A blank word document can be one of the most intimidating sights. While it provides a fresh opportunity to write anything you could imagine, it’s also a daunting reminder of how far you have to go; the blinking text line casually winking at you as you mull over the thoughts spiraling through your mind that you can’t quite put into words. A blank document mirrored by a blank stare of brainstorming that seems insistent on not letting loose a single raindrop, the demons of your mind shooting down your every idea.
Writer’s block is, in a sense, a self-fulfilling prophecy, almost superstitious in a way. A writer can really only be in a block if they acknowledge it, and by acknowledging it, the added stress it creates further distracts the drive for creative material. This seems to be the case for me, at least.
It’s here in this phase where I can thoroughly relate to rappers. After releasing a string of carefully coordinated content, it’s easy to slip into a mindset of “what’s next?“. So much effort and thought put into a project, backed by performances and chart appearances, and then one day it’s time to make something new. Another step.
I’m not exactly comparing writing a hip-hop think piece to crafting a hip-hop album, but it’s a similar feeling that can transcend any art form or even our everyday lives.
This feeling is only magnified when your most recent work is hailed as not just great, but an all-time great. Bouncing back from a critically proclaimed “magnum opus” is not an easy task, and the mere desire to match that sort of acclaim can drive anyone crazy with stress. The best artists know, however, that it’s not about creating something just as good on purpose, but whole-heartedly following your artistic vision and letting it carry you through whatever phase of your career is next, critics be damned.
This is a mindset that Kendrick Lamar has maintained throughout his rise to the top of modern rap. After the huge critical and commercial success of good kid, m.A.A.d city, he could’ve went the route of full crossover appeal. Instead he followed it with the jazz stylings and funk-infused rhythms of his politically-poignant To Pimp a Butterfly. While this would look daring on paper, the culture rejoiced in his progression and it’s since joined the ranks of modern classics. A follow-up is in the works, and there’s no doubt in my mind that Kendrick isn’t too concerned with making another classic. If it were to be deemed so, it would only be from pure talent and artistry, not from his actual attempting to do so. And based on his recent interview with New York Times Magazine, I don’t think he’s experiencing much of a writer’s block.
In discussing the new album, Kendrick said it would feature another shift of focus.
“I think now, how wayward things have gone within the past few months, my focus is ultimately going back to my community and the other communities around the world where they’re doing the groundwork. ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ was addressing the problem. I’m in a space now where I’m not addressing the problem anymore. We’re in a time where we exclude one major component out of this whole thing called life: God. Nobody speaks on it because it’s almost in conflict with what’s going on in the world when you talk about politics and government and the system.” ~Kendrick Lamar
In this new creative process, Kendrick is relying on the one aspect of his life and journey that always gives him inspiration, motivation, and insight: his relationship with God. He says that doing so is “very urgent”. The urgency with which he’s dealing is that of his God-given conviction to address our nation’s issues (and his own personal ones) in less of a problem-highlighting manner, but one of problem-solving. To him, and many millions of people, these problems can be solved by a greater reliance on the divine power that’s so blessed him to reinvent his circumstances. In using this spirit as inspiration for his new project, he’s refusing to let any sort of blockage come between his own Holy Trinity: God, himself, and his art. A grassroots, spiritual approach is the way to take on this new era of American history, and Kendrick is willing to be a figurehead of that movement.
While many are quick to condemn Kendrick’s religious turn, it’s an aspect that’s always been apparent in his music. The only difference is that now, instead of his societal upbringing providing the framework for his art, his spiritual upbringing will do so. We’ve always insisted that he’s one of the highest-regarded rappers today because of his ability to draw us in with stories coming from his own life and experiences, and there will be no major tweak to this formula. Kendrick’s Holy Trinity has provided him with the answers he needs in life, and he’s willing to share that experience with everyone through his art.
By utilizing God, his art, and his own story, he’s able to stamp out the creative pitfalls that can come from such heavy fan anticipation. He’s not afraid of the blank document that sits in front of him, waiting to pounce on his every utterance. He sits with a glowing confidence in himself and in God, picks up a pen, and begins to write his beautiful sermon. If there’s anyone that can truly conquer that pitfall, it’s Kendrick, and he’s not doing it alone. It’s his turn to give Satan, and probably Donald Trump, a swirly. And we can’t wait to hear what his Holy Spirit has to say!