Kendrick Lamar: The Voice of a Generation

by Jeremy Hsing from Los Angeles, California in United States

143626Kendrick LamarWikimedia CommonsKung Fu Kenny. K-Dot. King Kendrick. King Kunta. K Dizzle. These are just some of the monikers that Kendrick Lamar’s fans refer to him as. However, when I think of Kendrick, I call him by the nickname GOAT (greatest of all time). In a musical age dominated by repetitive rhythms and superficial lyrics, Kendrick Lamar consistently pushes the boundaries of music and lyricism to a whole other level. Regarded as one of the most influential artists of all time, his music has inspired and empowered a generation of followers to become activists in the pursuit of positive social change.

Born and raised in Compton, California, Kendrick Lamar Duckworth’s humble origins largely shaped the subject matter of his music. Witnessing his first murder at the age of 5, he had to grow up really quickly and became known as a shy boy who was wise beyond his years. In 7th grade, his English teacher introduced him to poetry, which inspired him to start writing his own lyrics. Surrounded by crime, gang violence, and police brutality, the studio became his safe haven. Lamar began to gain recognition in 2010 with his retail release of Overly Dedicated and Section.80, exploring the dangers of the crack era and the hopelessness of the inner city. He finally discovered a mainstream sound without sacrificing his authenticity after the release of his 2012 major label debut album, good kid m.A.A.d city, which became certified platinum. “m.A.A.d city” would become the standout single that connected with his fans the most, and deservedly so, providing an honest articulation of class struggle as well as the adversity he faced from his harsh environment.

After the commercial success and critical acclaim of Good Kid M.A.A.D City, his fans wondered if his next project could be even better. And he didn’t disappoint... Lamar’s next album in 2015, To Pimp a Butterfly, would become his magnum opus and the voice of a generation. Widely regarded by critics as the greatest album of the decade, the album seamlessly blended elements of funk, soul, jazz, and spoken word. The inspiration for his album came from a soul-searching journey to South Africa, where he visited historical sites like Nelson Mandela’s jail cell to broaden his worldview and discover his roots. Covering topics like systematic racism, depression, fame, and survivor’s guilt, the album gave the listener access into Kendrick’s inner psyche. He eloquently described the black experience in America, and his song “Alright” would become the anthem of the Black Lives Matter movement. The album would give Lamar many Grammy nominations, including a win in the Best Rap Album of the Year category. 

143627DAMNRoger Cosby on UnsplashIn 2017, Kendrick would release my favorite studio album to date, DAMN. It provided a vulnerable look into his life where everyone expects so much from him and views him as a godlike figure, but no one is actually praying for him to succeed, failing to recognize that he is a human who makes mistakes and has everyday emotions. In the album, he acknowledges that he was blessed to be put in so many fortunate circumstances, as he just as easily could’ve become a nobody or dead on the streets due to gang violence and crime. Kendrick explores the seven deadly sins of man, including “LUST.” and “FEAR.” in a nuanced way, finding a universality in his personal experience. The sensuality of “LOVE.”, the beat switches in “XXX.”, and the poetry in “PRIDE” combine the sound of good kid m.A.A.d city with the lyricism of To Pimp a Butterfly to create one of the most enjoyable albums I’ve ever listened to. DAMN was a critical and commercial hit, winning another Grammy for Best Rap Album of the Year, debuting as #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, and making history as the first non-classical and non-jazz album to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize for offering vignettes that capture the complexity of modern African-American life.

However, he did not consider these accolades as a validation of his success. In an interview with Hot 97 Radio, Kendrick said, “Looking at a kid who says this song changed my life, I was gonna do something to myself last night but I popped this tape in. That’s confirmation.” He constantly gives back to his community, visiting local schools and supporting worthy causes to amplify black voices, such as his collaboration with Marvel for the Black Panther soundtrack. Through all of his fame and success, Kendrick has stayed true to himself and become a beacon of hope for his generation, reminding us all that no matter where we go in life, we need to be humble.

Page created on 2/27/2021 2:47:07 AM

Last edited 3/2/2021 4:43:38 AM

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, Hiiipower. “To Pimp A Butterfly” is named “Album of the Decade” by Critics. [Online] Available'Best%20Albums,has%20been%20ranked%20at%20%237..2019.

India, LinDsey. Kendrick Lamar Says Going to Africa Broadened His Approach to Art Read More: Kendrick Lamar Says Go. [Online] Available

Hale, Andreas. 'To Pimp A Butterfly': Kendrick Lamar shares history. [Online] Available


Author Info

I'm a third-year undergraduate at UCLA majoring in psychology and double minoring in film and art history. Ever since I was a kid, I've been inspired by the power of storytelling. My passion lies in the intersection between psychology and the humanities to create empathic change for underrepresented communities in media.