As always, something has been on my mind lately. I don’t quite know how to put it into words yet, so I’m gonna use an analogy.
My chosen analogy is not only a personal idol, but the master of analogies himself: none other than Kendrick Lamar.
In this day and age, I believe it is a crime to talk about hip-hop and not talk about Kendrick Lamar. But that’s beside the point. There are too many reasons to love Kendrick, all of which can be great lessons for the rest of us, and all of which touch on this thing that’s been bothering me.
For one, he hates being labeled as a rapper, shooting for titles such as storyteller or poet instead.
There’s no debating that Kendrick resurrected hip-hop from it’s grave beside Tupac. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of hip hop musicians with the ability to share similar experiences of being raised in neighborhoods plagues by gangs. Sure, maybe other rappers don’t have the same linguistic talent or creativity behind their rhymes, but that is not what distinguishes Kendrick the most.
Rather, it’s his ability to separate himself altogether from these rappers who’ve earned their stigma of offensive and dramatic artists advertising materialism, infidelity, and drug abuse. If H.O.C. didn’t slam it in our heads that Kendrick doesn’t smoke, Good Kid, M.A.A.D City had to have. Bottom line: being a rapper is putting up a front, or molding your art into a Prada mask that’ll hide you and anyone else from those dark eyes staring back at you in the mirror.
So that’s what makes Kendrick different… he wakes up, looks in the mirror, and gets to know himself a little better each day. And most important, he’s not afraid to tell the whole world who he is. Now Kendrick’s a millionaire, and not because he’s forever a stand-up dude. Kendrick writes about robbing, killing, disrespecting women, alcoholism, addiction, selling drugs, and gang violence.
But we love him, right? Yes! We love him because he’s represents the reality that we’re all too afraid to see in ourselves. He represents us. So even though on the surface, we may not all look the same, be from the same neighborhood, or have had the same experiences… Kendrick’s messages go beyond those irrelevant distinctions. Kendrick’s messages address the deeper, darker shades of human nature and social oppression that are present within us all.
Kendrick inspires us to look in the mirror, to stare our flaws in the face with love in our eyes, and only then, to truly take control of our lives and our society.
To me, the ever-present curses in Kendrick’s lyrics represent the flaws in each of us and in the society we’ve constructed. This life isn’t pretty; in fact, it’s pretty dirty. The same mask that hides your inner reality, clouds the physical one. You can’t open your eyes and avoid sights of oppression, poverty and prejudice. So once you take off that mask and stop rolling your eyes at the occasional F-bomb, you can appreciate the truth and beauty in Kendrick’s art as a reflection of the truth and beauty in this world. And, just maybe, after all of that, you can appreciate the true beauty underneath your own mask.
Why do I love Kendrick? He sees beauty in the ugly.
So here’s the thing that bothers me… what must it say about our culture, that it takes such a courageous man to simply invite us to be ourselves? Why is it so difficult to get to know yourself and, God forbid, like yourself? When did this concept of being “real” or “fake” become a thing? And why are people so afraid that others won’t like them exactly the way they are?
These questions are unanswerable, but just by asking them I have started to remove my own mask. Today, I can look in the mirror and proudly say I’m unafraid of the shades of grey looking back at me.