. In the song,”Art of Peer Pressure”Lamar wrote:

Smoking on the finest dope
Aye aye aye aye
Drank until I can’t no mo’
Aye aye aye aye
Really I’m a sober soul
But I’m with the homies right now
And we ain’t asking for no favors
Rush a nigga quick then laugh about it later
Aye aye aye aye
Really I’m a peacemaker
But I’m with the homies right now
And momma used to say
One day, it’s gon’ burn you out
One day, it’s gon’ burn you out, out
One day, it’s gon’ burn you out
One day, it’s gon’ burn you
I’m with the homies right now

This song is very relatable to many teenagers in regards to peer pressure. He talks about how his friends and environment influenced him to participate in dangerous activities. In this album, he shows how you can escape the cliche of being the product of your environment.

To Pimp a Butterfly

Lamar’s album To Pimp a Butterfly received high praise from many music experts, and public figures like Barack Obama .This album has a heavy influence of free jazz and funk which contributed to the experimental sound of this classic album. Lamar received 11 Grammy nominations, and he won for best rap performance and best rap song (both for “Alright”), best rap/sung collaboration (for “These Walls”), best music video (for “Bad Blood”), and best rap album (for To Pimp a Butterfly). He also enlivened the Grammy awards with  iconic performance of “The Blacker the Berry”. Here are some verses from his performance:

Everything black, I don’t want black
I want everything black, I ain’t need black
Some white some black, I ain’t mean black
I want everything black

I’m African-American, I’m African
I’m black as the moon, heritage of a small village
Pardon my residence
Came from the bottom of mankind
My hair is nappy, my d— is big, my nose is round and wide
You hate me don’t you?
You hate my people, your plan is to terminate my culture
You’re f—- evil I want you to recognize that I’m a proud monkey
You vandalize my perception but can’t take style from me

‘m African-American, I’m African
I’m black as the heart of a f—‘ Aryan
I’m black as the name of Tyrone and Dareous
Excuse my French but f— you, no f— ya’ll
That’s as blunt as it gets
I know you hate me, don’t you?
You hate my people, I can tell because it’s threats when I see you
I can tell because your ways deceitful
Know I can tell because you’re in love with the Desert Eagle

He highlighted police brutality and the negative images the media display in regards to black people and sparked discussion about racism and mass incarceration. The fact that he performed this “controversy” performance at the Grammy’s in spite of the audience proves that Lamar is unapologetically when it comes to expressing himself and showing black pride. 

Another song from Lamar’s album To Pimp a Butterfly that carried a strong message was “Complexion (A Zulu Love). In the song Lamar wrote:

Dark as the midnight hour or bright as the mornin’ sun
Give a f— about your complexion, I know what the Germans done
Sneak (dissin’)

Then wit told me, “You’re womanless, women love the creation”
It all came from God then you was my confirmation
I came to where you reside
And looked around to see more sights for sore eyes
Let the Willie Lynch theory reverse a million times with
Complexion (two-step)
Complexion don’t mean a thing (it’s a Zulu love)
 You like it, I love it
12 years of age, thinkin’ my shade too dark
I love myself, I no longer need Cupid
And forcin’ my dark side like a young George Lucas
Light don’t mean you smart, bein’ dark don’t make you stupid
Colorism is a huge problem across the entire African Diaspora. Even in today’s times there is a constant battle between dark vs. light skin. This divide resulted from effects of slavery on the black community as well as the ideals of the Aryan race from the Germans which Lamar mentions multiple times throughout this song. Lamar talks about how we should be proud of the skin we are in and invalidates the stereotypes on dark and light skin people. 

Untitled Unmastered

Similar to his previous album, To Pimp a Butterfly, Untitled Unmastered has a heavy jazz free and funk influence. Lamar covers psychological and politically-charged ideas, with references to spirituality and race featured throughout this piece of music. Drowned in Sound is also noted the thematic interplay between sexuality and oppression present in the release. In one of Lamar’s song “untitled 04 08.2014.” he wrote:

They say the government mislead the youth, youth, youth
(Tell ’em when you went to the park and everybody came back and)
And welfare don’t mean well for you, you, you, you
(What about when you tried to do a side for that but you)
They tell me that my bill’s past due, due, due, due
(Talk about the charge you got)
And preacher man don’t always tell the truth, truth, truth
(Do you believe in God if you thought it’s cool?)

Head is the answer, Head is the future

 This songs touches on the corruption of the government and how the youth have to think for themselves in order to change the society. In parentheses is where Lamar is whispering, which represents the nagging voice of discouragement in his head.

 

DAMN and Black Panther Soundtrack

Lamar was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his album, DAMN. This makes him the first non-classical or jazz artist to win this award for music. In his song titled “DNA” he wrote:

I got, I got, I got, I got
Loyalty, got royalty inside my DNA

My DNA not for imitation
Your DNA an abomination 

Throughout this song there is a constant sense of black pride. He repeatedly says “I have loyalty and royalty inside my DNA” and this is very important because often times many forget about the rich history of our ancestors.  

 

Lamar wrote the soundtrack for the movie, Black Panther. In his song titled, “Pray for Me” he wrote:

I fight the world, I fight you, I fight myself

Life a livin’ hell, puddles of blood in the streets
Shooters on top of the building, government aid ain’t relief 
Earthquake, the body drop, the ground breaks
The poor run with smoke lungs and Scarface
Who need a hero? (hero)
You need a hero, look in the mirror, there go your hero
Who on the front lines at ground zero? (hero)

Who gon’ pray for me?
Take my pain for me?
Save my soul for me?
‘Cause I’m alone, you see 
Who gon’ pray for me?

Take my pain for me?
Save my soul for me?
‘Cause I’m alone, you see

In this song, Lamar closely relates the struggle Black Panther had of fighting the world, his own personal problems, and his own community to the struggle that African Americans face today. As an African American woman I strongly relate to the first verse because we are struggling for equal rights and treatment from all ends of the spectrum. In addition to this we are always looked to as the “savior” when it comes to situations but unfortunately the question of who is going to be there for us is always present.

 

Philanthropy

Lamar has been awarded for his philanthropic efforts by being named as the California State Senate’s 35th Generational Icon. Lamar has donated thousands of dollars to the Compton Unified School Districts to help keep students out of the streets and in the classroom. He also gave $50,000 to this high school’s music program to support the arts. 

Awards & Accolades

  • AICE Awards
  • American Music Awards
  • ARIA Music Awards
  • ASCAP
    • ASCAP Rhythm & Soul Music Awards
    • ASCAP Pop Music Awards
  • BBC Music Awards
  • BET Awards (7)
    • BET Hip Hop Awards
  • Billboard Music Awards (6)
  • Black Reel Awards
  • Brit Awards
  • Camerimage
  • Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity
  • Clio Awards
  • D&AD Awards
  • Danish Music Awards
  • Fonogram Awards
  • Generational Icon Award (California State Senate)
  • Global Awards
  • Grammy Awards (12)
  • Hollywood Music in Media Awards
  • iHeartRadio Music Awards
  • Juno Award
  • London International Awards
  • MTV Awards (11)
    • MTV Video Music Awards
    • MTV Europe Music Awards
    • MTV Video Music Awards Japan
    • MTVU Woodie Awards
  • MOBO Awards
  • Much Music Video Awards
  • Myx Music Award
  • NAACP Image Awards
  • Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards
  • NME Awards
  • People’s Choice Awards
  • Pulitzer Prize
    • FIRST HIP HOP ARTIST TO WIN A PULTIZER PRIZE FOR MUSIC
  • Q Awards
  • Spike Video Game Awards
  • Soul Train Music Awards
  • Teen Choice Awards
  • Tec Awards
  • UK Music Video Awards
  • Variety Hitmakers Awards
  • Webby Awards
  • World Soundtrack Awards
  • YouTube Music Awards

Conclusion

Kendrick Lamar is leading a revolution with his music. There are countless songs that serve as anthems for the Black Lives Matter movement. If there is anything dealing with black pride Lamar is somehow involved in it. For example, his involvement in the soundtrack for the movie, Black Panther.  He continues to tell his story and educate/remind everyone about the problems we face as black people as well as provide motivation for us to create a better future for the youth. Artists have a responsibility to their listeners. He is well aware of that in which he uses his talent to connect to the people through music, and philanthropic efforts as well as just being a great role model. Through the audiences he has touched with his music, the quality of his music and the massive amount of awards/acknowledgements he has so far shows how he is the greatest artist of our generation. 

Bibliography

“Kendrick Lamar.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 31 May 2017, www.biography.com/people/kendrick-lamar-21349281.

“Kendrick Lamar.” Kendrick Lamar, 14 Apr. 2017, www.kendricklamar.com/

Barker, Andrew. “How Kendrick Lamar Became the Defining Hip-Hop Artist of His Generation.” Variety, Variety, 16 Apr. 2018, variety.com/2017/music/features/kendrick-lamar-career-damn-to-pimp-a-butterfly-1202619725/.

Bauer, Patricia. “Kendrick Lamar.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 13 June 2018, www.britannica.com/biography/Kendrick-Lamar.

Eells, Josh. “The Trials of Kendrick Lamar.” Rolling Stone, Rolling Stone, 25 June 2018, www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/the-trials-of-kendrick-lamar-33057/.

Joseph, Sayeed. “‘We Gon’ Be Alright’: Mental Health and the Blues in Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly.” Ethnomusicology Review, ethnomusicologyreview.ucla.edu/journal/volume/21/piece/990.

Lynskey, Dorian. “From Street Kid to Pulitzer: Why Kendrick Lamar Deserves the Prize.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 22 Apr. 2018, www.theguardian.com/music/2018/apr/22/kendrick-lamar-wins-pulitzer-prize-damn-album.

Robinson, Lisa, and Annie Leibovitz. “The Gospel According to Kendrick Lamar.” The Hive, Vanity Fair, 29 June 2018, www.vanityfair.com/style/2018/06/kendrick-lamar-cover-story.Barker, Andrew. “How Kendrick Lamar Became the Defining Hip-Hop Artist of His Generation.” Variety, Variety, 16 Apr. 2018, variety.com/2017/music/features/kendrick-lamar-career-damn-to-pimp-a-butterfly-1202619725/.

 

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