In his new album Damn, right off the bat, Kendrick Lamar is shot and killed by an old blind lady. And that’s just the start of it. So even if it may not seem it at first, the album has a lot of ideas to speak of, coming straight from Kung Fu Kenny’s mind.
Kendrick Dies and is Reborn
So, the first song of the album – the one in which Kendrick dies – is called Blood, and it’s more akin to an overture than a rap song really. I love the song because of how chilling and spooky it is, with the violins and Kendrick’s blank narration, it sets up the dark tone of the album beautifully (go listen to it)! Blood describes Kendrick walking down a street when he sees a blind woman. The woman is pacing up and down the street, looking distraught, as though she’s lost something. Kendrick walks up to her and asks,
“Ma’am have you lost something?”
To which she responds,“Yes you have lost something. You have lost… your life,”
killing Kendrick and starting the album off with a literal bang. The beginning is vague in its meaning, spine chilling with its slow methodical jazzy production and overall it just begs you to ask questions. Questions like how did a blind lady aim a gun correctly, why does a blind lady even have a gun, why did she just shoot our boy Kendrick Lamar and what does it all meeaaaan? Well, just wait up fam, I gotchu.
After the thrilling intro that was Blood, the succeeding songs all seem to have a specific theme in mind that pertains to Kendrick’s life. With song titles like:
Kendrick seems to be reflecting over the important things in life. As if he’s just been killed and his life is flashing before his eyes (hmmmmm). Even then, the songs don’t seem to have one uniform message, they don’t seem to be related. Through all these songs though, the song that I think actually links back to Blood is the last song, Duckworth.
Duckworth tells of the story of a gangster in the streets of Compton named Anthony aka “Top Dawg”, who for some reason decides he’s going to walk into a KFC store and shoot up the place. But, the worker inside – “Ducky” – knows to stay on Anthony’s good side, so he gives him free chicken and biscuits. And so, because of the power of KFC chicken, Top Dawg doesn’t kill Ducky. And if Top Dawg – who is now Kendrick’s label manager – had killed Ducky, then as Kendrick says,
“Because if Anthony killed Ducky, Top Dawg could be servin’ life
While I grew up without a father and die in a gunfight”
This small chicken incident prevents the death of Kendrick’s father and gives life to Kendrick Lamar. Because Kendrick’s father was never killed by Top Dawg, Kendrick was allowed to come to live. Not only that, because Top Dawg didn’t go to jail, Kendrick found his music label and through that, discovered the one passion that gives him life. The story here is an intriguing one – the idea that even the smallest of actions could have prevented one’s life – but I think what’s more important is what comes right after.
Right after what should be the end of the album, we hear the whole album rewind and start back up again with Kendrick “taking a walk outside when he sees a woman”. The speed in which it happens, and how suddenly it’s done, leaves you dumbfounded, saying “homie what?”
Now this could just be Kendrick saying, “Hey bud go listen to the album again now will ya.” But I think it’s more than that. Kendrick uses that idea of reversing music a few other times in the album too. Like at one key moment in the album, if you reverse the song you can hear Kendrick singing the song’s chorus backwards, pleading to God, asking “why God, why God, do I gotta suffer?”
So, I think that Kendrick is telling us there’s meaning here. I think he’s telling us that not only did that chicken incident give life to him, but that by giving life to him, that moment led to his death. So, in an almost nihilistic look at existence, when that incident gave life to Kendrick, it also doomed him to the subsequent demise we see at the start of the album.
That’s a very ideological way at looking at small incidents like the one in Duckworth. And in most cases I would consider it a stretch. But with Kendrick, you can trust that the ideological and spiritual will hold a significant part in the narrative. So why does Kendrick see his life in what seems a pessimistic light? Because of God, baby (Hallelujah).
God Punishes Us All For a Reason
Throughout the album, Kendrick references Israelites saying stuff like:
“I’m a Israelite, don’t call me Black no mo’
That word is only a color, it ain’t facts no mo’.”
This culminates in a moment during the song FEAR where Kendrick’s cousin Carl explains to Kendrick why Kendrick feels so weird lately. Carl says:
“You have to understand this, man, that we are a cursed people. Deuteronomy 28:28 says, ‘The Lord shall smite thee with madness, and blindness, and astonishment of heart.’”
Carl tells Kendrick that the so-called “Blacks, Hispanics, and Native American Indians” are the true descendants of Israel, the Israelites. And that God is punishing them for the disobedience and mistakes of the entire human collective. That until the Israelites move back to God’s light, they will be a cursed species, explaining why Kendrick feels the way he feels. Kendrick believes this. He believes we are being punished as a species for something that was done by our ancestors. And this is a very scary thought to have. That we are destined to be punished for all that has been done by every human in existence that chose to stray from God’s tenants. But what I think it means for Kendrick is just as the song title insinuates, it means above all he fears God. Like how a parent punishes a child to better them, God is punishing Kendrick, so that he may better himself.
Early in the song FEAR, we hear Kendrick talking from the perspective of his own step-father, describing how his father would “beat his ass” for every action that he made:
“I beat yo ass, keep talkin’ back
I beat yo ass, who bought you that?
You stole it, I beat yo ass if you say that game is broken
I beat yo ass if you jump on my couch
That homework better be finished, I beat yo ass
Your teachers better not be bitchin’ ’bout you in class
That pizza better not be wasted, you eat it all
That TV better not be loud if you got it on”
The fact that the chorus talks about Kendrick’s fear of God with him asking “why God, why God, do I gotta suffer”, and then the next verse is about his fear of his step-father and how he disciplined him, shows to me how clear of a comparison Kendrick is making between his dad and God. Even the fact that the song is titled FEAR, when generally God is talking about in a holy and peaceful way, leads me to believe that this unorthodox comparison between God and punishment as discipline is what Kendrick considers fact. It all leads to the idea of almighty fear being a way to better the human collective generationally. And what Kendrick is doing here, creating God in his parent’s light, it isn’t a new concept. In this article regarding Family Dynamics, the author mentions that:
“If parents are extremely strict and punishing – dictating every moment of a child’s life – their children are more likely to believe that God is punishing, angry, and powerful.”
Kendrick may be subconsciously associating his upbringing with the wrath of God. He may think then that being doomed to a cursed life due to the actions of the human collective is a very sensible thing. Because in his eyes, he believes God is disciplining us, just as he has been his whole childhood. Kendrick thinks that this fear of God gives him motive to better himself, just as a parent-like figure would want for their child.
And through this very scary look at reality, Kendrick weirdly finds a reason to do good. And though you may not agree with that thought of God, this idea really shows what kind of a person Kendrick is. It shows what he thinks of life, and God, and motive, and how he pieces it all together. He’s coming from a very deep and dark place, that will perhaps make you take a step back and say Damn.
I think what’s beautiful about it though is that I could be wrong. There is so much to interpret here because Kendrick has put a lot into these lyrics. And talking about it is the fun of it. So, let me know what you think it all means to you.