The discography of Kendrick “K dot” Lamar is, to me, the most impressive of not just any rapper, but of any artist currently pumping out music to the masses. Ever since his critically acclaimed independent debut album “Section.80” Kendrick Lamar has been near the top of the “rap game”, usually a game reserved for misogyny, egotistic lyricism, and songs about guns and drugs. Kendrick still raps about things like guns, women, and drugs, but in a different way than most rappers. Kendrick reflects the reality of his life in his lyrics and instead of merely stating what he sees, Kendrick commentates on what he thinks is okay and what he thinks is wrong about his reality. He is one of the few rappers in history to have deep “real” lyrics and still rise high up the charts and have his music played at parties and clubs. A great example of this is his song “Swimming Pools (Drank)” a song about the evils of alcohol, but a song that frequently plays at Parties because of its satisfying beat and euphoric atmosphere. Lyrics such as “If I take another one down, I’ma drown in some poison, abusin’ my limit” and “The freedom is granted as soon as the damage of vodka arrived” are examples of how Kendrick is actually trying to showcase the “damages” of alcohol. What amazes me most about Kendrick Lamar though, is that this rapper from Compton, California frequently talks about his anxiety and depression.
On March 15, 2015, about a week before its anticipated release, “To Pimp a Butterfly” was set free to the public. Already a huge fan of K dot, I was ecstatic to hear the news that morning that his new album had been released early. I listened to it all day during school, but like most good music I could not appreciate it until I started giving it my full attention later that night. I became entranced as “Wesley’s Theory” set the pace for this beautiful album. I continued listening as Kendrick narrated personal, racial, and sexist struggles in songs like “For Free”, “King Kunta” , and “Institutionalized.” And then I arrived at the sixth song of the album. The hook of “u” rings out in my ears: “loving you is complicated, loving YOU is complicated.” The song puts us with Kendrick in a hotel room as he drinks and cries himself to sleep. It wasn’t until the second listen that I realized Kendrick is speaking to himself. He raps a ballad of anger and rummanicing sad thoughts until he actually starts crying while rapping on the track. The last verse hits the deepest; Kendrick speaks to himself on how he should have “killed yo ass a long time ago” and “if I told your secrets, the world’ll know money can’t stop a suicidal weakness.”
I honestly could not believe that the king of rap was rapping about this. Kendrick used his newfound fame to give the listeners a story about his life since his fame with a brutal amount of honesty. Kendrick is one of the first rappers to reach this level of stardom and use it to actually talk about important mental health issues. He also has not been coy about it since the release of TPAB; he has openly talked about his verses in “u” and the rest of the album.
This is of grand importance because some of the stigma surrounding mental health is reinforced by people bringing it up but then never openly talking about it afterwards. When asked about it, Kendrick is open and honest with his answers. In the interview linked above he says “...positive for me, is showing what I go through, showing what I been through with ‘u’ and coming all the way back to ‘i’ and saying I still love myself at the end of the day.” Kendrick is showing that even though he goes through some very hard times, the positives still outweigh the negatives. He also reinforces this point when he talks about his placement of the song “alright” right after “u” to point out that no matter what you’re going through “We gon’ be alright.”
It will be interesting to see where K dot goes from here. After releasing debatably the greatest rap album of all time and talking openly about mental illness while maintaining his fame and his king status, what does he do now? I’d love to see him go a completely different direction musically and with his lyrical content just like he did in the transition between “Good Kid, M.A.A.D City” and “To Pimp a Butterfly.” Only King Kunta himself knows what he’s going to do next, and I can’t wait to hear how he chooses to dictate his honest thoughts.