One of my favorite rappers released a surprise project on Thursday night, which included demos and leftovers from his critically acclaimed album, To Pimp a Butterfly. Kendrick Lamar embodies the “they” that DJ Khaled speaks on. Forget the thinkpieces on him being unapologetically black or how he uses actual instruments in his music, the truth is, Kendrick scares people because of how much of a contrast he is to the stereotypical machismo that is usually attached to the black man in America.
Cornrow Kenny—especially on untitled unmastered.—is unfiltered. From the cornrows to the prison pose with his homies in the White House, all the way to getting the key to Compton, his persona is authentic. This image we have of Kendrick is transparent; to speak on the actual insecurities and vulnerability that plague black men is quite astounding. He touches on his mortality and mentality on the incredible Flying Lotus cut with lines like: “I can see the darkness in me and it’s quite amazing. Life and death is no mystery and I want to taste it. Step inside of my mind and you’ll find curiosity, animosity, high philosophy, hyper prophesied meditation.”
Kendrick Lamar scares people because of how much of a contrast he is to the stereotypical machismo that is usually attached to the black man in America.
Kendrick scares people because he speaks from a place of vulnerability and rectitude that in a world that constantly shows you a farce through shiny personalities, cookie cutter pop stars, and instagram filters. He cuts through with transparency, like a hot knife through organic coconut oil. It’s not corny and preachy—it’s entertaining, and rarely feels forced. He really is the people’s champ, and his music reflects it. Protests flood the streets behind the Black Lives Matter movement, and who is the soundtrack? Who has the song we sing for comfort in world of terror? As much as you want to relate to the rapper who smokes weed all day and fucks all the women, the likelihood of that being a real thing is slim to none. There are some rappers that play into that fantasy world for their entire career without balance. Even the artist’s music that reflects this lifestyle the most said he doesn’t even do all the drugs he raps about. Music with a dance, a Vine, anything viral spreads like wildfire. Bobby Shmurda’s hat has never touched the ground, Future Hive is nearly as strong as Beyonce’s (don’t tell the Bey Hive), and Drake literally made a video for people to GIF it. Without much balance, the battle between what’s real and fake falls victim to what can become a meme faster.
How does Kendrick’s honesty fit in amongst the grand scheme of things? The current state of the black community is in a dangerous place. Our mental health is often something we don’t speak on much. A clear example is in Troy Ave's recent sentiments on Joey Bada$$ and Capital Steez's suicide. It shows us that as a race there are just certain things that we don’t talk about much. If it doesn’t fit within the confines of the usual, it gets swept under the rug.
Social and mental issues often make many uncomfortable, but our progress as people is through discussion and action. Whether it’s alcoholism, the complications of love, the dangers of the industry, financial and mental stability, Kendrick touches on all subjects with a honest point of view. We’ve been connected to his progress from his first project and humble beginnings, through becoming a Grammy award winning recording artist.
When you hear Kendrick singing “Get God on the phone!/Said it won’t be long/I see jigaboos, I see styrofoam, my hood gone brazy, where did we wrong…” it speaks directly the current state of what we see. The music is conversational, the subject matter is not fantasy. It doesn’t come off preachy. By being the people’s champ we’ve grown with since the Kendrick Lamar EP, you want to root for him, you don’t feel that subtle sense of jealousy when you see him successful or talk about his crews accolades later in this particular record. The healthy contrast and balance amongst topics covered shows you a honest artist that can’t be confined by a gimmick.
The person with true strength is usually one who doesn’t hide behind a thin veil of weak masculinity. MC Breed told us there’s no future in your fronting and when you don’t hide your demons, as Kendrick often confronts in his music, it shows true strength. Within honesty is something stronger than any amount of likes or people that follow you.
People gravitate to Kendrick so much because of his ability to connect to you through not a want to be him but more so to be like him. You see someone like Drake and he’s the man you want to be him, he always has the girls, in the center of attention, but far enough away from controversy like Black Lives Matter that it’s okay for everyone to connect with. You see Kendrick truly being himself, and you want to be more like him. I listened to the new album and it sparked all of this train of thought. I wanted to be more like Kendrick, more honest, and not afraid to dance with my own demons, and know I’ll be stronger for it. We’re all works in progress, far from perfect, and that’s the most beautiful thing. We always need to know enough, to know we don’t know shit.