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Peace & Justice Gurus: Kendrick Lamar

Social Justice Enforcer

Who is Kendrick Lamar

 

This page is dedicated to the contributions Kendrick Lamar has made to achieving peace and justice. Named the most influential artist of his generation, Kendrick is extremely successful in his musical career. Kendrick uses his influence and platform alongside his unique style of storytelling and nods to other influential artists that came before and after him to expose injustices from the gender wage gap to police brutality.  Kendrick Lamar is a young artist with an incredibly thematic discography. Kendrick debuted his first work at age 16 and his major work with a production label in 2011 with Section 80, a tribute to the Section 8 or “project” housing where many black families live in cities across America, and the 1980s when crack took over these low-income neighborhoods. Kendrick grew up in Compton harshly affected by the crack epidemic and discrimination of the War on Drugs. He often references Compton and the people he represents; his hard work and success is not only for himself but for the kids like him growing up in section 8 housing just trying to make it out of the hood or just survive. Kendrick has been considered by many to be the most influential artist of his generation. He is also often included in the debate of greatest rappers of all time. Kendrick is very in touch with his religious convictions, many lines are interpretations of bible verses and his albums paint a story similar to parables told in the gospel. 

Albums

Overly Dedicated (2010) - Debut Album

Section 80 (2011)- Album, First monumental commentary about growing up in the projects

good kid, mA.A.d city (2012)-  Album, A commentary on the systematic oppressive structures in place that has influenced Kendrick growing up in Compton

To Pimp a Butterfly (2015)- Album, An emotional journey reflection on Kendricks relationship with black artists in the industry and black history being erased by slavery. Specifically a nod to Tupac. 

 

Untitled Unmastered. (2016)- A collection of unreleased demos for previous projects, politically charged statements that did not make the final product but Kendrick still felt the public needed to hear.

 

DAMN. (2017)- A masterpiece of musical theory and a response to the backlash and misinformation spread about Kendrick, a diss track directed at America. 

 

Black Panther The Album Music From and Inspired By (2018)- Co-Writer and Featured Artist, Kendrick started this project of collaborative work from various black artists in the industry.

 

Podcasts

Dissect Podcast: Season 1- To Pimp a Butterfly

This podcast breaks down the meaning of every song on the album To Pimp a Butterfly- For some background, I will do a small dissection of the most influential song on this album. 

           The song  I want to analyze from Kendricks To Pimp a Butterfly is probably his most influential song ever. “Alright”. “Alright” itself is an anthem to anyone facing burdens in life but most famously it has been adopted as the Black Lives Matter protest anthem. The song is immediately empathetic to the burden that is being a black man in America. The first line “Alls my life I has to fight, n**a” but as the first chorus is introduced, we are immediately reminded that this is temporary, and we will persevere:

N***a, we gon' be alright

N***a, we gon' be alright

We gon' be alright

Do you hear me, do you feel me? We gon' be alright

N***a, we gon' be alright

Huh? We gon' be alright

N***a, we gon' be alright

Do you hear me, do you feel me? We gon' be alright

The song goes on to describe situations that are unfortunately familiar for many black Americans. The pre-chorus after the second verse directly addresses police brutality and the main topic of discussion when discussing Alright. 

Wouldn't you know

We been hurt, been down before

N***a, when our pride was low

Lookin' at the world like, "Where do we go?"

N***a, and we hate po-po

Wanna kill us dead in the street fo sho'

N***a, I'm at the preacher's door

My knees gettin' weak, and my gun might blow

But we gon' be alright

Either giving it praise or criticism this is always brought up. 

 

Dissect Podcast Season 5: DAMN.

The second song was much harder for me to pick. From such an incredible discography I could talk about dozens of his songs for days, limiting myself to just two is very hard. I decided to go with the song that caused the most traction and is a direct response to those who dilute his genius to “thug rap music”. This song is also a response to people hearing “alright so it is an appropriate follow-up. DNA. Like all songs a part of Kendrick's albums, they bleed into each other. So, while the comments are actually on the outro of BLOOD the response to the comments are on the next track DNA. 

[ Eric Bolling & Kimberly Guilfoyle]

Lamar stated his views on police brutality

With that line in the song, quote:

"And we hate the popo, wanna kill us in the street fo' sho'."

Oh please, ugh, I don't like it

This soundbite is from Fox News Hosts reviewing Kendrick's live performance of Alright at the BET Awards. While the song sounds like braggadocio at the surface this song references some of the darkest realities Kendrick faced growing up. Talking about his family participating in drug dealing, the ride or die loyalty being referred to comes from the loyalty you have to have to be in a gang and survive. The second verse of the song is fueled by the rage he feels hearing these reporters taking to one violent line out of his most influential and meaningful song and claiming that 

This is why I say that hip hop has done more damage to young African Americans than racism in recent years

The beat shifts, the tone is more aggressive, and Kendrick delivers one of the most emotional verses on the whole album. Each line is a masterpiece, the juxtaposition of what these reporters think he is insinuating, and the violence white Americans commit against black Americans is nearly comical.  They could not have it more wrong of what Kendrick Lamar stands for. 

If Kendrick Made a Playlist

Playlist by Kendrick

If Kendrick Lamar were to sit down and craft a playlist that inspires him to be actively striving for social justice through his music I believe he would add these songs and artists. 

 

To Zion - Lauryn Hill on The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill

 This song is about Lauryn Hill and her experience of an unplanned pregnancy. The song is addressed to Zion, her unborn son. With the elegant soundtrack and Lauryn's gospel-like voice she talks about the hardships she went through because she was a young black woman. The reaction from society towards unplanned pregnancies has always been controversial but especially for young black women. There are two very strange dominant narratives that discount each other. The pro-life narrative that can go to the point of demonizing young women for not wanting to have their unplanned, unborn children. Then the very specific pressure on young black women to not carry through and many are often pressured into abortions while they are also neglected in most medical fields and even restricted from safe and clean procedures throughout their pregnancy. Lauryn is totally transparent about her experience in the opening verse she says:

"I knew his life deserved a chance

But everybody told me to be smart

Look at your career they said

Lauryn, baby use your head

But instead, I chose to use my heart"

Black women have disproportionate unfortunate circumstances when it comes to maternal health. In America, black women are more likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth more than any other race or group. While Lauryn was very fortunate to have both a healthy pregnancy and able to make the decision for herself to have her child she's used her platform to address the injustices she and all black women in America experience. 

 

Worldstar- Childish Gambino

“Worldstar” by Donald Glover, or better known as Childish Gambino. This song is off the album Because the Internet, the album overall is a spectacular call on modern-day internet use, how it is both a platform for creativity and shared knowledge but also a very dangerous world of anonymity and “trolling”. Glover has referred to the internet as “giving a baby a handgun and telling it not to shoot itself” in interviews. However, Glover is part of the generation that was raised with the internet and has been a frequent user in the past only sharing his projects for free over the internet. The song Worldstar is meant to call attention to the violence that has overwhelmed internet culture. The website worldstarhiphop.com was originally created as a platform for hiphop lovers to share media and become a community. Over the years it has become a platform that is mainly focused on fight videos, mostly featuring black and poor people. Glover uses this song to call attention to this strange and dangerous obsession, kids are treating violence as entertainment and disassociating / normalizing the harm it causes. This song does not suggest a solution or answer any of the questions it provokes, it is only the second track on the album, so closure does come later but this song in particular calls out the behavior we have created, allowed, and promoted. 

 

Mad- Solange ft. Lil Wayne

From Solange's 2016 Album A Seat At The Table. “Mad” featuring Lil Wayne is not just a fantastic piece of art, the NAACP awarded it best outstanding duo or group. The song opens with Solange's rendition of the bible verse James 1:2 My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations.  The song addresses the constant frustrations and underlying anxieties and anger that black people in America have to live with. While researching reviews of the song one listener introduced the line from famous author James Baldwin “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” I do not know if any Artists involved in the making of this song have made any allusions to this quote but I think it fits perfectly with the narrative of the song. 

This class has also provoked me to recognize and appreciate the beauty of the two voices, the beautiful choir-like sound Solange is known for against Lil Wayne's raspy tone, they banter back and forth almost bickering or comforting each other, it's hard to tell. The song is similar to all Solange's songs, haunting AND comforting at the same time. I think the feelings she's expressing a just as complex as the style she composes. 

 

Take me to Church- Hozier

“Take Me to Church” by Hozier. This song was the first single for Hozier to catch any friction, and it quickly became one of the most popular songs of that year. Hozier is a favorite artist of mine. I am from Ireland, so I get really proud of Irish performers and Hozier has been beyond a great representation of Irish art. 

A very large part of Irish culture is religion. Very strict, catholic standards are a major part of societal expectations. He spotlights the issue he is addressing in the second line of the song: 

Every Sunday's getting more bleak

A fresh poison each week

"We were born sick"

You heard them say it

This line is referring to the homophobic opinions about same sex couples. Many religious affiliations sponsor “conversion therapy” that supports the idea that being gay is a sickness. Though Hozier himself is cis he is very public about his views for equality and liberal views, this goes against many Irish traditions but is very Intune with his progressive generation.

Hozier once stated in in an interview: “the song was always about humanity at its most natural and how that is undermined ceaselessly by religious organizations and those who would have us believe they act in its interests. What has been seen growing in Russia is no less than nightmarish, I proposed bringing these themes into the story and Brendan liked the idea.” 

I think it was very courageous for Hozier to have a song and video addressing the brutality and seriousness of the issue. The video is even banned and censored on some sites. This song tackles the homophobic and abusive government in Russia. This was incredibly brave as historically the Russian government has gone as far as to physically punish people who have publicly protested the government. 

The song still is Hozier’s most notable song still. 

 

If I were a Boy- Beyonce

“If I Were a Boy” by Beyonce is one of her first real commentaries on social standards. “If I Were a Boy” appears on the album, I Am… Sasha Fierce. It’s her take on the double standards placed on women and plays through what she would do if she were a boy. 

If I were a boy

I think I could understand

How it feels to love a girl

I swear I'd be a better man

I'd listen to her

'Cause I know how it hurts

When you lose the one you wanted

'Cause he's taken you for granted

And everything you had got destroyed

Beyonce has lived in the spotlight some time so she is held to these standards quite harshly, she knows that women are seen as overdramatic and overly emotional so often whatever issues they may have are brushed off as unimportant. The song was created out of an off the cuff conversation with co-writers BC Jean and Toby Gad. In an interview BC said “So we were walking through Times Square, and I said, “I wish I were a boy,” and he’s like, “Why would you say that? That’s very weird to me.” I said, “That pizza smells really good, and I’m trying not to eat carbs, and I wish I were a boy so I didn’t care.” That’s how the song started, and he was like, “What else would you do if you were a boy?” And I was going through a really hard breakup with my first real love, so I said, “I’d be a better man than my ex-boyfriend!””

 

Freedom- Beyonce ft Kendrick Lamar

            ‘Freedom” from Beyoncé’s iconic album Lemonade. The album is a tribute to her southern heritage and growing up as a black woman. The song is Freedom ft. Kendrick Lamar. This song is born from rage and frustration. Beyonce is expressing how she is fed up with treatment of inequality and being walked on as a black woman. She embraces the rock and roll voice that many tributes to black women and she yells her frustrations. By including Kendrick, they can both address the civil unrest in the black communities. The music video features Mothers of Treyvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner pictured with photos of their deceased sons. These mothers are fed up with constantly worrying about their sons’ livelihoods in their own neighborhoods, cars, local stores. 

            After doing research about the song I found out that the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter was started by female community organizers Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi. This song has become an anthem for black women everywhere. 

In verse two Beyonce calls back to the origins of black music. She sings:

 I'ma wade, I'ma wave through the waters 

Tell the tide, "Don't move". 

This is a direct reference to 19th century Negro spiritual “Wade in the Water.” The original song is about the idrialites escaping Egypt: 

Wade in the water.

Wade in the water, children.

God’s gonna trouble the water

            Beyonce is an iconic artist and many see her as the celebrity of celebrities. She has taken her platform and used it to shed light on inequality and civil unrest with police brutality. Extremely relevant always but especially right now.