1.) Kendrick, like me, is an active member of the “N*ggas who can still keep a head full of a hair and a reasonable hairline intact well into their 30’s” Club.
2.) “There will never be a music video broken down more than Childish Gambino’s ‘This is America’”
Black Twitter: Hold my Casamigos
3.) That quote, “I am. All of us.” kind of left me stomped. What is Kendrick telling us here? Not exactly sure. At first glance, it seems easy to decipher. But it’s that period after “am” that leaves me pondering my existence and shit. Does he identify with us? Are his motivations to help everyone? Or is that a lost cause in his eyes? Is him helping and identifying with us something he knows he can never achieve, going forward?
4.) Kendrick letting that Marvin Gaye sample breath a little bit, while also giving thanks to his fans, like we’re Yahweh. His sincerity is enhanced by the imagery. He’s fidgety. Eyebrows raised. Eyes seemingly filled with humility.
5.) Then. He snaps..
6.) “I come from a generation of pain…” This first line begins his painting. Almost literally. Painting us this art of observation. Years of him observing the pain of the Compton life he hails from. This ain’t new. Kendrick is well-versed in detailing to us his Compton experience. And he does this, all while wearing this neutral bandanna. “Make the wrong turn, be it will or the wheel alignment..”
7.) Kendrick takes it a step further in this first verse, highlighting some of the absurdities attached to “the culture.” Everything from being numb to the violence that surrounds too many of us to sacrificing our fragile (because we already Black) constitutional rights for niggas who puts words into our babymomma’s ear the minute we step foot in prison. Is this the “culture” we’re protecting? The culture of the get back? The culture of serving prison sentences and go to a halfway house because you are an exemplary of good behavior, only to find your brains on the pavement while trying to purchase a dime bag? Kendrick leaves us pondering all of this. This is Kendrick, btw. No face changes, yet. Because this is who he is. He’s shown us this side of him, going on a decade.
8.) Then he lets that Marvin sample breathe again. Bopping to the beat. Exaggerated bopping. But it doesn’t feel forced. It kind of feels natural. All while self-embracing his physical because he wants to be wanted. He wants everyone to love him, especially the hood he comes from. “But I want you to want me, too….” “I want the hood….”
9.) And as the second verse begins, so does the first shape shift. Speaking of culture, it’s none other than OJ Simpson. When I first watched this, I thought it was odd that he would pick OJ as this culture representative. Everything we know about OJ is that he was anti culture. Or, at the very least, he thought he was above the culture. “I’m not Black, I’m OJ” he was rumored to have uttered on several occasions. And Jay-Z reminded us of his on “The Story of OJ,” didn’t he?
But then it kind of made sense. Speaking of Hov, Kendrick’s first line in his second verse is a Hov verse. “I do this for culture,” is line straight out of Jay-Z’s Izzo. But it even goes semi beyond that, right? The mention of bulletproof Rover is important here. Because like OJ, Kendrick is far removed from the “culture” he rapped about in his first verse. That first verse used to be him. Now, with his switch to OJ, maybe Kendrick thinks he’s closer OJ than he is closer to, well, himself.
10.) Kanye, To The makes an appearance, next. Kendrick’s line where he mentions bipolarism obviously introduces us to the troubled musical genius out of Chicago. But the “grab you by your pockets” line keeps us at Ye. Here, Kendrick, like Ye, has seen how his earnings have changed the people around them. But unlike Kanye, Kendrick is at least hip to the idea of “yes men,” who tell him what he wants to hear (because of his pockets) instead of what he NEEDS to hear.
11.) “Niggas goin to work and selling work, late for work/Workin late, prayin for work, but don’t pay for work..” is such a great bar. It’s almost bureaucratic, in a sense. Which makes Kendrick, Kendrick. But why stick to Kanye during this line? As a borderline obsessive fan of Kanye’s old shit, I start wondering what this could be in reference to. If it derived from his new catalog, then I wouldn’t know. BUT, it didn’t. That line sounded familar and that’s because it’s in reference to College Dropout, more specifically Spaceships, where Kanye spits about the troubles of keeping a job at the Gap.. “Let’s go back, back to the Gap, Look at my check, wasn’t no scratch/So if I stole, wasn’t my fault, Yeah I stole, never got caught/They take me to the back and pat me, Askin’ me about some khakis/But let some black people walk in, I bet they show off their token blacky..”
12.) In arrives Jussie Smollett. This, like Kanye’s original motivation for his arrival, is fairly obvious . “That’s the culture, point the finger, promote ya/Remote location, witness protection, they gone hold ya.” Kendrick is clearly referencing the culture promoting fakeness in order to, interestingly enough, uplift this sometimes-false idea of what it means to be apart of the “culture.” Hardships, real or perceived, is applauded by our culture. Jussie used this to promote, well, himself.
13.) Kendrick, while still holding Jussie’s image hostage, raps, “Water in between us, another peer’s been executed, history repeats again, Make amends to find a nigga with the same skin to do it, But that’s the culture…” This is about Nipsey Hussle, right? He mourns for Nip. That’s fairly evident. He even has a bar about wiping away tears. Tears for Nip. Probably. But why not change into Nip, like he does later in the video? Why stay on Jussie? Is it because of the “make amends to find a nigga with the same skin to do it..” line? Nip died at the hands of a Black man, while Jussie blamed MAGA for his trauma. Fuck it, moving on.
14.) Kendrick, after mourning the loss of Nip, raps about how we move on to the next. It’s apart of the culture, by accepting this culture, even the destructive part. And when we accept it, we further dig ourselves deeper into more destruction. We cure murders, by murdering. We tackle our mental health by venturing to the liquor store. We cure violence with…
15.) Enters Will Smith We cure violence with violence. “In the land where hurt people hurt people, Fuck callin it culture…” Will, who was hurt because Jada was hurt, sought to hurt who hurt him, by proxy. Sheeeeeeeeeesh.
16.) He stays occupying the Fresh Prince as the chorus takes over, yet again. This occupation of Will’s image is so deep, almost as if Will is talking to Jada. “But I want you to want me too…”
17.) Kendrick then switches back to himself, as he instructs the producer(s) to take the drums out. Back to reality.
18.) This last verse is much more optimistic. With the drums being taken away, it’s almost as if Kendrick wants us to REALLY listen this time. He wants us to celebrate. Because our culture is also to be celebrated. There are inspirations, both alive and those who are longer with us, who remind us that our culture is worth celebrating, worth saving. “Sacrifice personal gain over everything, just to see the next generation better than ours…”
19.) It’s no accident that Kobe Bean makes his return to us via Kendrick during the line, “Consciousness is synchronized and crystal clear, Euphoria is glorified and made his..” Kendrick welcomes this “takeover” from Kobe. Through him, Kobe lives. Kobe’s mentality and work ethic meant so much to so many people. Kobe’s “Mambaisms” as someone who worked harder than anyone else, is just as important to us as the number of championships he won on the basketball court. Kendrick lets us in on his own mamba mentality with the line, “But all in all, my productivity has stayed urgent..”
That’s a Kobe lesson.
20.) In this verse, Kendrick also self-reflects, similar to his opening preamble. “Reflecting on my life and what I’ve done, Paid dues, made rules, changed out of love/Them same views made schools change curriculums, But didn’t change me staring down the barrel of the gun..” This is Kendrick’s plight (It was also Nipsey’s plight. Everything from making change to still staring down the barrel of a gun). Has he done enough? And at what cost? He acknowledges that he has injected some form of change, but why does it almost feel worthless? To the point that he wants to take his own life.
21.) After this self-reflection, Kendrick gets deeper than the Mariana Trench, as him fully embodying Nip, or Nip fully embodying him, has finally arrived after much foreshadowing. It’s no coincidence that he gets this deep while making his final transformation into Nipsey Hussle. He starts by asking, “Should I feel resentful, I didn’t see my full potential?” Well, this is what we think of Nipsey, right? We felt pain because he died without reaching his full potential. Or so we think. But like Nip, Kendrick is leaving us with so many gems. Nip left us with a playbook. So, even if he didn’t get the chance to see his full potential, he wanted to make sure that we saw our full potential. And, that he’s ok. “As I bleed through speakers, feel my presence, To my brother, to my kids, I’m in Heaven, to my mother, to my sis, I’m in Heaven, To my father, to my wife, I am serious, this is Heaven.”
22.) This optimistic turn by Kendrick highlighted even more throughout the remainder of the third verse. He forgives his killer, while recognizing the pain his killer went through right before pulling the trigger was almost unimaginable. “I completed my mission, wasn’t ready to leave/But fulfilled my days, my Creator was pleased…”
23.) Back to the fans, like the love letter in the beginning. Except this time, he flushes this letter out to us even more. “I can’t stress how I love y’all, I don’t need to be in flesh just to hug y’all/The memories recollect just because y’all, Celebrate me with respect, the unity we protect is above all.” Kendrick tells us “we gone be aight..”
24.) But then he surprisingly switches back to Nipsey. This is his second transformation into Nipsey, which tells just how much reverence he has for the slain rapper. “And Sam, I’ll be watchin’ over you. Make sure my kids watch all my interviews. Make sure you live all the dreams we produce…”
I had to actually look this one up. Because at first, I was trying to associate the name Sam to Kendrick. But because I’m such a dumbass, I didn’t think about associating the name to Nipsey. While Nipsey is back, occupying Kendrick’s physical, it is he who raps “Sam, I’ll be watchin’ over you.” Nipsey, through Kendrick, is assuring and almost comforting Nipsey’s brother Samiel Asghedom, a.k.a. Blacc Sam. This Nipsey takeover continues, as (essentially) Nipsey talks to the one thing he held in highest regard, his neighborhood. Neighborhood Nip leaves us with one final message, implying that his death may have been for the greater good. The sacrifice needed to make real change..
“And I can’t blame the hood the day that I was killed, You had to see it, that’s the only way to feel/And though my physical won’t reap the benefits, The energy that carry on emit still…”
Leslie McLemore writes about a lot of different shit for Black With No Chaser. He is also the Takeaway Kang, the greatest baby father to the dopest babymomma, and the father of two beautiful girls, one of which gets on every nerve he has. The other one is sweet…sometimes. So, you know, balance. Sort of.
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