The greatest influences in our lives are music, they teach us lessons and let us see through rappers eyes and what they had when they were younger and their experiences. This is especially evident with Kendrick Lamar, the Compton rapper who has risen to fame. This paper will provide an in-depth analysis of Kendrick Lamar’s albums and how they relate to the element affecting social change.The purpose of this is to show through many examples of how hip-hop can act as a road towards creating positive change for oppressed people.
The most effective way that this is accomplished is the use of narrative in his music. The album where this is most obviously present is his major label debut: 2012’s good kid, m.A.A.d. city, in which the whole of the album is actually a large fictionalized self-biographical narrative, where each song acts like an episode in the greater story. Although this album is not strongly or directly political as later albums, there are still many descriptive accounts given regarding social and political issues.
One of these is the song “The Art of Peer Pressure,” in which Lamar gives an account of a night out with his homies in which his personal sense of morality is eschewed when he faces the social pressures within his group of friends. This juxtaposition between what the narrator says is his normal state of being and his actions within the narrative play at the core idea of the album, where in the “good kid” is corrupted and transformed by the “m.A.
A.d. city”(Lamar, Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City, 2012).
In his newest album, Kendrick provides the most powerful introspection yet, as he now sheds any barriers between himself and the character of the music and in doing so no longer claims to be the “good kid.” He now fully realizes and accepts his own flaws as he tries to live with himself. A good case of this is in the final track of the album, “Duckworth,” in which, Lamar tells the story of how a man named Duckworth working at a fast food restaurant that was held up the year before, befriended the people who had robbed it.
When the store is robbed again and by the same people, everyone except Duckworth is killed. It is then revealed that Duckworth is Kendrick’s father, and that the robber is Top Dawg, the founder of Lamar’s label. The track acts as a meditation on the thought that random chance has brought these two people together and how they had chosen a different path, he might be left without a father and no future outside of the neighborhood that he grew up in. He also acknowledges that a large part of his success is in part to the gang activity and violence that he advocates against in his own music (Lamar, Damn.
, 2017). In Kendrick Lamar’s album, “To Pimp a Butterfly” he responds to the racism, violence and police brutality that continues to plague society (Haltiwanger). Lamar’s album is a timely meditation on the convoluted emotions and events surrounding this movement. The song “Blacker The Berry” is arguably the most powerful and emotive track, it was written in direct response to the death of Trayvon Martin.
Lamar recently explained “These are issues that if you come from that environment it’s inevitable to speak on. It’s already in your blood because I am Trayvon Martin you know. I’m all of these kids. It’s already implanted in your brain to come out your mouth as soon as you’ve seen it on the TV. I had that track way before that, from the beginning to the end, and the incident just snapped it for me.
” During a Black Lives Matter conference at Cleveland State University became upset after police removed an allegedly intoxicated 14 year old from a bus. As they attempted to block the squad car holding the teen from leaving the area, an officer pepper sprayed the crowd. In response, the activists began chanting a portion of what has debatably become the most popular track on Lamar’s album, “Alright.” The reason for this song, in particular, is that it has become an anthem of Black Lives Matter, which is fitting because the song touches on police brutality but still radiates positivity.
Kendrick, who was set to perform the song at the BET Awards in June 2015, Kendrick made a big political statement by performing the song “Alright” on top of a police car. On FOX News, attorney Geraldo Rivera stated “This is why I say that hip-hop has done more damage to young African-Americans than racism in recent years. This is exactly the wrong message.” Rivera found that one of the lyrics in the song, “And we hate popo/Wanna kill us dead in the street, fo sho” problematic. This kind of argument is nothing new, and it’s a misconstrued perception of what hip-hop actually represents, which Lamar highlighted in his apt and well-articulated response to Rivera’s comments “How could you take a song that’s about hope and turn it into hatred? The message is ‘we gon’ be alright’ it’s not the message of ‘I wanna kill people. The problem isn’t me standing on the cop car, I think his attempt is deleting the real problem, which is the senseless acts of cops killing these young boys out here. I think for the most part it’s avoiding the truth, it’s reality, this is my world, this what I talk about in my music and you can’t dilute that.
Me being on top of a cop car, that’s a performance piece after these senseless acts. Hip-hop is not the problem, our reality is the problem. This is our music, this is us expressing ourselves. Rather than going out here and doing murder myself, I want to express myself in a positive light, the same way other artists are.” To simply put it, Hip-hop is an artistic response to the harsh truths individuals like Rivera seem determined to deny. Kendrick also compares fellow black people as brothers because he apart of there blood as well and how he is apart of everyone, not just himself (Haltiwanger).In an interview with NPR, Kendrick Lamar noted in his rise to fame, he struggled with having to change himself to be a positive influence, as the butterfly, not be pimped. His work on To Pimp a Butterfly clearly displays his efforts working through this struggle, even taking on a sort of character within the album to add a degree of separation that was not present in good kid m.
A.A.d. city. His most recent effort, DAMN. shows Kendrick is still struggling in this regard, as he tries to balance his desire to stay true to his goals and wish to be a positive influence on his now self-acknowledged violent and boastful tendencies.
The album’s tracks are largely drawn from biblical sins, and follow Lamar on his journey in trying to pacify each aspect in search of his true nature. This is framed within a larger context of the meaning of life, the cyclical nature of the person, and how one is likely to face the same issues multiple times throughout their life. A key feature in doing this is that the album is designed to work both forward and backward; the end is the same as the beginning. This creates a continuum of a person conquering and succumbing to their inherent character flaws, with each ultimately resulting in their death (Lamar, Damn., 2017).
This acknowledgment acts as the ultimate claim to Lamar’s social message. The purpose of his music is self-change and hope. He affirms the value of every black individual by drawing from and publicizing black history and culture, and even directly affirms self-worth through his prominent sampling of “Every Nigger is a Star.” With this empowerment, he implores that the listener reflects upon their own self and the effect that their being has on themselves and those around them by showing the listener this own process within himself. His personal struggle with his flaws and attempts to fight them so that he may affect positive change on the world acts as a self-referential model for how systematic change for the state of people of color within the United States can come about. His primary claim is that everyone has the power to enact change within themselves and that by doing this despite the pressures and challenges that we all face, a greater level of change can come about that would be able to fundamentally change the cultural dynamics in which we live.