“I feel like the whole world want me to pray for ‘em, but who the fuck prayin’ for me?”
Music is an incredible gift. The great Christian reformer Martin Luther said that second to the Word of God, “the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world,” and on the other side of the pendulum, self-proclaimed immoralist Fredrick Nietzsche said that “without music, life would be a mistake." I wonder if music is so powerful that even polar opposites might agree to stop their arguing and listen together?
I’ll be honest, I can’t say I’ve been following Kendrick since the beginning. I didn’t know him when he was K. Dot, I didn’t know a thing about Section 80 or the two records that came out prior to it, and when my friend introduced me to good kid, mAAd city, I didn’t understand. I even found an old blog I wrote – almost mockingly – when Macklemore took the Grammy in 2014.
P.S. – If you made it this far, thanks for reading. I have a lot of respect for people able to find words that the rest of us are at a loss for, and KDot’s one of them. Folks with that gift are often a reassurance to others that they are not alone… although oftentimes I fear that the spokesman ends up trading places as the lonely one. I think I hear a little bit of that in DAMN. but who knows? One dude’s subjective listening experience. A friend asked me about this idea, so we made some shirts to wear at Coachella this weekend and a blog to share if you feel like doing either of those things, but more importantly we just wanted to pray for Kendrick, and we’re stoked to see him play Sunday night. I think I’ll wear one of these, myself.
But I remember March 15, 2015, when the Wesley’s Theory Boris Gardiner sample transitioned into “Hit me!” – and the music dropped – and To Pimp A Butterfly became the soundtrack to my summer. I’d just picked up an anniversary gift for my wife in Southeast Albuquerque, and when I drive around to the same track now, I sometimes wonder if finally falling for Kendrick’s music wasn’t the greater present for her, after she and our friends had spent years trying to convince me that his acclaim was warranted.
I haven’t always enjoyed Kendrick Lamar’s music. I wasn’t always listening. But over the past couple of years, I have begun to pay attention, and I continually come back to the wonder of what I can only call the inclusivity of it.
There is nothing in me that would presume to understand the life that Kendrick has lived, or the world from which he comes. I am a young, conservatively grown, white evangelical kid. I know nothing – experientially – of inner-city life in Los Angeles save the time my family spent in Watts serving the people who needed it there while I was growing up as a boy. I know nothing of the black experience save what the past two years have blindsided me with about how blind I am to it. It’s a humbling process, and I associate much of Kendrick’s work with education. It is as much academic as art to vibe to, and I am thankful for the things that I have learned, and the memories I now associate with his work. His albums are so specific to their particular setting, and yet – somehow – each seems to completely transcend that space. They’ve become soundtracks to a movement, or resonated globally, or garnered appreciation from people like me who have no frame of reference for the world transcribed within, yet long to, frankly… be close enough to understand how to pray.
I’m thankful for the countless conversations Kendrick's music has inspired in and among my friends.
For the King Kunta dance sessions in the green room before Easter services started at my church last year.
For driving through Seattle traffic the day of a best friend’s wedding, blasting that record so loud and knowing every word.
For living room karaoke sessions with whoever wanted to join in on Swimming Pools (Drank) after I finally understood his challenges against the norms rather than a glorification of them.
For the way that Ab-Soul’s Outro pinned me down and declared that “you, too, are looking for answers,” and challenged my judgements.
For the way the Humble video dropped with all of its religious imagery and reminded me that I have got to decrease.
I’m not the only one.
When DAMN. dropped on Good Friday, I thought that there is not a mainstream artist alive that comes close to touching the kind of ecumenical response that Kendrick Lamar elicits from both sides of the unfortunate divide between sacred and secular.
I think that it is because we resonate. Maybe not circumstantially. Maybe not culturally. Maybe not spiritually. I’ve read plenty of articles frowning upon poor theology, plenty that condemn the profanity and promiscuity therein… and plenty that praise the same. A call for the prayer that Kendrick desires is not predicated upon agreement, it’s just… an opportunity to answer.
“Ain’t nobody prayin’ for me…”
I’m even reminded of a verse from the same scripture that Kendrick often quotes: “The spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what to pray for, but the spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans…”
Whether he knows it or not, there is a lot of DAMN. that makes me think of those groans.
Kendrick has unabashedly revealed his art as a mirror that does not shy away from the insecurities, anxieties, fears and inconsistencies it reflects. Those pockmarks are universal. I see them in my face and I'd bet you see them in yours. Surely we all wonder whether our prayers have reached the ears intended for them, or if anyone is praying them at all, or if it matters either way.
I think it does.
“Who the fuck prayin’ for me?”
My dear friends and fellow fans, may we be a people who answer that question with hands raised high above our heads.