Posted on May 17 2017
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Kendrick Lamar has been ahead of the game for a while now. When 'To Pimp a Butterfly' came out, most hailed it as the most important hip-hop album of a generation. It did what hip-hop and rap albums used to do, it sent a message. Gone were the typical (now par for the course) lyrics about getting drunk, spending cash and fucking groupies. These were replaced with songs about black oppression, the loneliness that comes with that and most importantly, how to deal with it. It was a lyrical and cultural masterpiece that many thought would hail a new age in rap. But it didn't. Between Kanye ranting and bragging about his own self worth and Drake doing anything and everything he can to ensure that his name holds the top spot in the charts, not much has changed.
Well Kendrick is back, and he's not happy. Actually, to better phrase that, Kendrick is back and he's through playing games. With 'DAMN.' he's brought a new message. And with it hails a second coming.
We don't know much about the early years of Jesus Christ. All we do know is that he was somewhat aware of the task he had before him. He knew that a time would come where God would ask something great of him. His only hope was that when that time came, he would be ready.
Kendrick has never shied away from religious symbolism and lyrical content in his songs. His 'Intro' to 'Good Kid,' has him speaking to God directly. And in an interview with Complex in 2014 he said 'God put something in my heart to get across, and that's what I'm going to focus on, using my voice as an instrument and doing what needs to be done.' In his earlier albums Kendrick took the role of an Apostle, using his songs to spread a message while hoping that message was heard.
This was similar to the role that Jesus took in his earlier years; spreading his message in an attempt to touch as many with it as he could. But like Christ, Kendrick learned that that wasn't enough. And like Christ, Kendrick has had to learn who he is, accept it to be true and use this new role to affect change.
It's a journey that started from his birth and is only just now being realized. It's one that he's fought and battled with, constantly feeling that he wasn't meant for the task handed to him. But that journey is over now. From the other end of 'DAMN.' Kendrick as emerged as the Messiah, the savior of hip-hops' sins.
Through the tracklist of 'DAMN.' Kendrick parallels his journey to that of Christ's with remarkable clarity. It starts with 'DNA,' an angry tirade about his realization that this curse was always going to be his, no matter how he fought it. In it he preaches of his 'immaculate conception,' and at the end of the first verse he even calls out 'Nazareth,' himself.
Photo credit: jon_elbaz via Visual Hunt / CC BY
'Yah' is a tale from his youth as he begins to find his voice and place in the rap community. In this song everyone wants a taste of what makes Kendrick so good. It's a fame he doesn't understand, and one that he doesn't know what to do with. By 'Element' he's starting to become aware of his purpose. He calls out other rappers too, already aware that he's above the game. 'Cause more of ya'll ain't real...most of ya'll throw rocks and try to hid your hand.' He knows it, he just doesn't know what to do about it. Or if anything can be done.
It was only once the Nazarene began to realize what his greater goal was that he started to repent for his past sins; knowing this was what needed to be done if he could truly lead. He spent 40 days and 40 nights walking through the desert as he cleansed himself of this sin. It's no coincidence that there are 14 songs on 'DAMN' and the middle portion of this album relies heavily on this parable as Kendrick walks his own line of temptation. From 'Lust' to 'Love' from 'Pride' to 'Humble,' Kendrick is telling his own story of realization and redemption.
'Fear,' is a very powerful song on 'DAMN,' symbolizing the time in his life when 'To Pimp A Butterfly' came out. By now he knew that he had a message to give. But this album, although poignant, is full of anger and cynicism. He knew what the message was, he just didn't know how to tell it.
But after 'Fear' comes 'God' and finally, Kendrick has reached the end of his journey. Like Jesus, Kendrick speaks to God directly. He tells him that he's 'seen it all, done it all, felt pain no more.' He's ready to accept his mantle and wear the thorny crown.
So yes, Kendrick believes himself to be the savior of hip-hop. He tells us as much with 'DAMN.' But there's a much bigger message behind this story. And that's kind of the point.
Photo credit: EWatson92 via Visualhunt.com / CC BY
Being the savior of hip-hop and rap isn't about breaking records, or making great beats. And it's not about giving other artists a candle to follow to glory. It's about sending a message. Since Kendrick sang 'I've got a bone to pick,' he's been mad. He knows what the power of hip-hop can do. The Black Lives Matter movement took up 'Alright,' as an anthem and his performance at the 2016 Grammy's was about more than just music. But he can't do it alone.
As the messiah of hip-hop, Kendrick is calling out all other artists. He wants rap to return to a time when it had a message, when it initiated change. When N.W.A sung 'Fuck the police,' it brought attention to what was happening to young black men across the nation; letting them know that they weren't alone. But when Young Thug sung 'it's wet wet, now she squirt it on the bed,' in his 2016 release 'Kanye West,' no one battered an eye, or held their fist up in solidarity.
Kendrick Lamar recognizes the power that hip-hop can have to initiate change. It is because of this that he has accepted his role as the leader of the movement. His only hope now is that others follow his lead.
The real question that comes from this realization is, what now? With the end of the album, Kendrick has announced himself the savior. 'DAMN' came out on Good Friday to speculation that a second album would drop on the Monday. That never came to fruition. But that doesn’t mean that it won't. It could be three years instead of three days. It could be this coming Easter Monday instead. Now that Kendrick has finally put on the crown of thorns and thrown the cross over his shoulder, we can only hold our breath and wait to see what comes next.