This article is a meditation on the artist known as Kendrick Lamar.
Kendrick Lamar Duckworth, formally known as Kendrick Lamar, is a West Coast rapper that lived his earlier years in Compton. He gained national attention once he called out every living rapper on the West Coast and claimed to be the king of New York with his verse on Big Sean’s “Control.” Ever since, Lamar has only exhibited growth. Kendrick has never hesitated to challenge and call out practices and habits that seem to collapse on themselves. He pours out the bitter reality of self-medication through alcohol in his track “Swimming Pools” off of “good kid M.A.A.D. City” saying, “All I have in life is my new appetite for failure/And I got Hunger Pains that Grow Insane/Tell me Do That Sound Familiar?/If it do then you’re like me, making excuses that your relief/Is in the bottom of a bottle and the greenest indo leaf.”
Lamar also released “i” late 2014, a track dedicated to self-love and embracing one’s self regardless of flaw. However, knowing Kendrick’s background makes the single even more powerful.
He battled depression for years haunted by the scars left behind from his life in Compton, including the murder of his best friend’s younger brother, for which Lamar continues to feel responsible.
“To Pimp A Butterfly,” Kendrick’s latest studio album that had a surprise release, illuminates his poetic prowess. He almost abandons the mold that has attached itself to modern hip-hop.
With almost no other features, Kendrick focuses on his personal storytelling and craft. The album also pushes the limits of the rap genre, as production flirts with funk, jazz, and smooth melodies. Lamar has a tendency to stand out, as no topic that crosses his mind is filtered from his music. As he has in earlier albums, he continues to express his frustration with religion in tracks like, “How Much A Dollar Cost”, as well as the pain he carries on his shoulders, feeling like a failure, and the self-hatred he has wrestled within a tracks like, “u.” “U” stands in stark contrast to “i” as Kendrick breaks down every single barrier and spits so raw you need to stop whatever you’re doing and take a deep breath whenever it starts playing.
The whole concept of the album is highlighting how society tends to only love the individual for the talent within. The caterpillar is forgotten and hated, but the potential that is the butterfly is apparently the only aspect of a person that is worth loving. However, Kendrick, marred by the streets has decided to pimp the butterfly to fit what he wants, hence “To Pimp a Butterfly.” The whole message is an allegory telling the story of what Lamar feels plagues individuals from the ghetto: only loved for the talent they have the potential to harness, the ugliness they come out of is often ignored.
Lamar has made it known that he embodies a certain bitterness that Compton instilled within him. In Compton, the survival rate is extremely low, with a high school graduation rate of 57% along with a 14 out of 100 on the crime safety index. And if the hood doesn’t kill the individual physically, you can trust that the streets have already killed them on the inside spiritually.
Kendrick Lamar has evolved since his emergence, breaking down barriers with every new track. He refuses to be held back by any filter or stereotype. When one listens to any other hip-hop artist, the mind is limited to the same repetitive ideas that are just expressed in different ways. However, Kendrick will have you studying history, opening the dictionary, and leave you speechless from the hard-hitting messages he drives through your head with his lyrical hammer..