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  • Emily Amador

Into Poetic Justice

The following lines were part of the anthem of one of the biggest social movements, the Black Lives Matter Movement, “We gon' be alright, Do you hear me, do you feel me? We gon' be alright.”

Kendrick Lamar was born in Compton, California, and was driven to climb the Hip Hop heights in order to get out of poverty and serve as a mentor.

Collectively Kendrick has earned 13 gilded gramophones. Kendrick has released 5 studio albums, one compilation album, one EP, five mixtapes, 65 singles, and three promotional singles.

Lamar’s first studio album HiiiPower followed a philosophy inspired by Tupac Shakur, bridging their upbringing as Black men in America into their artistry to motivate change by using deep lyricism and social commentary.

In his EP “Uncle Bobby & Jason Keaton,” he speaks to the experience of incarceration, specifically recounting that of his uncle and close friends serving time. Before taking on Hip-Hip Kendrick was a prolific and passionate writer, he specifically enjoyed writing poetry. He applied his poetry to rap and has used his craft to uplift, advocate, and inspire.

Kendrick describes his upbringing as stable inside his home, and chaotic outside. His innocence, as a result of growing up in Compton, was stripped away at an early age. For example, he witnessed a man shot dead in front of his apartment and has talked about getting stuck in the Rodney King riots with his dad. Compton, however, is not all bad nor as represented by the media. Kendrick shares love for his community in Compton and criticizes systemic issues that have resulted in a persisting poverty trap in once-redlined communities like Compton.

While Kendrick never involved himself in the gang violence that surrounded him, he did find himself seeing a lot of crime and also coming close to committing crimes. He faced a moral dilemma between the violence harnessed in his community and pursuing his talent for writing. This choice is not as black and white. This is the unfair reality: impoverished communities lack access to education and safe and nurturing environments for youth to develop. While someone in an impoverished community can work really hard and apply themselves, it is very rare they will reap the same benefits as someone raised in a wealthy community. Ultimately, they are operating in a system that was not made for their success. These are the stories Kendrick describes in Section .80 and Good Kid M.A.A.D City.

Shortly after dropping his first mixtape at 16, he was signed. After his local success, he was the first artist signed to Anthony Tifeths’, Top Dog Entertainment, and in 2009, he received a cosign from Lil Wayne.

In 2010, Kendrick Lamar released Overlydedicated, his best and final mixtape, where he described both the good and bad aspects of his life in Compton. Section .80 was shortly released afterward, which follows similar themes. He speaks on political topics as an insider, that is having experienced poverty and gang-inflicted violence, which makes his storytelling that much more powerful. His ability to artistically reflect his experiences into a universal medium changed the scope of rap.

Good Kid M.A.A.D City, released in 2012, speaks to maturation. “Sing About Me, I’m dying of Thirst,” is a 12-minute song where Kendrick very specifically talks about his experiences in poverty and the importance of education. He also points to the cycle of violence and advocates for it to end.

Kendrick produced his album To Pimp a Butterfly in 2015, which had seven Grammy nominations (of 11 total) and ultimately, earned the Grammy for Best Rap Album in 2016. To Pimp a Butterfly was a production inspired by Kendrick's connection to his ancestral homeland alongside his childhood neighbor, after a trip to South Africa in 2014. The story is told in a way that, like most of his published projects, requires deep analysis. He explores his experience and the shock he experienced after leaving Compton for the first time.

He used his music as a tool of advocacy during the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. In To Pimp a Butterfly Kendrick expresses his experience as a Black man in America. He incorporated different forms of Black music in America including jazz, soul, and funk. His writing, in this album, is dissected in college classes for its complexity, political observation, personal details, dark topics, and technicality.

The only problem that arose from To Pimp a Butterfly was accessibility. His projects require listeners to listen with intention and analyze deeply. This is something many people are unwilling to do, especially as a result of the discrimination Black artists face in the music industry.

During his hiatus, Kendrick’s music became increasingly prominent. In the summer of 2020, in the wake of BLM demonstrations, his music was heard at some protests, specifically “Alright.”

In 2018, Kendrick Lamar’s 5x Grammy-winning album LP Damn, Lamar’s best-selling album, became the first Hip-Hop album to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music. Damn also went on to win a Grammy Award for Best Rap Album. Damn made Kendrick’s impact avoidable and was described by the Pulitzer Prize as, “a virtuosic song collection unified by its vernacular authenticity and rhythmic dynamism that offers affecting vignettes capturing the complexity of modern African-American life.”

In 2016 Kendrick, Kendrick performed at the Grammy Awards. There he performed, “Untitled 05,” “Alright,” and “The Blacker the Berry.” His opening song, “The Blacker the Berry” speaks to institutional American imprisonment patterns and the prison industrial complex. He says, “you made me a killer,” and was dressed as a prisoner, alongside others. Kendrick also curated the soundtrack for the 2018 film Black Panther.

In 2022, Kendrick announced he would be releasing Mr. Morale and the Big Stepper, which follows the format of a therapy session. He tackles various challenging topics including accepting trauma, his own duality, and generational trauma (which he describes as a mental prison). Ultimately he reaches the conclusion that he has to, “Choose me.”

At the 2023 Grammy’s, Kendrick was the most-nominated male artist, having 8 nominations.

Here you can find a complete list of Kendrick's Albums and Discography. Here you can learn about ways Kendrick has given back to his Compton community. Please take the time to listen to some of his music and appreciate his artistry. He is truly exceptional.


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