Kendrick Lamar, community spokesperson and politically engaged rap icon

Kendrick Lamar, community spokesperson and politically engaged rap icon

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“I am. All of us.” (“I am. All of us.”in English in the text). In the opening clip of his new title, the heart part 5prelude to their fifth album, mr moral and the great climbers, released on Friday, May 13, Kendrick Lamar assumes a role he knows by heart: that of representative of the black community in the United States. Thanks to the technique of fake deepcollects in this video the appearance of the former American football player OJ Simpson, the actor Will Smith, the late basketball player Kobe Bryant, or the 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… Topics that have fueled his music since the beginning of his career. Because Kendrick Lamar is an artist committed to his texts, but also committed to 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, Nicolas Rogès explains that the rapper has managed to stay away from the demons of the American ghettos. And this though“He knew members of the Pirus gang, an offshoot of the Bloods, including Show Gudda, his mentor.. From very early on, the latter wanted to protect him, preventing him from participating in all their activities. His friends told him: ‘Look what you can do with a microphone, you have bigger things to achieve.’ In this, he is a ‘nice guy’ in a ‘mad town’.”summarizes the author with franceinfo.

Good boy, MAAD city, this is precisely the title of his second album, released in 2012, in which the rapper immerses the listener in his personal story and in the daily life of a young black American. The album opens the gates of glory for him with titles like Bitch don’t kill my vibe Where money trees. But despite the success, he remains very attached to his hometown. He even received the keys from Mayor Aja Brown during a ceremony in February 2016.

Kendrick Lamar not only rehabilitates the image of the city with his music, but also participates concretely in improving the lives of the inhabitants, especially the young. In 2015, the rapper and his label, TDE, organized a concert and gave out toys to children for Christmas, according to MTV. (in English). They also fund screenings of the film. Black Panther for a thousand children in Watts, a famous neighborhood in South Los Angeles, according to TMZ (in English) in 2018. “He also organizes school supply distributions and supports the local music scene, but remains very low key in his actions”Nicolas Rogers says.

“In California, Kendrick Lamar is respected for who he is and what he does.the author continues. The friends he works with come from there, it is 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 did the cover of his third album, To pimp a butterflytells franceinfo a symbolic anecdote of the rapper’s weight in his hometown: “One Sunday at 6 a.m. I was setting up my gear when the police came. They told me I didn’t have the permits. When they realized I was with Kendrick Lamar, all the problems went away.”

Denis Rouvre is one of the few people outside of Kendrick Lamar’s clan who has collaborated with him. The political dimension of the artist was not immediately apparent. “I only understood when the album came out, listening to it, that it was a very political cover. Kendrick Lamar wanted to talk about his community, about the situation of African Americans in the United States ”observe the photographer.

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

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

Denis Rouvre, photographer

in 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. He had to bring my aesthetic and stage the image with the dollars, the vodka, the trampled white judge. That’s my agent from New York playing him.”

He faces a dissipated group. “I had a little trouble keeping control, but I didn’t feel like being the bosshe says. II had to manage to channel the energy to capture an image, a moment that they liked. Kendrick Lamar just wanted to be a character in the middle. He wanted to get him out of the group, he wanted to blend inanalyze. againstIt was his way of paying tribute to his neighborhood and his friends.”

To pimp a butterfly is a tribute to Kill a Mockingbird (It took no nightingale in French version), the novel by Harper Lee in which a black man is accused of a crime he did not commit. This third work, impregnated with jazz and a very political discourse, makes it clear: conquered critics, conquered audiences for their cause and five Grammys to finish off, with hits like King Kunta Where I.

With this album, Kendrick Lamar enters another dimension.It is the symbol of an era in which rap is finally considered a legitimate form of expression, for its texts and for its social resonance.Elsa Grassy believes, United States professor of civilization at the University of Strasbourg.

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

Elsa Grassy, ​​American Civilization Specialist

in franceinfo

The new rap star is even received by Barack Obama at the White House. A decisive match between “two blacks, cultured but from where we are fully aware of the glass ceiling that hangs over us”remember the rapper in Vice. This meeting gave rise to a video in which he recalls the importance of having a mentor and declares that he wants to assume his role as an example for young people: “I also want to be a mentor to the youngest and pass on the wisdom I have received. If I help him improve, it will be proof of my influence with this young man.”

In addition to the former president of the United States, Kendrick Lamar was also marked by Malcolm X. The adolescent reading 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 constantly cultivate and improve myself, as Malcolm did”explains Vice.

Today, Kendrick Lamar is unanimous. In hip-hop, in entertainment: he was chosen by Disney to create the soundtrack for the Marvel movie. Black Panther in 2018, the first blockbuster with a black superhero that highlights African culture, and even within the intellectual environment. In 2018, the rapper received the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for his fourth album, DAMMIT.becoming the first artist, excluding classical music and jazz, to win this award.

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

Elsa Grassy, ​​American Civilization Specialist

in 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 were a bit provocative, I’d say we don’t mind a bit, Nuance Nicolas Rogers. It’s made up of 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 more upon receiving 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 not only great for me, but for hip-hop in general.

This legitimacy places him on the front line at the time of the riots that broke out in 2020 on the other side of the Atlantic, after the death of George Floyd, killed by a police officer. If Kendrick Lamar doesn’t speak publicly, he manifest. But it’s mostly through one of her songs, OKAY, taken from To pimp a butterfly, that serves as an anthem to the protesters, which is the most present. “It was the protesters who gave it this magnitude, details Elsa Grassy. It is based on a clip that already communicated 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 political action in a community.”

“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 change the rules of the game. kendrick lamar analysis on Vice. They go out, take action and make great speeches, even if it’s within their communities and doesn’t go beyond their circles of friends. They want to make a difference.”

With the hopes and expectations 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 think I have a responsibility [d’apprendre] of my mistakes and [faire partager] my knowledge and wisdom. I don’t take it as a job or a hobby, it’s really about what I have to offer the world.”progress, still Vice. “This responsibility is very heavy to bear, but he exorcises it in music”considers Nicolás Rogès.

“Kendrick Lamar wonders: has he done enough for his community?”

Nicolas Rogès, journalist

in franceinfo

On your fifth album, you must not scroll. the pseudonym “oklama” under which he released the album and who appears in the opening clip of the heart part 5 attest to it. “You could say it’s just an amalgamation of ‘Official,’ ‘Kendrick,’ and ‘LAMAr.’ But where’s the ‘r’?”, theorizes Elsa Grassy. 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 of addressing his community (‘listen, my people’). If he wanted to escape his role as spokesperson, he wouldn’t present himself like that”.

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