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Review: When Kendrick Lamar speaks, Millions listen

Hiphop has replaced rock’ n’roll as the most popular music genre in the world. And Kendrick Lamar is the leader of the movement. As a result whenever he speaks, millions of people listen. In May Kendrick released his fifth studio album named Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers

The album has already been reviewed many times and has received a largely positive reviews. This essay does not wish to add to the mountain of reviews already in existence. Rather, it aims to explore a view from one reviewer.

Anthony Fantano is one of the most popular reviewers in the world with 2.58 million subscribers. And in his review of Kendrick Lamar’s latest album, he said something that I found interesting. 

At the tail-end of his review, Fantano said, “As somebody who has been messing with Kendrick’s music since Section 80 & has been listening closely to the man’s words, I would to say that this idea that you could or should change or save the world, is not the expectation that I had for you (that a lot of people had for you). In my opinion, the fact that you make such great & fantastic music that is thought-provoking is enough.”

It is important to note that Mr. Fantano added a disclaimer by stating that he is ‘white guy’ from the suburbs. And I think that that positionally greatly informs Fantano’s viewpoint. Kendrick Lamar has expressed concern that people do not appreciate his works as they were meant to be appreciated. By that he means that his fans are not applying the ideas imbedded within them.

Kendrick Lamar rose to fame by speaking about the cycle of violence that afflicts Black Americans; single mothers raising gangbangers who would impregnate another woman’s daughter only to end up in jail / getting killed. Then his son will be raised by a single mother and the vicious cycle continues.

In June 2020, after the tragic murder of George Floyd by the police, Kendrick Lamar was criticised for not making a new song addressing the issue or at least tweeting about it. The pressure to cancel him and the likes of J. Cole rose. Lamar simply said that people “don’t appreciate it.”

I believe that Fantano best encapsulates the unappreciative audiences that Kendrick is addressing. For although his albums are taught in schools on a theoretical level, actions have not clicked with that. So, it is all words, no action.

In his latest single The Heart Part V, Kendrick expresses that perhaps he is simply an imposter. Perhaps he is a parasite that makes money by talking about the horrible mess that afflicts his people. Perhaps he simply makes profit out of black suffering. Perhaps he is simply part of the horrible cycle of Black-American protest art that simply gives his people a means to vent but not enough to move them to action. Black-Americans talk about unity all the time in their music, but that is where it all ends – with words no action.

In his Heart Part V, Kendrick says:

“Reflecting on my life and what I done
Paid dues, made rules, change outta love
Then the same views made schools change curriculums
But didn’t change me staring down the barrel of that gun.”

Kendrick Lamar’s lyrics are being taught in schools and in some universities. However, Lamar says that even though that is the case black-on-black violence sill occurs. And this fact was dramatically occurred last year when a community activist and rapper Nipsey Hussle was gunned down by another black man outside of the dry-cleaner he owned just before he planned to meet with community leaders about stopping gang-violence.

Sidi Ali al-Jamal of Fez said,  “Know that the wisdom of a word can be separated and divided into a thousand words when are many words. The wisdom of a thousand words can be gathered nto one word when there is much silence. Much speech, in abundance, becomes little. Little speech, in its paucity, becomes much.”

He also said the people of words will always be slaves of the people of action. So long as the works of Kendrick Lamar find a home only in classrooms and (video-)essays and are not at home in the realm of action then nothing will change. 

For people like Anthony Fantano, who grew up as a white American, that is just fine to only have ‘thought-provoking music’ without any action because that wont harm his world, one way or the other. But for those underprivileged masses, this will be a disaster. 

In conclusion, Kendrick Lamar has released his latest album Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers. And it deserves not only our attention and analysis but it also deserves to be honored by action. For when the individual able to marry both words and action then “his actions are to turn existence about in his hand like a ball.”

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