Kendrick Lamar: the Coltrane of hip-hop

This biographical article is part of JAZZ.FM91’s supplementary research component to expand on The Journey to Jazz and Human Rights documentary podcast series. Click here to find out more.


Kendrick Lamar Duckworth was born on June 17, 1987, in Compton, Calif. His parents had moved to Compton from Chicago to escape the city’s gang culture, although Lamar’s father had been associated with the notorious Gangster Disciples gang. As the 1980s crack trade and West Coast gang presence increased, Lamar grew up around precarious street activity, but he seemed more influenced than harmed by it. He was a good student who enjoyed writing stories and poems, and eventually, lyrics.

Lamar’s family was directly touched by the violence of the streets, yet he remained thoughtful and observant. He adopted the stage name “K-Dot” and began performing his lyrics as a rapper. In 2003, at age 16, he circulated a mixtape called Youngest Head Nigga in Charge, which drew a lot of interest in his native Southern California and beyond. In 2010, Lamar switched from “K-Dot” to his own name and dropped his fourth mixtape, Overly Dedicated. That same year, Lamar released his first full-length independent album under Top Dawg Entertainment.

Lamar continued writing music and lyrics, and he toured and collaborated with more popular recording artists such as Young Jeezy, The Game, Talib Kweli, Busta Rhymes and Lil Wayne. Dr. Dre, one of hip-hop’s most respected and influential producers, took the young artist under his wing, becoming his mentor in both music and business. By 2012, Lamar’s highly anticipated major-label debut album, good kid, m.A.A.d city, was released to wide acclaim. In 2015, Lamar released his next album, To Pimp a Butterfly, featuring artists like Bilal, Snoop Dogg and Pharrell Williams. The album was another highly acclaimed outing “known for its funk-laden mix of bravura, community politics and vulnerability.” Several of the songs on the record are politically charged, commenting on the social status of Black Americans today, and keeping in tune with the Black Lives Matter movement. The album went on to receive a whopping 11 Grammy nominations. Lamar continues to compose incredible music today, with his last major album being DAMN. in 2017.


These Walls (2015)

The song These Walls by Kendrick Lamar was the fifth and final single from the album To Pimp A Butterfly. The track was written by Kendrick Lamar, Terrace Martin, Larrance Dopson, James Fauntleroy and Rose McKinney. It won best rap/sung performance at the 58th Annual Grammy Awards in 2016. The song itself delves into a variety of issues; These Walls refers to all the “walls” put up by the artists on the track. In this case, the “walls” are used as a metaphor to “connect different situations with emotions such as lust, desire, frustration and anticipation.”

‘If these walls could talk
Sex, she just want to close her eyes and sway
If you, if you, if you exercise your right to work it out
Its true, its true, its true, shout out to the birthday girls say hey
Say hey, everyone deserves a night to play
And shes plays only when you tell her no
If these walls could talk
I can feel your reign when it cries gold lives inside of you
If these walls could talk
I love it when I’m in it, I love it when I’m in it’

References:

Alexandru. “The Meaning of These Walls by Kendrick Lamar.” Lyreka, November, 2015. https://www.lyreka.com/blog/the-meaning-of-these-walls-by-kendrick-lamar.

Biography.com. “Kendrick Lamar: Biography.” JAN 29, 2018, https://www.biography.com/musician/kendrick-lamar.