This is the fourth part of a multi-part release exclusively on this page. (link to the first part here, second here, and third here) My friend Dan Glennon (@ZiggyStarscream) on Twitter and Instagram has been working tirelessly for many weeks to write these entries for my readers. I hope you all enjoy, and I present to you Saint Kendrick: The Cinematic Nature of Kendrick Lamar Part IV. If you like and enjoy the content that I have to offer please consider liking, following, and/or commenting on my posts. It really means a lot. Thanks for your continued support!
Kendrick’s third album, ‘DAMN.’ is the most layered of his albums to date. There are actually multiple stories that this album tells as it is flushed with subtle details to the narrative of Saint Kendrick. From social and political commentary to cultural trends, Kendrick uses each song to make a point on a particular subject while interweaving a subtle narrative of the two paths that Kendrick had available to him after his first break into entertainment business success; the path of righteousness, atonement for moments of weakness, and growth into the Saint of Compton or to follow the material and gluttonous life that Lucy offers and succumb to the wickedness inside of him. Kendrick speaks of the human experience as well as the internal struggle inside him. ‘We’ put him on a pedestal and shoved him into the role of Saint Kendrick in the first place and now he speaks of his internal struggle and the consequences of his actions just as his ‘disciples’ deal with every day.
The best way to describe the mood that the album kicks off with is on “BLOOD” which is a dreamlike state. Kendrick speaks very slowly as if he had just woken from or fell into a deep sleep. The song is rather short as it serves as an intro/outro track to the two narratives. The fact that he is killed by a blind woman is symbolic in two regards. First is that a woman was the one that kills him; Lucy. But the additional fact of her being blind could symbolize ‘Lady Justice’ which is her most notable trait given the widely used figure of speech in American vernacular, “Justice is Blind.” This plays into the other key component in ‘BLOOD’; the outro featuring Fox News correspondent Geraldo Rivera and others quoting his lyrics to “Alright” from his previous album in a framing that makes him seem like another figurehead to place blame on for the rot of the inner city where in reality Kendrick is trying to rise above and be more than that figurehead that they portray him as. Saint Kendrick is trying to deliver his people out of the darkness and to the sunnier side of the American dream.
After the sample from Fox News, the song abruptly ends and leads into “DNA.” The blistering verbal assault from Kendrick is an affirmation of who he is and where he comes from as he proudly steps into the spotlight from the cocoon that had institutionalized him. He quickly fleshes out the world that he had come from and proclaims that he is, in fact, going to take what the world has given to him and use it. Kendrick acknowledges throughout the song the negative aspects of himself and his humanity and how he will not change for his circumstances because he is in those circumstances because of who he is in his DNA.
While largely about his upbringing and the effects of his environment on who he is as a person, Kendrick does not ignore the religious ties in the song:
“I was born like this, since one like this
I transform like this, perform like this
Was Yeshua’s new weapon”
This little stretch is crucial to the character of Saint Kendrick. He is stating that he was chosen since birth to lead this movement which is a reference to Luke 1, in where an angel appeared to Mary and foretold of that she was chosen by God to bring his son into the world and his name shall be Jesus (paraphrasing here of course). One curious thing to me personally about the bible is that after the story of Jesus as a 12-year-old boy in the temple at the end of Luke 2, there is a nothing on the life of Jesus until the age of 30 with his baptism in the river Jordan. I have always thought about that 18-year gap of time. The Christian belief is that Jesus was all God and all Man. For all of his divinity, he was still but a young boy when he first showed that he was the Son of God. How would any normal human at that young an age could you imagine handling what Jesus had to? And he hadn’t even hit puberty! I personally believe that this gap of time could be Jesus struggling personally to accept the role that he has been given as the savior of man. Jesus was the Son of God but he still had to mature into adulthood just like any other man.
Kendrick was seen as the Son of Compton and just like Jesus in the temple at the end of Luke 2 with Kendrick’s first flash of talent and as well as establishing his voice in Section 80 he did not have the luxury to have a gap of 18 years because that was not the world we lived in. Kendrick’s ascension to his role as the Savior of Compton was gradual and chronicled through the social struggle in Good Kid mAAd City: A Short Film by Kendrick Lamar as well as the internal struggle in To Pimp A Butterfly. The world was a witness to Kendrick’s growth from childhood to a man willing to bear the weight of being the one to lead Compton and the culture forward to salvation. Kendrick ends the song with a prophecy of sorts:
“Tell me when destruction gonna be my fate
Gonna be your fate, gonna be our faith
Peace to the world, let it rotate
Sex, money, murder—our DNA”
He speaks that he is doomed to the fate of destruction much as Jesus knew he
was to sacrifice himself to forgive the sins of man but also warns of the possible destruction of those around him if they surrender to their old ways that have institutionalized them inside the mad city.
The next song on the album, YAH, essentially shows the level of complete exhaustion that Kendrick has been dealing with. He speaks of how he is pressured for his thoughts and his actions are scrutinized to a level no one else can fathom. At the end of the song, he leaves one line “I know he walk the earth” which is an interesting line because it could be a reference to God himself as Kendrick has an encounter with him in How Much A Dollar Cost? Or it could be a reference to Lucifer but not in a personal sense as the character Lucy appears to be. Afterwards, he laboriously talks about falling back into the material world that he is climbing out of.
Kendrick unleashes his anger at the world and specifically the state of hip-hop in ELEMENT. Reveling in his state as the best rapper in the world he criticizes how other rappers’ potential is nothing close to Kendrick’s as he verbally beats down the game until he ends with “On my last LP I tried to lift the black artist / But there’s a difference between black artists and whack artists.” Biblically this connects to Jesus walking into the temple to find it turned into a market and not a place of worship. Both Kendrick and Jesus looked at the state of their pedestals to speak and preach from only to find it corrupted and distorted from its original purpose. At this point in Kendrick’s narrative as well as the New Testament both Kendrick and Jesus have now fully accepted their roles as leaders of something greater than themselves.
FEEL is the next song on the album and it is very reflective and presents Kendrick as the ‘wholly man’ with his own words instead of the extrapolation of text as is the case with Jesus (or lack thereof if it is assumed this struggle for Jesus’ coming to terms took place in the unrecorded 18 years). Kendrick is angry and struggling to understand how to control his anger. While he has assumed the role of Saint Kendrick already but the weight of influence can be a bitter burden. Focusing a lot of his material world anger out on the world that Compton and the black community by proxy are hampered by. The “school to prison pipeline”, government influence in the flooding of urban areas with drugs and even insignificant arguments such as who’s the best rapper are the objects of Kendrick’s judgment. He states that he knows he is the best and everyone knows he is the best in the world so that is why he is in the position he is in; the Savior of Compton. So why do people worry themselves with pointless endless arguments thinking about who is the best but not actually listen to what the artist is saying? Kendrick’s music is not only a perfect representation of this idea but on FEEL, he essentially screams it from the lyrics. A parallel to Tupac is stated by Kendrick when he is thinking about how Tupac was trying to tell the world his message but the world only heard his delivery. The path that Kendrick has chosen to follow both professionally, culturally and personally is one that has Tupac as the guiding post but he was killed at the age of 27 and now all Kendrick has to go on is what his image of “Tupac” would think and feel in the world they both came from.