Kendrick Lamar: Mastering His Own Fate
The origin of the phrase ‘master of your fate’ derives from “Invictus”, a poem written by William Ernest Henley that represents the power of resilience in the face of adversity. As an inspiring selection in Nelson Mandela’s reading list during his time in prison, its words of fortitude are rooted in the passionate spirit of Kendrick Lamar, who placed great emphasis on the importance of Mandela on his critically acclaimed body of work To Pimp a Butterfly.
Upon the release of Lamar’s latest album DAMN., immediate reactions to the already revered collection have sparked endless discussions and think pieces on a wide variety of substantial themes. But in classic Twitter fashion, the DAMN. conversation naturally gravitated toward Lamar’s burgeoning status as one of the best rappers of all time. There is no question that Kendrick’s impressive balancing act of consistency, quality, and increased relevancy has earned him the right to be discussed with the greats. However, the pivotal takeaway of DAMN. shouldn’t revolve around the premature comparison of Kendrick’s legacy to legends who thrived in past generations, but rather how Kendrick has skillfully connected the dots of his catalog and delivered riveting music that hits the mark on the most powerful human emotions.
Like all great artists with conceptual depth, Lamar seamlessly ties in the details of certain story-lines and prevailing concepts within his projects. Tracing Kendrick’s foresight from Section.80 to DAMN. uncovers a goldmine of parallels regarding lessons learned from religious teachings and relating them back to the Compton emcee’s solidified status amongst hip-hop’s elites. And while these topics are constants in Lamar’s lyricism, DAMN. is distinct in how Kendrick grapples with conflicting sentiments (i.e. “LUST”/ “LOVE”, “PRIDE”/ “HUMBLE”) and finds moments of relief in breaking them down via unfiltered, uncompromising artistic expression.
Within the stirring 14-track collection, there are records such as “DNA” where Kendrick’s confidence shakes your speakers while songs like “FEEL” are fueled by doubts and conscience paranoia coming from a tortured soul. DAMN. doesn’t offer any conclusive resolutions, but the juxtaposition of emotions and desire to share the realities that stem from them accurately depict Lamar’s current mentality, as heard on “FEAR” (one of the album’s more revealing tracks):
“What happens on Earth stays on Earth, and I can’t take these feelings with me, so hopefully they disperse, within fourteen tracks, carried out over wax, searchin for resolutions until somebody get back.”
Kendrick’s massive audience rely on his ability to deliver well-informed, yet universally engaging commentary on the perils of today’s society and provide the guidance that we all need to hear. On DAMN, Lamar succeeds in this respect yet again, but his potent dose of self-medication through emotive release proves to be even more compelling. He lets his guard down and allows his elevated perspective to take charge, showing that honesty surrounding human imperfections and coming to terms with the responsibilities cast upon him is his way of persevering through struggle and hardships.
Kendrick Lamar is not shy in proclaiming himself as the world’s greatest rapper and rightfully so. Album after album, it becomes clear that Kung Fu Kenny studied the greats and devotion to the craft has resulted in his music living on a higher plane than many of his contemporaries. Lamar will continue to earn well-deserved recognition as time goes on, but ultimately, the intrinsic meaning of DAMN. lies in the fact that its maker is an artist dedicated to unwavering truthfulness. By creatively addressing both his artistic supremacy and fears as a man who has experienced more than most, Kendrick prioritizes raw honesty above any solace found in prominence, letting the influential messages carried out during his time on Earth determine how he’ll be rewarded, judged, and remembered for years to come.