Black History Month: Kendrick Lamar
Kendrick Lamar Duckworth is an American rapper born on June 17, 1987, in Compton, California. Despite his harsh and unfortunate upcoming, Lamar has become one of the most critically acclaimed and influential rappers of his generation.
He specializes in making poetic songs and writing intricate lyrics about events that have occurred in his past regarding gang violence, police brutality, Black Lives Matter, self reflection, and many more controversial topics that many artists would avoid.
Debuting in 2012 with the album good kid, m.A.A.d city, Lamar has since released four studio albums, one compilation album, one extended play, 55 music videos, 43 singles, three promotional singles, and five mixtapes.
Each of his albums follow different conceptual themes. Despite releasing music before this, his debut album was released on October 22, 2012. Reaching number two on the US Billboard 200, Lamar was immediately recognized and established as an artist to expect more from. This album follows the story of Lamar’s battle as a teenager with gang violence and growing up.
One standout song from this album is titled, Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst. This is one of Lamar’s most emotional and deepest songs to date. This 12 minute track tells a story from three different perspectives. The song is about living in Compton and the different ways people have to get by whether it’s through violence or desperation. After that, Lamar exposes the trials and tribulations he faced and how growing up in an urban ghetto still affects him.
Lamar went on to release his next album on March 16, 2015. Titled To Pimp a Butterfly, this album debuted at number one and was praised for its lyrics. Many publications including Rolling Stone, Billboard, and Pitchfork ranked it as the “Best Album of 2015.” Lamar released To Pimp a Butterfly at one of the most important times for black activism.
On multiple songs, Lamar expressed his fondness for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. Track 7 which is titled Alright has even gone on to become a “rallying cry” for BLM. The song emotionalizes a moment of hope inside of a dark compilation of songs. Lamar explains his failures and how he moves past them.
The song sounds upbeat, and on the surface it is; however, this song rendered many listeners to question the USA and its progress where racial injustice is concerned. Many BLM activists used this song to cope and mourn the numerous black people killed by police officers in 2015. With lyrics such as, “Do you hear me? Do you feel me? We gon’ be alright,” this song made listeners feel assured and confident in their activism.
Lamar’s next standout album was released on April 14, 2017, and received the title, DAMN. This album holds Lamar’s first number one single, HUMBLE. According to The New Yorker, the album also won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Music. This album continues the careful dissection of police brutality and even touches on topics such as suicide, drug abuse, the 2016 election, and mental health issues. This album plunders its listeners with Lamar’s lack of hope towards America’s ability to overcome its deficiency of morals.
BLOOD. is the shortest song off of this album. According to Genius, it tells a story about Kendrick being shot by a blind woman who he’s trying to help. While it is acknowledged that this story is a metaphor, it is unclear of what exactly it means. Many speculate that it is about the fine line between being blessed by the Christian God or being damned by him. At the end of this song, Lamar samples an authentic News Channel bashing his previously mentioned song Alright. The song then ends very abruptly to emphasize the fact that Lamar isn’t afraid to ridicule blatant bigotry.
“How can you take a song that’s about hope and turn it into hatred? The overall message is ‘we’re gonna be alright,’” Lamar said on TMZ Live.
Lamar’s achievements don’t end at his own personal victories. The rapper has won 12 grammys, nine MTV Music Awards, five Billboard awards, and several more. His albums are also often taught and analyzed in poetry classes for their magnetizing lyrics and impact on listeners.
As a student who is very driven by and interested in music, Lamar’s albums amaze and intrigue me. Not only has he made history as an artist, he has also inspired movements and sparked change. The fact that he is capable of evoking emotion with his songs leaves me in awe. I believe Kendrick Lamar will go down in history for his music, his upbringing, and his impact.
With all of these achievements, influential and meaningful songs, and poetic lyrics, it is no wonder why Kendrick Lamar is thought to be one of the greatest rappers of all time.