This past week, M.A.A.D City rapper, Kendrick Lamar dropped his new album, “DAMN.” Kendrick in interviews before the release of the album said he wanted his album to be more focused on his relationship with God, something he feels is overlooked by many artists in his industry.
Yet there was more than just biblical allusions in the rappers new album. Kendrick took several shots at Fox and Friends host, Geraldo Rivera over his criticism of the Compton rapper’s “Alright” performance at the BET Awards. Kendrick stirred some controversy where he stood over a vandalized cop car and sang:
And we hate po-po. Wanna kill us dead in the street fo sho’. Nigga, I’m at the preacher’s door. My knees gettin’ weak, and my gun might blow. But we gon’ be alright.
Lamar in a TMZ interview responded saying that Rivera twisted his overall message of “we are gonna be alright” to “we want to kill people.”
In a recent Facebook Live video, Geraldo defended his criticism against Kendrick; In his own words he said the rapper sends “the most negative possible message.”
It’s Art, Not Hate
Geraldo could not be any further from the truth. It’s easy to take take ten seconds of a song and say “look he supports killing cops” instead of listening to its entirety and focusing on the actual theme. The whole song is filled with motifs about, not just raising awareness of police brutality, but attempting to overcome vices through the strength of God as well:
Let me tell you ’bout my life
Painkillers only put me in the twilight
Where pretty pussy and Benjamin is the highlight
Now tell my momma I love her, but this what I like, Lord knows
20 of ’em in my Chevy, tell ’em all to come and get me
Reaping everything I sow, so my karma comin’ heavy
No preliminary hearings on my record
I’m a motherfucking gangster in silence for the record
Tell the world I know it’s too late
Boys and girls, I think I gone cray
Drown inside my vices all day
The first two bolded lines represent Lamar giving into the vices of lust, drugs, and greed. This is eventually followed with a biblical reference to Galatians 6:7-8:
Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.
Lamar is saying that his karma will eventually come back to punish him. His vices are reaping his own self destruction. He ends it by saying he has submitted to these vices for too long; he can no longer rewind the clock to rid himself of the errors he has committed.
What you want you: a house or a car?
40 acres and a mule? A piano, a guitar?
Anything, see my name is Lucy, I’m your dog
Motherfucker, you can live at the mall
I can see the evil, I can tell it, I know it’s illegal
I don’t think about it, I deposit every other zero
Thinking of my partner, put the candy, paint it on the Regal
Digging in my pocket, ain’t a profit big enough to feed you
Everyday my logic get another dollar just to keep you
In the presence of your chico… Ah!
I don’t talk about it, be about it, everyday I sequel
If I got it then you know you got it, Heaven, I can reach you
Pet dog, pet dog, pet dog, my dog, that’s all
Pick back and chat, I trap the back for y’all
I rap, I black on track so rest assured
My rights, my wrongs; I write ’til I’m right with God
Lamar’s second verse is packed with allegories starts out with a reference to the Reconstruction Era of the United States. After the Civil War, former slaves were promised forty acres of land and a mule. While land ownership went up slightly in some southern states, ultimately the federal governments reconstruction plan was an abysmal failure.
The rest of the verse deals with temptation from the devil. Kendrick starts out with an allusion to Wolfgang von Goethe’s version of Faust. In the story, the devil approaches an unsatisfied, yet successful German scholar as a dog to deceive him into making a deal. The devil offers Faust (the protagonist) anything he wants while he is with him.
In a similar fashion “Lucy” (short for Lucifer) reveals himself to Kendrick as his pet dog and promises him anything he desires. While under the devils temptation, he is still able to see the world in an right and wrong lens. Aware of the immorality of his actions, he chooses to look over it and gives into the pleasures of materialism. Yet he concludes with saying that he’ll continue to write and rap about his good deeds and sins as a way to repent to God.
So now that we’ve gone through the whole song, let’s revisit the controversy:
Nigga, I’m at the preacher’s door
My knees gettin’ weak, and my gun might blow
But we gon’ be alright
The Fox newscasters took the line “my gun might blow” as saying the response to police brutality ought to be through violent acts. But this complete overlooks the previous lines where Kendrick portrays himself kneeling before a preacher; confessing his sins. But as the whole song shows, Kendrick is trying to wrestle with his demons which explains why he says his knees are giving out. He’s trying to keep his patience which if he loses could result him slipping back into sin and violence.
Rap is About Self-Expression
It’s insulting how twisted the media, especially those on conservative outlets, manipulates the artistic message of many rappers. Yes, there are those who do praise immoral behavior and there are plenty of them and criticism against them is fair. But it is unfair to lump rappers who don’t with them.
People are quick to pounce when they hear drug references and gang violence in music, and assume they are promoting ill willed messages to society. Geraldo is guilty of this because in no way has Kendrick ever endorsed such a messaged, neither in this song nor any of his other works (at least when taken in context)
In fact his breakthrough song “m.A.A..d city,” Lamar exposes the vices of the inner city and the corruption of the youth’s mind from living in such a wicked environment:
Seen a light-skinned nigga with his brains blown out
At the same burger stand where *beep* hang out
Now this is not a tape recorder saying that he did it
But ever since that day, I was looking at him different
That was back when I was nine
Joey packed the nine
Pakistan on every porch is fine
We adapt to crime
Kendrick writes from the perspective of being a young minority growing up in one of the most dangerous parts of America. Music like this, if anything, does more to heed troubled youth in america away from the nearly inescapable corrupt path they walk on. And he does in a way they are able to relate to. When we approach artistic work with an open mind, we are to be appreciate the sublimity in it.