By: Willem Kline
What is a demon? Is it a small little creature with a pointy tail and a red hot poker that comes from the fiery depths of Hell? Is it the manifestation of sin, presented in images that paint a vivid detail of the problematic nature of man? Is it a simple lyric, or an idea that rests in something as small as a bottle of alcohol, or something as big as the political structure of our country? No matter the answer, to Kendrick Lamar Duckworth, the demon is an ideal. Satan may appear as an entity, referred to by one of his many names, but he is always one thing: Evil. In Kendrick Lamar’s case the devil is in his music, the devil is sin, the devil is Compton, and the devil is politics. Commonly referred to as Lucy, a shortened nickname for the fallen angel Lucifer, Lamar’s satan appears constantly in his album To Pimp a Butterfly. Although this is the only album Lucifer truly appears in, his misdeeds are referenced throughout his career, most specifically in his sophomore album Good Kidd, m.A.A.d City. While his discography holds multiple thematic explorations, one of his ultimate focuses is the idea of sought out righteousness. Kendrick’s life is one surrounded by the gang violence of the Piru/Blood nation, and fueled by hungry lust for the lifestyle of the rich and famous. His need for faith derives from the fear of death, and an afterlife in which he will be judged for his pride, his greed, and his committed acts of violence in the streets of Southern California. As Hell could feel all too similar to the insufferable lifestyle of Compton violence, racial discrimination, and a mediocre homelife; Heaven would bear an infinitely better living situation than the one he suffered through. To understand this poetic need for redemption, however, it is necessary to understand the life of the man himself.
Kendrick Lamar Duckworth was born in Compton, California on June 17th, 1987. Son to Kenny Duckworth and Paula Oliver “Lamar grew up…in a little blue three-bedroom house at 1612 137th St.” (“The Trials of Kendrick Lamar”, Rolling Stone, Eells). Kendrick’s family moved to California in 1984 after an ultimatum was issued to his father:
“Lamar’s parents moved here from Chicago in 1984, three years before Kendrick was born. His dad, Kenny Duckworth, was reportedly running with a South Side street gang called the Gangster Disciples, so his mom, Paula Oliver, issued an ultimatum. “She said, ‘I can’t [be] with you if you ain’t trying to better yourself,’ ” Lamar recounts. “‘We can’t be in the streets forever.’ ” They stuffed their clothes into two black garbage bags and boarded a train to California with $500. “They were going to go to San Bernardino,” Lamar says. “But my Auntie Tina was in Compton. She got ’em a hotel until they got on their feet, and my mom got a job at McDonald’s.” For the first couple of years, they slept in their car or motels, or in the park when it was hot enough. “Eventually, they saved enough money to get their first apartment, and that’s when they had me,” (Eells).
It was here that Kendrick spent most of his childhood adjusting to to the ghetto. It was at the age of eight when Kendrick saw his second murder “walking home from McNair Elementary. ‘Dude was in the drive-thru ordering his food, and homey ran up, boom boom — smoked him.” He saw his first murder at age five, a teenage drug dealer gunned down outside Lamar’s apartment building. “After that,” he says, “you just get numb to it.” (Eells). Kendrick Lamar’s interest with rap began in his adolescence. His English teacher, Mr. Inge, provided him with the tools necessary to formulate poetry. “You could put all your feelings down on a sheet of paper, and they’d make sense to you,” he says. “I liked that.” (Eells). From there, Kendrick would use this tool to describe the trials and tribulations of his life time. His lyrics became less of a search for fame and more of a cry for help. This cry for help would be realized in his first studio effort Section .80, but would come into full fruition in his album Good Kidd, m.A.A.d city…
Willem Kline, from Belvidere, Illinois is a sophomore here at Illinois College, pursuing a double major in English and Theatre with a Communication and Rhetorical Studies minor. Willem is a newbie to The Rambler roster, a member of the IC Wind Ensemble, and avid pursuer and connoisseur of anything artsy-fartsy.