Kendrick Lamar: How the rapper is a caretaker of culture

Prior to the debut last month of his latest album, “Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers,” rapper Kendrick Lamar released the fifth installation of his video series “The Heart.” Laced over a sample of Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You,” he provides a critical analysis of what “culture” means to Black people in America.

The video is Mr. Lamar at his cinematic and empathetic best, and it confirms why he is so beloved among fans. He has a way of humanizing tragedy, which is a lost art.

Why We Wrote This

As Pulitzer-Prize winning rapper Kendrick Lamar takes his talents in a new direction, what does his body of work suggest about his influence on culture – and his own perseverance?

Even in the midst of massive celebrity, Mr. Lamar feels like he’s one of us. I have doesn’t sound passé or preachy. I have is as relevant and raw as ever, which constitutes so much of his legacy.

His lyrics, while profane, are piercing. Even when he approaches topics from flawed ideology, his sins from him are forgiven because of a willingness to convey the realities of life – his own from him and that of a society’s from him. As described on “Mother I Sober” off the new album:

I’m sensitive, I feel everything, I feel everybody
One man standin’ on two words, heal everybody.

Often times, the best way to look at a cultural icon is through the prism of their contemporaries. Kendrick Lamar, arguably the best rapper in the industry and unarguably a Pulitzer Prize winner, took this a step further in one of his recent presentations.

Prior to the debut last month of his latest album, “Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers, “Mr. Lamar released the fifth installment of his series” The Heart “in a way befitting his legend from him. He uses deepfakes to morph into the likes of OJ Simpson, Will Smith, Jussie Smollett, and Kanye West – plus the late Kobe Bryant and Nipsey Hussle. Laced over a sample of Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You,” he provides a critical analysis of what “culture” means to Black people in America.

He then ties that notion into a touching and tragic tribute for Mr. Hussle, a fellow rapper, who was killed in 2019 by a man whose trial is now underway in Los Angeles. The video is Mr. Lamar at his cinematic and empathetic best of him, and it confirms why he is so beloved among fans. He has a way of humanizing tragedy, which is a lost art, even in the age of mass media, relentless access, and the seemingly endless cycle of death and destruction.

Why We Wrote This

As Pulitzer-Prize winning rapper Kendrick Lamar takes his talents in a new direction, what does his body of work suggest about his influence on culture – and his own perseverance?

The artist uses celebrities – no, celebrity – as an allegory for his own complex and controversial career. The same can be done to outline his upbringing of him and rise to superstar status. Mr. Lamar is a native of Compton, California, which is also the birthplace of Venus and Serena Williams. We have learned about the sisters as wunderkinds, who have since dominated tennis both as athletes and entrepreneurs. Where the Williams sisters were fathered into the game by their biological patriarch, Mr. Lamar had two chief figures who led him into celebrity – incomparable producer Dr. Dre, who only a few months ago headlined a nostalgic Super Bowl halftime show, and Anthony “ Top Dog” Tiffith, who discovered the musician as a 16-year-old up-and-coming rapper.

His future plans also mirror those of Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter, who has gone from “best rapper” status to so much more than rap. We do not just recognize him as a rap impresario: Through his partnerships with the NFL and others, we note his status as mogul and business adviser. Mr. Lamar has confirmed that his latest album will be his last on the Top Dawg Entertainment label, as he wants to become more of an entrepreneur.

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