Depression is something I’ve been well acquainted with since childhood. Being bullied planted that seed for low self-esteem. If I stayed home with my door closed no one would see me and then I wouldn’t be bullied. Behind those doors, the only thing that gave me peace was music. Listening to the radio and watching music videos in between reading VIBE, Ebony, JET and Black Beat were the only things that brought me solace. I wasn’t musically inclined but I was in the know when it came to Black music.
As I got older and got into my graduate studies, I kind of lost touch with hip-hop. I just kept my favorites, Mary J. Blige and Nas, on repeat because their music was so comforting. But then I decided to get back in tune with the genre that lit up my life during my darkest times.
This was around the time A$AP Rocky emerged. The New York hip-hop scene had been desolate. I was glad to see him and the A$AP Mob reigniting it again. When he went on tour with Drake, I saw a picture of them together with an unfamiliar face. I looked and asked myself, “who the hell is Kendrick Lamar?” Even though I am picky with the music I choose to lend my ear to, I decided to be more open-minded and give him a listen. I was never big on west coast hip-hop, but if he was on tour with Drake he had to be worth listening to, right?
So I looked up his catalog and found Section.80. Within the first minute, I was blown away. On the very first track, “F*** Your Ethnicity” he rapped:
Fire burning inside my eyes, this the music that saved my life
Y’all be calling it hip-hop, I be calling it hypnotize
Yeah, hypnotize, trapped my body, but freed my mind
What the f*** are you fighting for? Ain’t nobody gon’ win that war
My details be retail, man, I got so much in store
Racism is still alive, yellow tape and colored lines
I had to pause it. I was in complete awe. The more I listened to his music, the more I felt connected. I saw bits and pieces of myself in him. I’m definitely not a kid from Compton who grew up in gang-infested streets. But him calling himself the good kid from the mad city spoke to me. I was a good kid from Queens with a drug addicted mother and absent father. My grandparents stepped in and raised me but they couldn’t save me from the emotional assaults I endured. Insults were thrown at me everyday at school and sometimes at home too. I never felt good enough. My thoughts were my biggest enemy. Our chaos was different but we were both good kids in circumstances we wished we could change.
Throughout all my ups and down, Kendrick Lamar has been there. His music has been an anchor of hope when I felt like I was drowning in despair. He got me through late night study sessions and helped pull me from depressive episodes. The seven concerts I’ve been to all gave me a temporary escape from my own thoughts so I could bask in his words of wisdom. I’ve been like a proud cousin as I witnessed the fruits of his labor, like being the first rapper to win a Pulitzer Prize. He’s consoled millions of people from New York to the Netherlands with his vulnerability and lyrical prowess. And for that, I am more than grateful. Instead of being a Compton casualty, he is the voice of the people.
Kendrick Lamar is more than an eloquent storyteller. He’s a truth teller. The characters in his countless stories get confronted for their denial, violence, self-destruction, addiction, emotional unavailability, abuse and overall bullshit. Something I always wanted to with the people around me but the way Black families are set up that wasn’t happening. While I remained quiet, Kendrick went in bar for bar. “Cut You Off (To Grow Closer),” “Keisha’s Song,” “The Blacker the Berry,” “Swimming Pools,” “FEAR,” “N95,” “Father Time,” “We Cry Together” and “Auntie Dairies.” K. Dot will call out his own father (“Father Time”) if it means conveying a message necessary for personal breakthroughs and growth. He even puts himself on blast for redemption, like on “Mother I Sober” where he admitted he battled sex addiction that led to infidelity.
Kendrick Lamar is the antithesis to the gangsta rapper. Hip-hop’s visionary. What the game was missing and now can’t live without. To Kendrick Lamar Duckworth, Kung Fu Kenny, Man Man, K. Dot, Mr. Morale, Happy 35th Birthday.