By Sarah DiSalvo
Imagine you are sitting in your car, surfing through radio stations, going back and forth on whether you should listen to advertisement or AM radio. As you begin to hit the scan button, a very interesting hip hop track comes on. At the start, it is puzzling, it mystifies. But as Kendrick Lamar says, “by the time you hear the next pop, the funk shall be within you.” Here is why you should stay on the station to listen one of the greatest rappers of my generation.
As a kid, Kendrick Lamar was able to experience hip-hop straight from the source in Tupac Shakur and Dr. Dre’s “California Love”. Kendrick, eight years old at the time, heard the music video was being filmed near his Compton home and was able to partake in the experience, which inspired him to write his own music. Now, the rapper is known by millions of people and has sold millions of albums that have shattered all expectations. In 2015, Kendrick Lamar released his critically acclaimed album To Pimp a Butterfly, which shook his already amazed fans. Spin gave it a 10/10 rating, Verge declares it “perfect” and Rolling Stone called it a “masterpiece”.
Kendrick’s lyrics reminisce on his childhood, rap career, his relationships and his actions throughout life. His lyrics show how he moves through a world that often judges him on his appearance and puts him into a box before anything else. The songs in the album go through a chronological storyline with a series of events that can be identified as: “The Caterpillar”, “The Cocoon”, “Breaking out of the Cocoon”, and finally being free as “The Butterfly.” These events throughout his album are a metaphor for his life. In the beginning, the caterpillar is a prisoner to his life in society, an idea that suggests the system he lives in only serves to pimp an individual for what is expected of them, rather than offering them a choice in regards to who they believe themselves to be. The album ends as a tale of learning to love oneself in spite of the features we possess and are assumed by society to hate.
To Pimp a Butterfly was given the Grammy for the Best Rap Album of the Year in 2015. The entire album was a complete game changer for hip hop that year; no other rap album that year was as bold, original, or emotional as this one. The lyricism and versatility of the album were mind blowing and brought Kendrick to the next level of his rap career.
His previous albums such as C4, Overly Dedicated, Section 80., Good Kid M.A.A.D City, are all incredible identifiers for who he is as an artist and what he has gone through during his life. All of these albums portray Kendrick’s life in Compton: dealing with manipulative people from the neighborhood, being mistaken in gang life, and losing dear friends to poverty and violence. No matter what gender, age, race, or orientation, the way the images are painted by his words allows any individual to see the picture of what it is like to struggle both inwardly and outwardly. These are feelings we can all relate to.
Personally, when I listen to Kendrick Lamar, I am able to see life through the eyes of someone else: hearing both their struggles and their conquests. It’s a moment to sit down and feel what another human being is feeling and know that these feelings, whether great or terrible, are universal. It shows empathy and understanding and that’s extremely important in today’s culture. We need more understanding for one another when many face so much inequality and adversity in life.
While many people believe Kendrick Lamar’s lyrics are controversial or explicit, he speaks to the truth, hypocrisy, satire, and sadness that exists in the world. In one of my favorite Kendrick Lamar songs, “Ab-Souls Outro”, Kendrick raps:
“See a lot of ya’ll don’t understand Kendrick Lamar
Because you wonder how I could talk about money, h**s, clothes, god, and history all in the same sentence
You know what all the things have in common
Only half of the truth, if you tell it
See I’ve spent twenty three years on the earth searching for answers
Til’ one day I realized I had to come up with my own”
Kendrick Lamar isn’t afraid to speak outside social norms, he isn’t afraid to talk about subjects that affect us all deep in our cores and he isn’t afraid to come up with his own answers. Its music that stirs society and brings everything to center. We make both good decisions and bad decisions, but our failures aren’t the only things that define us. It’s what we learn from those failures that create change in our lives and the lives around us.
So next time you are scanning radio stations in your car or even scrolling through your browse page on Spotify, consider listening to Kendrick Lamar and maybe one day you will understand how the funk can remain in you.