Posts Tagged ‘m.A.A.d. City’

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The narrative which emerges from Lamar’s GKMC is implicated in the African-American freedom struggle insofar as it reflects a key principle of Afro-American revolutionary thought: “the self-realization of individuality within community.”[1] A hip-hop “secular spiritual” in its own right, GKMC muses on so-called secular themes—gang violence and sexuality—to present an image of life as it is in the experience of one black soul’s longing for the truth of his own personhood. In an interview with MTV, Lamar admits:

I wouldn’t say I’m the most religious person, neither were both of my parents. I always do quote-unquote religious songs or whatever you want to call them from the standpoint where I’m trying to find answers. That’s the space I speak from and a lot of people can relate because they feel the same way. [I’m] not a person that’s putting it in your head — “believe this, believe this, believe this.” I’m going through something, I’m a sinner and I’m trying to figure myself out. It never sounds preachy. It sounds like a person who’s really confused by what the world has put upon him.[2]

GKMC thus gives witness to the work Lamar does to sort out this confusion, which is part and parcel of a deeply spiritual struggle to achieve self-realization as an African-American man. Indeed, as African-American cultural critic Michael Eric Dyson says of Michael Jackson, the rapper’s “own moral perspective is informed by an understanding of human nature that acknowledges that all human beings embody the potential for wrongdoing.”[3]

As such, GKMC represents an expression of soul, and a definitive move toward the will to love over and against the alluring will to power. Using his stance as artist to enter into and deconstruct his demons from within, Lamar finds the resources to make meaning in a context that challenges him to confront “existential anxiety, political oppression, economic exploitation, and social deportation.”[4]

Describing the album himself, Lamar says in one interview:

It’s really just a self-portrait. I feel I need to make this album in order to move on with my life, and I had negative vibes and demons haunting me. It’s that real. I had to come from somewhere, I had to come from a place — it could have been negative, it could have been positive but for the majority of it, it was negative place. I needed to vent and put this message out in order for me to grow as a person. I’m glad I did, because it was a venting process, you know, to tell these stories I never told.[5]

In coming to grips with the demons of his past and offering the lessons learned to the community from which he hails, Lamar accomplishes two crucial tasks central to Afro-American revolutionary theory and practice. He “confronts candidly the tragic character of human history (and the hope for ultimate historical triumph) [and takes] more seriously the existential anxiety, political oppression, economic exploitation, and social degradation of actual human beings” (as in members of the Compton community) and “elevates the notion of struggle (against the odds!)—personal and collective struggle regulated by the norms of individuality and democracy—to the highest priority.”[6]

For Lamar this is a mission that calls on faith in the human family. Standing on the shoulders of Martin Luther King, Jr., Lamar recognizes (in songs such as “Sing About Me”) that “shattering blows on the Negro family have made it fragile, deprived and often psychopathic [read ‘m.A.A.d.’]” and sees that “nothing is so much needed as a secure family life for a people seeking to rise out of poverty and backwardness.”[7] This is especially true in light of poverty’s connection to juvenile delinquency in a postindustrial age such as Lamar’s.

Playing the role of the Gramscian organic intellectual, Lamar uses the album, as a form of hip-hop discourse, to relate popular culture and religion to structural social change.[8] In the context of GKMC religion serves as signifier for personal transformation (the redemption of sin) which in turn leads to societal transformation through the cultural work of  “storying” (i.e. rapping).  It is through his role as rap artist that Lamar can “look at the weak and cry,” “pray one day you’ll be strong,” and fight “for your rights, even when you’re wrong.” It is his way of affirming individuality in the creation of a new human community.

Speaking to the role of cultural worker in his concept of the New Politics of Difference, West notes that the cultural critic calls for “‘new forms of intellectual consciousness’ that will advance the struggle for individuality and democracy”:

To put it bluntly, the new cultural politics of difference consists of creative responses to the precise circumstances of our present moment—especially those of the marginalized. First World agents who shun degraded self-representations, articulating instead their sense of the flow of history in light of the contemporary terrors, anxieties, and fears of highly commercialized North Atlantic capitalist cultures (with their escalating xenophobias against people of color, Jews, women, gays, lesbians and the elderly).[9]

Lamar is one such agent who signifies on the dominant (read white) society’s fears of the postindustrial ghettos, such as Compton, it has helped create. Consider this verse of “Compton”:

Now we can all celebrate, we can all harvest the rap artist of NWA
America target a rap market, it’s controversy and hate
Harsh realities we in, made our music translate
To the coke dealers, the hood rich and the broke niggas that play
With them gorillas that know killers that know where you stay
Roll that kush, crack that case, 10 bottles of Rose
This was brought to you by Dre
Now every muthafucka in here say
Look who responsible for taking Compton international

Lamar here celebrates his city as the birthplace that harvested the likes of legendary rap group N.W.A. At the same time he recognizes how it has been commodified by a rap market and, through the media, made the subject of controversy and hate. Regardless, the “harsh realities we in” speak directly to the real life experiences of urban dwellers which dominant society at once ignores and fetishizes.

Lamar’s work as hip-hop cultural worker meanwhile extends beyond his efforts on the album as evidenced by his leadership of the “HiiiPoWeR Movement.” The purpose of the HiiiPoWeR movement is to encourage social awareness among young people living in a self-destructive society through the cultivation of the mind. The three “i’s” in the movement’s name stand for heart, honor and respect—the basic tenets of the movement’s quasi-religious credo, inspired by the example of freedom fighters such as Martin Luther King, Malcom X, Marcus Garvey, Fred Hampton, Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, and rapper Tupac Shakur. It is Lamar’s way of professing King’s unenforceable law of love “written on the heart.”[10]

With Lamar’s album as its twelve-track anthem, the HiiiPoWeR Movement is a cultural thrust toward “realness” understood as freedom in love. For King, as for Lamar, such freedom expresses itself in “the capacity to deliberate or to weigh alternatives” (reflected in the lyrics of “m.A.A.d. City”); a decision to cut off other alternatives (reflected in “I’m Tired of Running”); and responsibility (reflected in the recording of the father’s reproach at the end of “Real”: “Real is responsibility!”). Ultimately a constructive engagement with existential freedom, the creation of GKMC and the HiiiPoWeR Movement reflects an important step in the African-American freedom struggle: “to work passionately for group identity.”[11]

This kind of cultural work is tied up in the challenge of self-determination against what W.E.B. Du Bois would call the temptations to self-doubt, despair and hatred in a society that has systematically rendered the African-American invisible. Lamar is no stranger to these temptations, as evidenced by the track, “I’m Dying of Thirst.” Furthermore, he is no stranger to Du Boisian “double consciousness” as indicated by the meaning of the acronym, “m.A.A.d.”: “my angry adolescence divided.” The album details his reconciliation of the seemingly irreconcilable “two-ness” within himself—a  psychic parlay between innocence and guilt; self-love and self-loathing; good and bad; self-empowered, black subject and exploited, black object—that he transcends through positive self-assertion as a “good kid” in the context of a “beloved community” (read Compton).

In this, we find Lamar composing a sonic self-portrait that reveals the psychic turmoil of one whose “religious sensibilities are expressed in his wrestling with religiously informed, morally shaped, and culturally conditioned themes” which include:

an [examination] of the nature of good and evil; an [exploration] of the potentialities for transformation of the self, human nature, and society; a probing of the true nature of manhood in American culture; a [confrontation with] the material lures and sexual seductions of everyday life in post-modern American culture; a [proclamation] of the place of peace and love in transforming the world; and a surveying of the politics of American racial identity and awareness.[12]

Just as W.E.B. Du Bois did in The Souls of Black Folk, Lamar asserts himself as one seeking to live life above the “Veil,” to live into the authenticity of his own personhood, as in the opening bars of “Real”:

I do what I wanna do
I say what I wanna say
When I feel, and I…
Look in the mirror and know I’m there
With my hands in the air
I’m proud to say yea
I’m real, I’m real, I’m really really real.

Du Bois_SoulsA figurative Alexander Crummell[13] of whom Du Bois speaks in Souls, Lamar is one who has passed through the “Lonesome Valley of Death”[14] (read Compton / m.A.A.d. city) and lived to tell a moral tale about successfully negotiating the tension between despair and hope through self-love. An exemplar of a Du Boisian soul who has successfully “walked within” and  transcended “the Veil,” Lamar, like Crummell, has “bent to all the gibes and prejudices, to all hatred and discrimination, with that rare courtesy which is the armor of pure souls.”[15] Moreover, he is the archetypal Du Boisian “Teacher,” embodying the ideals of the “Black World” in its “strife for another and a juster world, the vague dream of righteousness, the mystery of knowing.”[16]

And, lastly, like the classic bluesman, that tragi-comic spokesman of the “secular spiritual,” Lamar embodies paradox. He is at once sinner and saint. The space he creates for himself within the album’s narrative contours lets him affirm his own self-worth in the midst of navigating the pressures of day-to-day existence in a postindustrial world.

“Look inside of my soul and you can find gold and maybe get rich,” Lamar raps in “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe,” suggesting that he has come to a place of self-knowledge through a process not unlike that of the alchemist turning base metal into gold. Yet he doesn’t keep that alchemical gold for himself. Rather, he shares it as wisdom with the world so that others may become rich in soul and self-worth. Lamar admits that his own identity-formation has been a painful process, riddled with mistakes that he wears like scars. Yet these scars, like the “secular spiritual” songs he sings, are constant reminders of what he has learned in order to become who he proclaims himself to be: a self-realized “good kid” in a (self-)critically examined “m.A.A.d. city.”

[1] Cornel West, Prophesy Deliverance! An Afro-American Revolutionary Christianity (Philadelphia: Westminster, Press, 1982) 16.

[2] See rapgenius.com, http://rapgenius.com/Kendrick-lamar-compton-lyrics (accessed December 2012)

[3] Michael Eric Dyson, Reflecting Black: African-American Cultural Criticism (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993), 53.

[4] Riffing on Terrance Wiley’s conception of black blight in America, Class Lecture, Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, CA, Fall 2013.

[5] See rapgenius.com, http://rapgenius.com/albums/Kendrick-lamar/Good-kid-m-a-a-d-city (accessed December 2012)

[6] West, Prophesy!…, op. cit., 19.

[7] See Martin Luther King, Jr., Where Do We Go From Here?Chaos or Community (Boston: Beacon Press, 2010), 114.

[8] See Cornel West, “Black Theology and Marxist Thought,” in Black Theology: A Documentary History, 1966-1979, edited by Gayraud S. Wilmore and James H. Cone: 552-567.

[9] Cornel West, “The New Cultural Politics of Difference,” in Keeping Faith: Philosophy and Race in America (New York: Routledge, 1993), 4.

[10] See King, op. cit., 106.

[11] Ibid., 131.

[12] Dyson, op. cit.

[13] The Episcopal priest and leading figure of the Pan-African Movement.

[14] See W.E.B. Du Bois, “Of Alexander Crummell, The Souls of Black Folk (New York: Dover, 1994), 139.

[15] Ibid.

[16] “Of the Wings of Atalanta, ibid., 50.

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Lamar’s self-proclaimed “film in three acts” is a “secular spiritual” which takes place on the streets of Compton, a neighborhood in South Central L.A. that is emblematic of the postindustrial urban space from which hip-hop, as a cultural movement and form of critical discourse, emerged. GKMC is a consummate new-school appropriation of an old-school hip-hop form: the narrative. A veritable hip-hop bildungsroman, it tells in twelve tracks the tale of a young man, who navigates the rugged territory of an urbanscape riddled with violence. Throughout Lamar engages in conversation with his own psyche to strategically remap the American landscape[1] and thereby offer insight into an experience specific to life in a postindustrial city.

Lamar’s is a confessional narrative that begins with the musty recording of male voices offering a prayer of supplication: “Lord God, I come to you a sinner and I humbly repent for my sins. I believe that Jesus is Lord. […] I receive Jesus to take control of my life and that I may live for him from this day forth. Thank you Lord Jesus for saving me with your precious blood. In Jesus name, Amen.” It is with this invocation of God’s mercy that Lamar tells “a true mothafuckin’ story” full of sexual intrigue (e.g., “Sherane, a.k.a. Master Splinter’s Daughter” and “Poetic Justice”); hedonist fantasy (e.g., “Backseat Freestyle”); criminal activity (“The Art of Peer Pressure” and “Money Trees”); teenage antics (“Swimming Pool [Drank]”); social commentary on the nature of L.A. gang violence (“Good Kid” and “m.A.A.d. City”); hood representin(g) (“Compton”); hip-hop bravado (“Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe”) and existential self-reflection (“Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst” and “Real”).

Songs that bear close attention within the scope of this blog series and in light of what they bring to bear on the stated topic are “Good Kid,” “m.A.A.d. City,” and “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst.” They are culled from the second half of the album, which, as the full, artist-verified annotations of the LP reveal at rapgenius.com—indispensable to the interpretive work I do below, where I sample insights offered through the website, and to which I am indebted for aiding me in deciphering some of Lamar’s more coded language and in establishing the LP’s narrative context—deals explicitly with the “secular spiritual” theme of self-realization and the difficulties of negotiating life in a violent culture.

The Good Kid in a Mad City

In “Good Kid” Lamar speaks to the sense of being trapped, bound in by gang violence on one side and police brutality on the other. The hood is a pressure cooker and suicide, the safety valve: “I got animosity building / It’s probably big as a building / Me jumping off the roof is me just playing it safe.” Alluding to the colors of the L.A. gangs, the Bloods and the Crips, as well as to police car strobe lights, he asks in the first verse: “But what am I supposed to do / When the topic is red or blue?” Lamar then recalls an instance of being jumped by some gang members:

Just a couple that look for trouble
And live in the street with rank
No better picture to paint than me walking from bible study
And called his homies because he had said he noticed my face
From a function that tooken place
They was wondering if I bang
Step on my neck and get blood on your Nike checks

Despite being trapped inside a figurative prison and against the temptation to kill himself or run away, he turns to hip-hop as a source of empowerment, claiming that one day these “homies” will “respect.”

If Lamar was jumped for being innocent in the previous account (verse one), then he is jumped for being guilty in the second (verse two) in which he describes an instance of being profiled by the police.  While recognizing the importance of police in light of the gang violence on the streets, he engages them in their contradictions:

I can never pick out the difference and grade a cop on the bill / Every time you clock in the morning, I feel you just want to kill / All my innocence while ignoring my purpose to persevere as a better person / I know you heard this and probably in fear / But what am I supposed to do with the blinking of red and blue / Flash from the top of your roof and your dog has to say woof / And you ask, “Lift up your shirt” cause you wonder if a tattoo / Of affiliation can make it a pleasure to put me through / Gang files, but that don’t matter because the matter is racial profile

Blinded by fear, the police cannot see past their own prejudice. As a result of their racism, Lamar’s body is objectified, automatically assumed to be branded with a mark of gang affiliation. In light of this, Lamar can’t “pick out the difference” between good or bad cop. And unlike the gang members who jumped him in the first verse, these officers will only ever see him as a “black thug” and “never respect the good kid, m.A.A.d. city.”

Rapping from the margins of a society tripped out on paranoid hallucinations that stem from an experience of being systematically dispossessed, Lamar concludes his rap by admitting “it’s entirely stressful upon my brain.” Quietly hoping for change, he confesses to the temptation of numbing the existential hurt with “grown-up candy for pain”: the oft-overused antidepressant Xanax and psilocybin “magic” (mu)shrooms. He then closes on a note of triumph: “The streets sure to release the worst side of my best / Don’t mind, cause now you ever in debt to good kid, m.A.A.d. city.”

This segues into a song of dramatic self-assertion, “m.A.A.d. City,” that recalls memories of witnessing brutal violence as a means of protesting gang lifestyle. The song is prefaced by the intro: “If Pirus and Crips all got along / They’d probably gun me down by the end of this song / Seem like the whole city go against me.”

He thus indicates to his listeners that the message he’s soon to deliver renders, or will render, him a common enemy of the Crips and the Bloods. In this way, he plays the role of scapegoat and an ironic sort of peacemaker. “Compton’s human sacrifice,” he reconciles differences by dint of his heroic willingness to refuse participation in gang life.

With the Schoolboy Q-intoned onomatopoeia of gunshot blasts, “YAWK! YAWK! YAWK!,” Lamar sets the tenor for a “trip down memory lane” with the help of guest rapper MC Eiht, who appropriates gang-speak in order to claim ownership of the city: “Man down / Where you from, nigga? / Fuck who you know, where you from, my nigga? / This m.a.a.d. city I run my nigga.”

From there Lamar narrates a story about riding down Rosecrans Avenue—one of the major through-streets of Compton and a signifier of gang territory, as well as the “memory lane” to which he refers in the first bar of the verse. Using his memory as his figurative vehicle for navigation, he takes his listener through a dystopian wasteland where pictures of a traumatic past pass by like scenery outside of car windows. He thus recalls witnessing “a light-skinned nigga with his brains blown out” at the tender age of nine. He also speaks to the death of his cousin in 1994 as the result of a broken truce between the Bloods and the Crips. Lamar admits that with “Pakistan on every porch,” the inhabitants of Compton adapt to crime by becoming criminals themselves: “Pickin’ up the fuckin’ pump / Pickin’ off you suckers, suck a dick or die a sucker punch.”

Lamar thus lives in a “dog-eat-dog” world caught up in a vicious cycle of violence and drug-trafficking. There is no peace, as Lamar says, “just pieces” (read guns) and disposable “bodies on top of bodies” about which those with political power could care less. Lamenting the government’s failure to provide assistance to disenfranchised urban communities such as Compton, Lamar raps: “They say the governor collect, all our taxes except / When we in traffic and tragic happens, that shit ain’t no threat / You movin’ backwards if you suggest that you sleep with a Tec / Go buy a chopper and have a doctor on speed dial, I guess / m.a.a.d. City.”

In saying that “You movin’ backwards” if you sleep with a Tec (read gun), Lamar is essentially offering the moral adage:  “He who lives by the sword (read gun), dies by the sword.”

MC Eiht intones the second verse, readying the listener for “some lessons about the street” that are specific to growing up in Compton: “It ain’t nothin’ but a Compton thang.” This leads to an account in which Lamar raps about being fired from a job as a result of succumbing to pressure from his peers to stage a robbery. He did so in a drug-induced haze wrought by smoking a blunt laced with cocaine that had him “foaming at the mouth.” MC Eiht further contextualizes the account with signifiers of hood-life and metonyms of hyper-masculine manhood—“IV’s” (i.e. handguns), “bird” (i.e. crack cocaine), “whip” (i.e. car) and “a strap in the hand” (i.e. handgun)—that call attention to the dangers of living life in Compton, and the ease with which one can slip into a criminal lifestyle: “The hood took me under so I follow the rules.”

In the final verse, Lamar challenges his audience with the question, “If I killed a nigga at the age of 16, would you believe me?” Implying that he is no innocent bystander to the violence he has heretofore described, Lamar poses the question as a means of absolving the sins of his past—of “mashing all my skeletons”—so that others may learn from his mistakes and thereby fulfill “dreams of being a lawyer or doctor / Instead of a boy with a chopper [i.e. gun] that hold the cul de sac [i.e. neighborhood or, more symbolically, a “dead-end” life] hostage.” By telling his story and thus confessing his sins, Lamar is making an agency claim and an expression of freedom to be a somebody where he was once a nobody.

As though the biblical prophet Jonah once swallowed by a whale before delivering his prophetic message to Nineveh, Lamar delivers his own message of sin and redemption live and direct from the “belly of the rough Compton, U.S.A.”  A self-proclaimed “Angel on Angel Dust,” Lamar is one who has gained a hard-earned wisdom through his experience; he is one who has learned what it means to live righteously by dint of his own flirtations with unrighteous behavior, and life as it’s lived on the streets of a “m.a.a.d. city.”

Lamar further explores the complexity of life on the streets in a two-part composition, “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst.” In the first verse of “Sing About Me,” Lamar takes on the persona of a Piru Blood gang member mourning the loss of his brother to a gunfight. Addressing Lamar as though a friend, he thanks the rapper for cradling his brother during his dying moments. In this way, Lamar enters empathically into the thug’s psyche as a means to reveal that even “thugs” have heart. Not only that, but they are acutely aware of their own predicament. A child of his environment, the gang member admits:

I’m behind on what’s really important
My mind is really distorted
I find nothing but trouble in my life
I’m fortunate you believe in a dream
This orphanage we call a ghetto is quite a routine

[…]
Everybody’s a victim in my eyes
When I ride it’s a murderous rhythm
And outside became pitch black
A demon glued to my back whispering, “Get em”
I got ‘em, and I ain’t give a fuck

A self-proclaimed “dumb nigga” who will never prosper, this thug diagnoses himself as a “problem child,” asserts his loyalty to his Piru crew in the absence of an actual family, and then asks Lamar to tell his story should he die before the album “drop.” By way of empathy, Lamar explores the psychology of ghetto fatalism (what Cornel West in Race Matters [1994] would call “black nihilism”), internalized racism, and gang violence to suggest that these social diseases are symptomatic of a deeper ill: the break-up of the community and the family in light of racialized oppression. Hence: “This orphanage we call a ghetto is quite routine.” In this kind of shiftless environment, membership in a gang provides access to group-identity in the absence of family. Even without family, however, love finds a way, as in the last bar of verse one in which the gangbanger confesses to Lamar: “I love you cause you love my brother like you did.”

In verse two Lamar adopts the persona of a female prostitute, who is upset with Lamar for rapping about her sister in “Keisha’s Song,” off of his first album, Section .80. Inspired  by Tupac Shakur’s “Brenda’s Got a Baby” off of 2Pacalypse Now, “Keisha’s Song” tells a story of a young prostitute who was raped and slain. The female subject of “Sing About Me” reproaches Lamar on the charge that he unfairly judged her slain sister on the Section .80 track. She then goes on to describe the lifestyle of a prostitute through her own eyes. In the same manner of self-awareness as that of the male gangbanger in the first verse, she tells Lamar:

This is the life of another girl damaged by the system
These foster homes, I run away and never do miss ‘em
See, my hormones just run away and if I can get ‘em back
To where they used to be then I’ll probably be in the denim
Of a family gene that show women how to be woman, or better yet a leader
You need her to learn something, then you probably need to beat her
That’s how I was taught

Three niggas in one room, first time I was tossed
And I’m exhausted

Having grown up an orphan who lost her virginity to three gangbangers, she longs for the chance to relive a childhood in a family situation free from the domestic abuse on which she was reared. Again, Lamar plays on the trope of family, suggesting that the “system”—i.e. the government or, perhaps, the welfare system—has been set up only to tear families apart. It signifies a social structure rendered ineffective in the lives of society’s most disenfranchised, in no small part due to their status as racial minorities, who have to hustle just to get by. The verse closes with her threat that Lamar better not make a song about her because there is no story to tell. She feels physically great and if Lamar wants to help her, then he should “sell her pussy.” Locked into a system of economic exchange based on the exploitation of her body and her sexuality, she fatalistically resigns herself to her lot as a sexual escort: “I’m on the grind for this cake.”

Lamar comes back into his own voice in the third verse to offer a “lesson before dying”[2] in which he speculates on his life’s purpose: to tell the aforementioned stories and others like them. Hip-hop is his reason for being alive and his most available resource for engaging with the reality of death and life on the streets. There is no time to sleep when there are lessons to learn and teach. Addressing the two subjects of the previous verses, he raps:

And you’re right, your brother was a brother to me
And your sister’s situation was the one that put me
In a direction to speak of something that’s realer than the TV screen
By any means, wasn’t trying to offend or come between
Her personal life, I was like “it need to be told
Cursing the life of 20 generations after her” so
Exactly what would have happened if I hadn’t continued rappin’
Or steady being distracted by money drugs and four
Fives, I count lives all on these songs
Look at the weak and cry, pray one day you’ll be strong
Fighting for your rights, even when you’re wrong
And hope that at least one of you sing about me when I’m gone
Now am I worth it?
Did I put enough work in?

These are existential questions par excellence, and they inform the underlying motivation for Lamar’s album: to make something worthy of his life through the cultural work of hip-hop. His work as a rap artist is a way not only to immortalize himself, but to affirm himself as a gifted storyteller who has something important to offer the world. Moreover, his “mighty powerful” tongue allows him to “fight for your rights, even when you’re wrong.” It also enables him to reorder reality and deconstruct the Debordian “spectacle” and thereby “speak of something that’s realer than the TV screen.” Indeed, it is his way of confronting reality, of no longer running from it by resorting to illicit activity.

On that note, “Sing About Me” transitions into “I’m Dying of Thirst,” which plays on the trope of spiritual dehydration that runs like a stream through the entire album. Implying that his community of peers is attempting to satisfy its desire for wealth and security in all the wrong ways, he asks:

What are we doing?
Who are we fooling?
Hell is hot, fire is proven
To burn for eternity, return of the student
That never learned how to live right just by how to shoot it
[…]
It’s no discussion, hereditary
All of my cousins
Dying of thirst
Dying of thirst
Dying of thirst

Lamar here equates the culture of violence to a figurative hell while also reminding his listeners that those who play with fire are sure to be burned. He also signifies on the hell of religious imagination to which all those who have not reconciled for their sins are banished for eternity. Those living a life of violence are thus doomed to a hell of their own making. Lamar then admits that violence is in his blood: “It’s no discussion, hereditary / All of my cousins / Dying of thirst.” A product of his environment like his cousins, he is just as liable as they are to a doomed fate.

The track ends with the voice of an older woman (played by Maya Angelou), who is taken to be one of Lamar’s neighbors. She rebukes him and his friends for carrying a handgun: “I know that’s not what I think that is! Why are you so angry?! You young men are dying of thirst! Do you know what that means? That means, you need water, holy water! You need to be baptized with the spirit of the Lord!” She then leads them in the same confessional prayer that opens the entire album, bringing GKMC to near close in the manner of a spiritual.

With this act of contrition, Lamar effectively achieves his transformation into realness, a sense of spiritual wholeness initiated by the figurative baptism he undergoes at the end of “I’m Tired of Running.” It is this re-birth that completes the narrative arc of the “short film” and leads him into “Real”—a testimony to the fact that love saves. Not, echoing music critic Jayson Greene, love of money, power, respect, or the block—as “none of that shit make me real”—but love of Self. That is the only kind of love which will satiate the hunger and quench the thirst that had him running aimlessly toward a doomed fate. It is a disarming love, one that can help the world take off the masks “we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.”[3] It is as though Lamar is positing to the human community the same message Baldwin proffers to his nephew in The Fire Next Time: “Well, you were born, here you came […]: to be loved. To be loved, baby, hard, at once, and forever, to strengthen you against the loveless world.”[4]

The song ends in a similar vein as Baldwin’s familial address with a recording of two separate voicemails—one from his father, one from his mother—that bring the narrative to a triumphant end. His father, offering his consolation to Lamar in light of his friend’s death by a bullet wound, exclaims: “Any nigga can kill a man, that don’t make you a real nigga. Real is responsibility. Real is taking care of your motherfucking family.” As for his mother’s sage wisdom: “If I don’t hear from you by tomorrow, I hope you come back and learn from your mistakes. Come back a man… Tell your story to these black and brown kids in Compton… When you do make it, give back with your words of encouragement. And that’s the best way to give back to your city. And I love you, Kendrick.” As Greene notes, Lamar foregrounds the themes of faith and family that not only tie the album’s songs together, but function as the “fraying tethers holding Lamar back from the chasm of gang violence that threatens to consume him.”[5] In the end, again sampling Greene, the album gives witness to Lamar’s love for his family[6] and serves as an achievement of what his mother encouraged him to do: give back.

The album closes with a tribute to his hood in, “Compton,” which begins with the triumphal bar: “Now everybody serenade the new faith of Kendrick Lamar.” A self-proclaimed philosopher-king, Lamar has transitioned from rags to royalty in attaining the riches of freedom understood as self-respect, self-realization, and self-consciousness. Lamar does so through the art of “secular spiritual” storytelling, so central to black expressive culture and a means by which he rapper/minister/street prophet engages the African-American struggle for existential and social freedom.

[1] Here, I am riffing on Kevin Young in his discussion of the spirituals in The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness (Minneapolis, MN: Graywolf Press, 2012), 81.

[2] A reference I make intentionally to a novel of similar import as Lamar’s LP: Ernest J. Gaines’ A Lesson Before Dying (New York: Vintage, 1993).

[3] James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time (New York: Dell, 1963), 128.

[4] Ibid., 17.

[5] Jayson Greene, review of good kid, m.A.A.d. City: A Short Film by Kendrick Lamar, by Kendrick Lamar, Pitchfork Media, October 23, 2012,  http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/17253-good-kid-maad-city/ (accessed December 2012).

[6] Made more apparent by the album art, full of old family photos.

In The Spirituals and the Blues: An Interpretation theologian James Cone speaks of the blues as “secular spirituals”: “They are secular in the sense that they confine their attention solely to the immediate and affirm the bodily expression of black soul, including its sexual manifestations. They are spirituals because they are impelled by the same search for the truth of black experience.”[1] The trope of the “secular spiritual” provides a useful lens through which to interpret Compton-bred rapper Kendrick Lamar’s second album, good kid, m.A.A.d. city: A Short Film by Kendrick Lamar.[2] A critically-acclaimed future hip-hop classic, it is the masterful expression of one African-American male’s quest for selfhood which not only affirms the bodily expression of a black soul, but narrates that soul’s search for the truth of black experience in the midst of postindustrial urban decay. It is a search for existential and social freedom that is implicated in the African-American struggle for liberation.

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In order to ground the analysis of GKMC as “secular spiritual” implicated in the African-American freedom struggle, it will be helpful to first situate GKMC at the nexus of postindustrialism and hip-hop discourse, paying particular attention to hip-hop’s role as a cultural expression of opposition and source of prophetic resistance to the status quo. This three part blog series then examines the link between the secular and the sacred as it pertains to black expressive culture in the form of spirituals, the blues and hip-hop, looking at how the freedom of self-expression in these fields of cultural production is an act of resistance that bridges the perceived gap between the sacred and secular. Having established a context for analysis, this series picks up in part two with a reading of Lamar’s album, allowing it to speak for itself while at the same time offering interpretive insight. The series then concludes by considering the ways in which the album, as “secular spiritual,” and Lamar’s own role as cultural worker, are implicated in the African-American freedom struggle.

The m.A.A.d. city: Postindustrialism and Hip-Hop Discourse

Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d. city is a hip-hop album that was created in a postindustrial space. In order to explore that space, it is useful to put it in historical context of postindustrialism and the emergence of hip-hop therein.

In “Postindustrial Soul: Black Popular Music at the Crossroads,” Marc Anthony Neal notes that the late 1970s and 1980s ushered in an era of “intense poverty, economic collapse and the erosion of viable public space” that became “part and parcel of the new urban terrain that African-Americans confronted.”[3] The replacement of a strong manufacturing sector with a service economy as a result of automation, globalization, and the outsourcing of industry devalued the importance of blue-color and unionized work, including manual labor—much of which was supplied by a black working class. With the decline of this industrial base came the rise of professional workers—those such as scientists, IT professionals and creative-industry professionals who produce ideas rather than goods. Neal sums up the situation thus:

Many working-class communities and their inhabitants were deemed as peripheral to the mechanisms of the postindustrial city as high finance and the consumerist desires of a growing managerial class influenced municipal development, including well-publicized tax breaks to corporate entities that remained within certain municipalities without any specific commitment to their lower-tier workers. […] Under the banner of “urban renewal,” the black working class and working poor were marginalized and isolated from the engines of the postindustrial city—the privatization of public space in downtown areas being emblematic—and instead exposed to intense poverty and rampant unemployment, which subsequently challenged traditional desires to maintain community.[4]

“Low-income” housing was the federal government’s answer to the problem of economic disenfranchisement, which further exacerbated the problem of social isolation and urban communal decay as the dispossessed were crammed into over-crowded neighborhoods without the needed public and institutional space to build community.[5]

Neal notes that without a sustainable economy and as a result of poverty and unemployment, “an illicit economy” of drug-dealing, hustling, prostitution, petty thievery, and numbers running “emerged as a primary conduit for economic survival.”[6] Most prominent was the crack cocaine trade that served as a means of escape from the misery of living in a veritable postindustrial wasteland.[7] Los Angeles became a hub for such illicit activity in light of Japanese imports that displaced the industrial plant economy and left the black working class effectively disenfranchised, ousted from the service industries that were developing in the region.[8]

mark anthony neal

Mark Anthony Neal

Neal also speaks of the ‘juvenization of poverty’ in terms of minority youth turning to the crack cocaine industry as a source of income in light of their own destitution: “In Los Angeles County, for instance, more than 40 percent of children lived below or just above the official poverty line. This mirrored a doubling of children in poverty across the state of California in just a generation.”[9] These trends were reflected across the nation as well. This phenomenon was marked by a militarization of the black urban landscape with the increase of gang violence and turf wars—as between the Crips and Bloods in L.A.—marked by drive-by shootings.

And yet that was not all that emerged from the postindustrial reorganization of urban space. Black expressive culture in the form of hip-hop became a stylistic means to transform the landscape into something more livable through narrative. Though not an exclusively or essentially “black” phenomenon as hip-hop was also the byproduct of cross-racial interaction between African-Americans and those from the Caribbean, parts of Latin America and, not much later, white people, Neal follows a more formative, or strict, reading of hip-hop history which contends that the youth who spawned hip-hop came from the core of African-American communities in particular, wherein “resistance against oppression and movements for equality have included physical protests as well as critical narratives, political movements, creative art movements, verbal genres and more.”[10]

Integral to this culture of resistance, hip-hop functioned, and still functions, as a counter-hegemonic discourse that offered/s a medium for ideology critique and the construction of new models of and for reality centered in community. Like its predecessors in the form of blues, jazz, funk, and soul, hip-hop proffered/s an artistic resource for creating social space in which marginal individuals could/can articulate a broader definition of community that embraces difference as a strength rather than weakness.[11] It embodies what Neal calls a “post-soul aesthetic”—a concept that arises out of postmodern theory and which concerns the construction of (black) self-identity in light of postindustrialism, globalization, cybernization, the general commodification of black expressive culture as well as the political, social and cultural experiences of blackness following the Civil Rights era and Black Power movement.[12]

Hip-hop culture in all of its manifestations—from graffiti, to DJing, to beatboxing, breakdancing, and rapping—is inherently oppositional and transgressive of the status quo. As Theresa Martinez notes, it shifts America’s attention to the systemic problems of poverty, discrimination, and neglect.[13] In this way, specific to the African-Americanness of hip-hop, it inverts black invisibility. Like the blues before it, hip-hop exists at the crossroads of desire and absence. It emerges from “the deindustrialized meltdown where social alienation, prophetic imagination, and yearning intersect” while negotiating “the experiences of marginalization, brutally truncated opportunity, and oppression within the cultural imperatives of African American and Caribbean history, identity, and community.”[14]

The highly charged cultural space of Compton is one nucleus where such negotiating happens. Considered the birthplace of so-called “gangsta rap,” which recreates life on the streets in narrative accounts of illicit activity, Compton is an epicenter of counter-hegemonic imagining. Indeed, Lamar is no small part of a lineage of MCs such as Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Ice T, Eazy-E, and MC Ren (members of crew N.W.A.), as well as Snoop Dog and the legendary Tupac Shakur (Lamar’s idol), who have claimed the generally low-income neighborhood as a site of oppositional culture, and who were undoubtedly influential in Lamar’s identity-formation as hip-hop artist and cultural critic.

Hip-hop scholars such as Robin Kelley see in gangsta rap a contradiction of form—at once “urban storytelling” and “misogynist nihilism”—which yet offers a “vocal critique of a blighted inner city Los Angeles whose poverty rate and joblessness deeply affected communities like Compton and Watts.”[15] Brian Cross asserts that its message lies somewhere along a “continuum of resistance” that engages in the political struggle by dint of what it discloses to the world: poverty, police brutality, and frustrated hope.[16]

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An areal view of Compton, CA.

In this way, it is not only political but also prophetic inasmuch as it gives voice to the otherwise voiceless. As Cornel West notes in Democracy Matters, hip-hop that is prophetic “remains true to the righteous indignation and political resistance of deep democratic energies.”[17] This is not ignore the complexities of hip-hop or the subgenre of gangsta rap. Indeed, as Imani Perry recognizes, hip-hop discourse is inflected with a “tension-filled dynamic of [Du Boisian] double consciousness” wherein there lies a “meeting and conflict of Americanness and blackness, where MCs and DJs are commodified, make commodities, and are both objects and subjects of capitalism as they produce improvisational and oppositional music.”[18] Moreover, this is not to deny hip-hop culture’s homophobia as well as its problematic treatment of women.[19] Rather, it is to suggest that even in that complexity there lies, to use West’s words, the “precious soil in which the seeds of democratic individuality, community and society can sprout.”[20]

            Hip-Hop Discourse at the Crossroads of Secular and Spiritual

There is a distinct spiritual dimension to the oppositional stance that takes shape within hip-hop discourse insofar as it affirms black self-identity against the threat of institutionalized racism and the social evil of poverty. To riff on Cone’s insight above with regard to blues, hip-hop exists at the crossroads of the sacred and the secular. Indeed, hip-hop discourse could very well be seen as a combination of the spirituals and the blues in light of the “soul” it shares with them. As Perry states, “Soul is important to hip-hop also. By soul I mean that which has some spiritual depth and deep cultural and historical resonances to be felt through the kind of music and sounds made by the vocalists.”[21]766868

Looking at the spirituals, Cone offers an interpretation of them from an historical perspective, proclaiming, “Black history is a spiritual![22] He essentially sees them as historical documents: “The spirituals are the story of black people’s historical striving for earthly freedom, rather than otherworldly projections of hopeless Africans who forgot about their homeland.”[23] Brought to America by way of the terrific Middle Passage, the slaves remained tied to their past despite the threat of dislocation through the art of storytelling. Through song, they were able to piece together a severed past. In so doing, they reflected a different heritage than that from which emerged white American Christianity.[24] Moreover, Cone sees the spiritual as “an expression of the slaves’ determination to be in a society that seeks to eliminate their being,” and an affirmation of the “somebodiness (sic) of black selves.”[25] By affirming their right to self-determine through song, slaves glimpsed freedom and found hope, even in bondage.

The Spirituals and the Dance of Personhood

The spirituals emerged in the clandestine clearings—also known as “hush harbors” or brush arbors—of the wooded landscape on the master’s estate during the slave days of the antebellum South. A hybrid of European and African American folk song, they were fashioned as religious music, drawing from the Christian Bible, Protestant hymns, sermons and African styles of song and dance as a means of free self-expression.  Sonically, the spirituals were an original creation, characterized by “the rhythmic syncopation, polyphony, and shifted accents, as well as the altered and timbral qualities and diverse vibrato effects of African music.”[26] In light of such a distinct sound—made more unique by the flattening of chords and notes in the pentatonic scale of the Protestant hymn—the spirituals served to transform any tracings of Anglo-American music into a veritable African American composition.[27]

Book-BluesPeopleNegroMusic

In order to understand them fully, historian Albert Raboteau contends, one must imagine them as performed. The spirituals were accompanied by a “certain ecstasy of motion”—”moments of religious excitement” embodied by foot-stomping, hand-clapping, head-nodding, moaning and other manifestations of “religious fervor.”[28] Not simply sung, then, the spirituals were danced in the circular space of the “ring shout.” In the style of call and response, adapted from African ritual music, the leader of a ring of dancers would issue a verse of a spiritual to which those outside the ring would sing the chorus. The singers also provided a rhythm for the ring dancers with hand-clapping and foot-tapping, thus “basing” the ring band in a choir of percussive beats and shouts. The spontaneity and freedom of movement elicited by the songs were an essential characteristic of the spirituals, spawned in reaction to the bodily and psychological constrictions of life “under the stress of law and whip” (SB 161).

Black theologian Gayraud Wilmore notes the significance of movement for affirming African American personhood. To sing and to dance was to acknowledge the providence of God and the indwelling of the Spirit in human flesh. Wilmore writes thus:

To give oneself up with shouts of joy and ‘singing feet’ to this wholeness of being, to the ecstatic celebration of one’s creaturehood, and to experience that creaturehood taken up and possessed by God in a new state of consciousness, was to imbibe the most restorative medicine available to the slave.[29]

Thus the spirituals endowed the corporeal African American existence with sacrality. They gave religious sanction to song and dance, and the freedom of self-expression that such movement occasioned. As performed, the spirituals opened up space not only to imagine freedom, but to experience it in kinship with other believers, who could share in one person’s joy or sorrow as though it was the community’s own pleasure or pain.[30]

The Spirituals and the Slave’s Religious Imaginary: A Vision of ‘Freedomland’

Scholars agree that the meaning derived of spirituals for those in bondage was multivalent. Now coded protest song, now passive submission to an oppressive situation, sometimes neither. Regardless of how they were experienced or interpreted by those enmeshed in the slave institution, the spirituals undoubtedly evoked an experience of freedom. The specific understanding of freedom—whether as spiritual, psychological-existential, or physical-social liberation—was relative to the slave singing the song.

Literary critic and poet Kevin Young asserts that the spirituals had the effect of opening up space to imagine life as it could be lived in an “Elsewhere”—often invoking the exiled Jews’ entry into the Promised Land of Canaan as a trope for mapping the terrain of freedom.[31] In this way they were useful as an agency claim—a means of “crafting a state of mind to remake reality”[32] so that the Elsewhere of freedom could be experienced from within, if not without. [33] As Young writes, the spirituals were thus reflective of the slave’s “inner compass,” allowing them to remap and chart the “black art of escape.”[34] The slaves found kinship with the spiritual-political struggle of persecuted Jews of the Old Testament. Spirituals that reflect an identification with the Jews include “Go Down Moses,” “I’m Marching to Zion,” and “Walk into Jerusalem Just Like John.”[35] Through them, the slaves appropriated the Judeo-Christian narrative as their own for the purpose of proposing a “metaphysical resolution” to their natural desires for freedom, making life easier to bear.[36]

swing low sweet chariot

A common trope was that of journey, an archetypal symbol for the spiritual passage from sin to redemption, as well as that of slavery to freedom. Consider the passage of the Jews from the bonds of slavery in Egypt to the freedom of life in the Promised Land of Israel as evoked in “I Am Bound for the Land of Canaan”:

O Canaan, sweet Canaan, / I am bound for the land of Canaan, / I thought I heard them say / There were lions in the way; / I don’t expect to stay / Much longer here. / Run to Jesus, shun the danger. / I don’t expect to stay / Much longer here…[37]

Young notes the power Canaan held in the life of the slave. It was part of the “powerful liberational rereading of the Bible the slaves performed (sic),” and “strategic remapping of the American landscape.”[38] The spirituals were in this way subversive, providing “a powerful exegesis of the biblical story of Moses and Pharoah, Israel and bondage, in order to identify with, and aspire to, freedom.”[39]

Hymns such as “The Heavenly Road,” “Down in the Valley,” “Rassal Jacob,” and “Ole Captain Satan,” imagined the search for freedom as passage, spiritual warfare, a trek through the wilderness, or descent down into the “Lonesome Valley.” Of course the journey always had an end that entailed ascent, a move toward something new and different from the present state of affairs. Literary theorist Henry Louis Gates, Jr., sees the journey as primarily a symbolic one in which the descent down “‘implies the not-so-mythic (but mythically recalled) land from which black people were severed, the Africa of their fathers where people were people and people were free.’”[40] In this way, the spirituals suggest a quest for individual and collective selfhood.[41]

More simply, they were a journal-like reflection of day-to-day existence in slavery, allowing slaves freedom to confront the inner turmoil of the ‘trebbled spirit’[42] and artfully transfigure the pain into something expressive of the human spirit’s inherent beauty. Spirituals like “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen!” capture the vicissitudes of life in slavery: “Sometimes I’m up, sometimes I’m down.” In so doing, they stood at the crossroads of despair and hope. Yet the songs were ultimately affirmations of faith in the intercession of God through the spirit of Jesus with whose sufferings the slaves could readily identify. With him as the archetypal savior, the harbinger of freedom and guarantor of life after death, the slaves could sing resolutely: ‘In de mornin’ when I rise, / Tell my Jesus huddy [howdy] oh;  / I wash my hands in de mornin’ glory, / Tell my Jesus huddy, oh.’[43] With Jesus as their guide, the slaves could approach death in a spirit of hope and joy. In fact, death was considered a blessing, an invitation to ‘diel like-a Jesus die…wid a free good will.’[44]

The Spirituals and the Social: Slave Songs as Political Resistance

Playing off of Ferdinand Jones’ analysis of the psychological dynamics of jazz improvisation, psychologist Arthur Jones sees embedded in the spirituals a “challenge attitude” that inverts white superiority and a system of white domination through the affirmation of African American worth, dignity, and positive self-identity. He cites “Heaven, Heaven” (a.k.a. “I Got Shoes”) as an example of such an orientation: “In singing the song, the slave singer not only claims shoes (because ‘all God’s children got shoes!’) but also boldly asserts plans for walking (read strutting) ‘all over God’s Heaven.’ Furthermore, a disguised reference to the hypocritical slaveholder, the singer reminds everyone within hearing that ‘everybody’s talkin’ ‘bout Heaven ain’t going there.’”[45]

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That the spirituals could be read as such a form of resistance is not new. Literary critic John Lovell, Jr. was vehement in his claim that the spirituals were “rooted in themes of radical transformation in the existing order of things.”[46] He makes the bold statement: “These songs stress the outcomes of the poetic experience in such revelations as justifications for a sense of well being, the power of fortitude, commitment to freedom and democracy, awareness of a just universe, and appreciation of the many realisms and romanticisms connected with the word ‘Heave’n.’”[47] Lovell thus rejects any notion that the spirituals were escapist in function. Rather, they were inherently political, communicating the slave’s deepest aspirations for deliverance and “‘a desire for justice in the judgment upon his betrayers which some might call revenge.’”[48] In laying hold upon this world, the slave envisioned a more just universe through the lens of the spiritual. Consider “You Shall Reap (Brother, Sister, Sinner) Jes’ What You Sow’:

You can weep like a willow, / You can mourn like a dove, / But you can’t get to heaven / Without Christian love. […] / You may be a white man, / White as the drifting snow, / If your soul ain’t been converted, / To Hell you’re sure to go. [49]

A means of conveying physical and metaphysical resistance to slavery, the spirituals were a strategy for survival that saw heaven not only as an Elsewhere, but as an essentially social experience of earthly freedom.[50]

The Blues and Black “Sombodyness”

Speaking to the blues, Cone contends that “the blues and spirituals flow from the same bedrock of experience, and neither is an adequate interpretation of black life without the commentary of the other.” [51] They both deal with suffering, but through a different lens. Though derivative of the spiritual, the blues were especially useful for those who could not accept a God-centered vision of the universe that offered a promise of salvation as answer to the problem of black suffering.[52] With slavery as the historical background out of which the blues were birthed, they “are about black life and the sheer earth and gut capacity to survive in an extreme situation of oppression.”[53]

The blues, like the spirituals before them, come from an experience of dislocation and function as an attempt to make sense of historical suffering:

Taking form sometime after the Emancipation and Reconstruction, they invited black people to embrace the reality and truth of black experience. They express the ‘laments of folk Negroes over hard luck, ‘careless’ or unrequited love, broken family life, or general dissatisfaction with a cold and trouble-filled world.’ And implied in the blues is a stubborn refusal to go beyond the existential problem and substitute other-worldly answer. It is not that the blues reject God; rather they ignore him by embracing the joys and sorrows of life, such as those of a man’s relationship to his woman, a woman with her man. What makes the blues sacred, according to Cone, is their affirmation of the “somebodyness” of black selfhood.[54]

Kendrick_Lamar_section 80

Cover art, Kendrick Lamar, “Section.80” (2011, Top Dawg Entertainment)

Thus it is in their inherent affirmation of black self-identity, self-consciousness, and black experience that the blues and the spiritual, the secular and the sacred intersect.

Hip-hop discourse is no less concerned with affirming self-consciousness and in this way finds itself at the crossroads of the sacred and the secular. Though it is not restricted to black experience, hip-hop is grounded in African-American expressive culture which includes the blues and the spirituals. In this way, it also “flows from the same bedrock of [black] experience” as the spirituals and the blues, and speaks to the joys and sorrows of human experience through the MC.

Often a documentarian of urban life, the MC “usually occupies a self-proclaimed location as representative of his or her community or group—the everyman or everywoman of his or her hood.”[53] The undying debate over authenticity and realness in hip-hop discourse is testimony to this blues-tinged fascination with documenting life experience as it exists in the world—whether historically real or realistically imagined. Aimed at the goal of self-realization, rappers don what Perry calls an “identity-based teleological stance” toward experience that often invokes theological imagery to suggest that the rapping “subject” is “both divine and divinely inspired.”[55] As we shall see, Lamar is one such everyman whose own search for selfhood is predicated on this teleological stance.

[1] James H. Cone, The Spirituals and the Blues: An Interpretation (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1972), 112.

[2] Kendrick Lamar, good kid, m.A.A.d. city, Interscope, CD, 2012. Hereafter referred to as GKMC in the essay. The acronym m.A.A.d. stands for “my Angry Adolescence divided” or “my Angel’s on Angel Dust” (see: http://kendricklamar.org/kendrick-good-kid-maad-city/).

[3] Mark Anthony Neal, “Postindustrial Soul: Black Popular Music at the Crossroads,” in That’s the Joint! The Hip-Hop Studies Reader 2n ed., edited by Murray Forman and Mark Anthony Neal: 477-502 (New York: Routledge, 2004), 477.

[4] Ibid., 481.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., 482.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid., 483.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Marcyliena Morgan, The Real Hiphop: Battling for Knowledge, Power and Respect in the LA Underground (Durham: North Carolina, 2009), 47.

[11] Mark Anthony Neal, Soul Babies: Black Popular Culture and the Post-Soul Aesthetic (New York: Routledge, ), 7.

[12] Ibid., 3.

[13] Theresa Martinez, “Popular Culture as Oppositional Culture: Rap as Resistance,” Sociological Perspectives, vol. 40, no. 2 (1997), 268.

[14] Quoted in Neal, “Postindustrial Soul…,” op. cit., 477.

[15] See Martinez, op. cit., 274.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Cornel West, Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight Against Imperialism (New York: The Penguin Press, 2004), 182. Quoted in Joshua Hostetter, “Prophetic Hip Hop Discourse in the New Cultural Politics of Difference: Moving Toward a Reconception of Culture, Community, and Commodity,” Senior Thesis, Central Catholic High School, Pittsburgh, PA, 2005, 17-18.

[18] Imani Perry, Prophets of the Hood: Politics and Poetics in Hip Hop (Durham: Duke University Press, 2004), 43.

[19] For an in-depth treatment of  rap and capitalism, rap and misogyny/sexism, and rap and homophobia see: “B-boys, Players, and Preachers: Reading Masculinity,” “The Venus Hip Hop and the Pink Ghetto: Negotiating Spaces for Women,” and “Bling Bling… and Going Pop: Consumerism and Co-optation in Hip Hop” in ibid. See also all of Part V of That’s the Joint! The Hip Hop Studies Reader, op. cit.

[20] West in Hostetter, op. cit.

[21] Ibid., 52.

[22] Cone, op. cit., 33.

[23] Ibid., 15.

[24] Leroi Jones, Blues People: Negro Music in White America (New York: Quill, 1963), 42.

[25] See ibid., 47.

[26] See Albert Raboteau, Slave Religion: The ‘Invisible Institution’ in the Antebellum South (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), 244.

[27] Gayraud Wilmore, Black Religion and Black Radicalism: An Interpretation of the Religious History of Afro-American People (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1983), 12.

[28] Raboteau, op. cit., 246. Indeed, Raboteau records one instance where a freedman spoke to what the spirituals afforded him: ‘I’ll tell you; it’s dis way. My master call me up and order me a short peck of corn and hundred lash. My friends see it and is sorry for me. When dey come to de praise meetin’ dat night dey sing about it. Some’s very good singers and know how’ and dey work it in you know; till dey git it right; and dat’s de way’ (ibid.).

[29] See Kevin Young, The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness (Minneapolis, MN: Graywolf Press, 2012), 81-83.

[30] Ibid., 82.

[31] See also ibid., 21-22.

[32] Ibid., 22.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid., 39.

[35] In Raboteau, op. cit., 247.

[36] Young, op. cit., 81.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Quoted in Young, ibid., 22.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Raboteau, op. cit., 258.

[41] Quoted in ibid., 259.

[42] Quoted in ibid., 261.

[43] Arthur C. Jones, “The Foundational Influence of Spirituals in African-American Culture: A Psychological Perspective,” Black Music Research Journal, vol. 24, no. 2 (Autumn, 2004), 259.Cf. Wade in the Water: The Wisdom of the Spirituals (Boulder, CO: Leave a Little Room Foundation, 2005), 8.

[44] John Lovell, Jr., “Reflections on the Origins of the Negro Spiritual,” Negro American Literature Forum, vol. 3, no. 3, Folklore (Autumn, 1969), 64.

[45] Ibid., 95.

[46] John Lovell, Jr., “The Social Implications of the Negro Spiritual,” in John White, “Veiled Testimony: Negro Spirituals and Slave Experience,” Journal of American Studies, vol. 17, no. 2 (August 1983), 256.

[47] Ibid.

[48] Ibid.

[49] Cone, op. cit.

[50] Ibid.

[51] Cone, op. cit., 111.

[52] Ibid., 108.

[53] Ibid.

[55] Perry, op. cit., 39.