Kendrick Lamar, community spokesperson and icon of politically engaged rap

‘That’s me. All of us.’ ‘That’s me. All of us.’in English in the text)At the opening clip of his new title, The heart part 5prelude to his fifth album, Mr Morale & The Big Steppers, released Friday, May 13, Kendrick Lamar takes on a role he knows by heart: that of a representative of the black community in the United States. Thanks to the technology of deepfakehe takes in this video the appearance of former American football player OJ Simpson, actor Will Smith, deceased basketball player Kobe Bryant, or rappers Kanye West and Nipsey Hussle, murdered in March 2020 in Los Angeles.

In this piece, the rapper evokes racism, poverty, violence, the place of blacks in society… Themes that have fueled his music since the beginning of his career. Because Kendrick Lamar is an artist who is involved in his lyrics, but also involved in his actions for his city and his community.

Like the members of the legendary gangsta rap group NWA, his comrade The Game or the tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams, Kendrick Lamar Duckworth was born in Compton, on the outskirts of Los Angeles, California. In his book Kendrick Lamar, from Compton to the White House, explains Nicolas Rogès that the rapper has been able to stay away from the demons of the American ghettos. And this even if“he knew members of the Pirus Gang, a branch of the Bloods, including Show Gudda, his mentor.”The latter wanted to protect him very early and prevent him from participating in all their activities. His friends said to him, ‘Look what you can do with a microphone, you have bigger things to do’. In this he is a ‘good kid’ in a ‘mad city'”summarizes the author with franceinfo.

Good boy, MAAD City, this is exactly the title of his second album, released in 2012, in which the rapper immerses the listener in his personal story and the daily life of a young black American. The album opens the doors of glory to him with titles like Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe or Money trees. But despite its success, he remains very attached to his hometown. He even got the keys from the mayor, Aja Brown, during a ceremony in February 2016.

Kendrick Lamar not only rehabilitates the image of the city with his music, he also contributes concretely to make the lives of the residents better, especially that of young people. In 2015, the rapper and his label, TDE, staged a concert and distributed toys to children for Christmas, as reported by MTV. (in English)† They also fund screenings of the film Black Panther for a thousand children in Watts, a famous neighborhood in southern Los Angeles, reports TMZ (in English) in 2018. “He also organizes the distribution of school supplies and supports the local music scene, but he remains very discreet about his actions”says Nicolas Roges.

“In California, Kendrick Lamar is respected for who he is and what he does.continues the author. The friends they work with come from there, it’s important for him to bring them forward and show the city in its best light. He is the king there.” Denis Rouvre, the French photographer who made the cover of his third album, Pimp a butterflyfranceinfo tells a symbolic anecdote about the rapper’s weight in his hometown: “I was setting up my things at 6am one Sunday when the police arrived. They told me I didn’t have the permits. Once they realized I was with Kendrick Lamar, all the problems were gone.”

Denis Rouvre is one of the few people outside of Kendrick Lamar’s clan who has worked with him. The political dimension of the artist did not immediately stand out. “I didn’t understand until the record came out and listened to it that it was a very political cover. Kendrick Lamar wanted to talk about his community, the situation of African Americans in the United States.”notes the photographer.

Contacted by the rapper’s team, he discovers a cheerful mess when he arrives in Los Angeles: “Full rap, alcohol, fireworks…”, he laughs seven years later. He also meets a young rapper who very rarely drinks, “very accessible, hospitable, present to work”

“He’s a sweet person compared to his much more exuberant music or band.”

Denis Rouvre, photographer

at franceinfo

Denis Rouvre meets the conditions set by the rapper and his team. “He just wanted a photographer who could lead a group, the idea was already ripe. I had to bring my aesthetic and stage the image with the dollars, the vodka, the downtrodden white judge. That’s my New York agent interpreting him .”

He faces an expelled group. “I had a little trouble keeping control, but I didn’t feel like being in chargehe says. lI had to channel the energy to capture an image, a moment that they enjoy. Kendrick Lamar just wanted to be a character in the middle. I wanted to take him out of the group, he wanted to blend inhe analyzes. CIt was his way of paying tribute to his neighborhood and his friends.”

Pimp a butterfly is a tribute to Kill a mockingbirdDidn’t take mockingbird in French version), the novel by Harper Lee in which a black man is accused of a crime he did not commit. This third opus, steeped in jazz and highly political discourse, drives the point home: conquered critics, won an audience for the cause, and five Grammys to top it all off, with hits like King Congregation or l

With this disc, Kendrick Lamar enters another dimension.He is the symbol of a period when rap is finally considered a legitimate form of expression, because of its lyrics and its social resonance.dear Elsa Grassy, United States Civilization Lecturer at the University of Strasbourg

“Rappers are recognized as authors not only for the groove or the flow, but also for the meaning of the lyrics, their political and social weight. Kendrick Lamar ticks all the boxes.”

Elsa Grassy, ​​American Civilization Specialist

at franceinfo

The new rap star is even received in the White House by Barack Obama. A decisive meeting between “two black men, cultured but with a background where we are fully aware of the glass ceiling that weighs on us”remembers the rapper in vice† This meeting led to a video in which he recalls the importance of a mentor and declares that he wants to take up his role as role model for young people: “I also want to mentor the youngest and pass on the wisdom I’ve been given. Helping him get better will be a testament to my influence with this youngster.”

In addition to the former president of the United States, Kendrick Lamar was also signed by Malcom X. Reading in the adolescence of The Autobiography of Malcolm X contributed to his career as an artist. “It was the first knowledge that allowed me to build my approach to music. I started with a simple idea, the desire to cultivate myself and constantly improve myself, like Malcolm did”he explains to vice.

Today Kendrick Lamar is unanimous. In hip-hop, in entertainment – he was chosen by Disney to create the Marvel movie soundtrack Black Panther in 2018, the first black superhero blockbuster to highlight African culture – and even within the intellectual milieu. In 2018, the rapper received the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for his fourth album, DAMNED.become the first artist, excluding classical and jazz music, to win this prize.

“He’s kind of the Bob Dylan of rap because of the recognition he got from institutions.”

Elsa Grassy, ​​American Civilization Specialist

at franceinfo

The pop icon won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016. ‘He and Kendrick Lamar entered pantheons that were forbidden to them’she adds. “If I was a little provocative I’d say we don’t care, Nuance Nicolas Rogers. It’s made up after years of snobbery and it’s like giving Kendrick Lamar the right to talk about it because it’s been validated by literary and intellectual bodies.” The rapper said nothing further when he received his award in April 2018.This is one of those things that should have happened a long time ago (…). to see that hip hop Getting the recognition it deserves as a true art form is great not only for me, but for hip-hop in general.

This legitimacy puts him on the front line at the time of the riots that broke out across the Atlantic in 2020, following the death of George Floyd, murdered by a police officer. If Kendrick Lamar doesn’t speak out in public, manifest† But it’s usually through one of his songs, Agree taken from pimp a butterfly, that serves as a hymn to the protesters, that it is most present. “It was the protesters who gave it this magnitude, details Elsa Grassy. It is based on a clip that already sent a political message, because we see, for example, the muscular arrest of an African American by the police. ‘Alright’ is proof that music can still support a community’s political action.”

“I would say it’s one of my best songs because it gives these kids a voice by giving them the idea that they can be a game changer, analysis Kendrick Lamar in vice. They go out, they take action and make big speeches, even if it stays within their community and doesn’t extend beyond their circle of friends. They want to make a difference.”

With the hopes and hopes of a community on his shoulders, Kendrick Lamar got used to it. He is fully aware of it. “I have to give to the world. I believe I have the responsibility [d’apprendre] of my mistakes and [faire partager] my knowledge and wisdom. I don’t see it as a job or a hobby, it’s really about what I have to offer the world”he continues, still in vice“This responsibility is very heavy to bear, but he exclaims it in music”says Nicolas Roges.

“Kendrick Lamar Wonders: Has He Done Enough for His Community?”

Nicolas Roges, journalist

at franceinfo

On his fifth album he is not allowed to scroll. the pseudonym “oklama” under which he launched the album and which appears at the opening of the clip of The heart part 5 testifies to it. “You could say it’s just an amalgamation of ‘Official’ ‘Kendrick’ and ‘LAMAr’. But where’s the ‘r’?”, Elsa Grassy theorizes. She offers another clue: “In the Choctaw language, spoken in Oklahoma and Mississippi, ‘okla’ means ‘people’ and ‘ma’ is added to words used to address a person or a group. ‘Oklama’ is therefore a ​​way to address his community (“listen, my people”). If he wanted to escape his role as spokesman, he wouldn’t present himself that way.”

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