Kendrick Lamar, community spokesperson and politically engaged rap icon

“I am. All of us.” (“I am. All of us.”in English in the text). At the opening of the clip of his new title, The heart part 5prelude to his fifth album, Mr. Morale and the big steps, released on Friday May 13, Kendrick Lamar takes on a role he knows by heart: that of representative of the black community in the United States. Thanks to the technique of deepfaketakes in this video the appearance of former American football player OJ Simpson, actor Will Smith, late basketball player Kobe Bryant, or rappers Kanye West and Nipsey Hussle, who were 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 committed to his lyrics, but he is also committed to his actions for his city and his community.

Like members of the legendary gangsta rap group NWA, his partner The Game or 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 been able to stay away from the demons of the American ghettos. And this even if“He knew the members of the Pirus gang, a branch of the Bloods, including Show Gudda, his mentor. The latter, very soon, wanted to protect him, preventing him from taking part in all their activities. His friends told him, “Look what you can do with a microphone, you have bigger things to accomplish.” In that, he’s a ‘good guy’ in a ‘crazy 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 doors to glory for him with titles like Bitch, don’t kill my vibe or Money trees. But despite the success, he remains very attached to his hometown. He even received the keys from the hands of the mayor, Aja Brown, during a ceremony in February 2016.

Kendrick Lamar not only rehabilitates the image of the city with his music, but concretely participates in making the life of the inhabitants, especially that of young people, better. In 2015, the rapper and his label, TDE, organized a concert and distributed toys to children for Christmas, as reported by MTV. (in English). They also finance the film screenings Black Panther for a thousand kids in Watts, a popular southern Los Angeles neighborhood, according to TMZ (in English) in 2018. “It also organizes the distribution of school supplies and supports the local music scene, but remains very discreet about its actions”says Nicolas Rogès.

“In California, Kendrick Lamar is respected for what he is, what he does.continues the author. The friends they work with come from there, it is important that you propose them and show the city in its best light. He is the king over there. “ Denis Rouvre, the French photographer who made the cover of his third album, To revive a butterflytells franceinfo a symbolic anecdote about the rapper’s weight in his hometown: “One Sunday at 6am I was tidying up my gear when the police came. They told me I didn’t have permits. When they realized I was with Kendrick Lamar, all the problems disappeared.”

Denis Rouvre is one of the few people outside of Kendrick Lamar’s clan to have collaborated with him. The artist’s political dimension does not immediately catch the eye. “I only realized 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”observes the photographer.

Contacted by the rapper’s team, he discovers a happy mess when he arrives in Los Angeles: “Full rap, booze, firecrackers …”, laughs seven years later. Also meet a young rapper who drinks only on very rare occasions, “very accessible, welcoming, present at work”.

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

Denis Rouvre, photographer

to franceinfo

Denis Rouvre respects 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 trampled white judge. That’s my agent from New. York playing him “.

Face a dissipated group. “I had a little bit of a hard time staying in control, but I didn’t feel like I was the bosshe says. II had to be able to harness the energy to capture an image, a moment they like. Kendrick Lamar just wanted to be a character in between. I wanted to take him out of the group, he wanted to blend inanalyze. C.It was his way of paying homage to his neighborhood and his friends. “

To revive a butterfly is a tribute to Kill a Mockingbird (He didn’t catch the thrush in French version), the novel by Harper Lee in which a black man is accused of a crime he did not commit. This third opera, steeped in jazz and a very political discourse, brings home the point: won criticism, an audience convinced of its cause and five Grammys to top it all, with successes such as Municipality Re or I.

With this record, Kendrick Lamar enters another dimension.It is the symbol of a period in which rap is finally considered a legitimate form of expression, for its lyrics and for its social resonance.esteem Elsa Grassy, Professor of US Civilization at the University of Strasbourg.

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

Elsa Grassy, ​​specialist in American civilization

to franceinfo

The new rap star is even received by Barack Obama at the White House. A decisive meeting between “two men of color, cultured but coming from environments where we are fully aware of the glass ceiling that weighs on us”remember the rapper in Vice. From this meeting a video was born in which he recalls the importance of having a mentor and declares that he wants to take on his role as an example for young people: “I too want to be a mentor to the younger ones and pass on the wisdom I have received. If I help him become better, it will be proof of my influence on this young man.”

In addition to the former president of the United States, Kendrick Lamar was also scored by Malcolm X. The teenage reading of Malcolm X’s autobiography contributed to his career as an artist. “It was the first acquaintance that allowed me to build my approach to music. I started with a simple idea, the desire to cultivate myself and constantly improve myself, as Malcolm did.”explains to 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 featuring a black superhero that highlights African culture and even within the intellectual milieu. In 2018 the rapper received the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for his fourth album, DAMN.becoming the first artist, excluding classical and jazz music, to win this award.

“He looks a bit like the Bob Dylan of rap for the accolades he got from the institutions.”

Elsa Grassy, ​​specialist in American civilization

to franceinfo

The pop icon won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016. “He and Kendrick Lamar have entered pantheons forbidden to them”adds. “If I were a little provocative, I’d say we don’t care a bit, Nuance Nicolas Roges. 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 else when he received the award in April 2018.This is one of those things that should have happened a long time ago (…). To see it hip-hop Getting the recognition it deserves as a true art form is not only great for me, but hip-hop in general as well.

This legitimacy places him at the forefront at the time of the riots that erupted across the Atlantic in 2020, following the death of George Floyd, killed by a police officer. If Kendrick Lamar doesn’t speak publicly, him manifest. But it’s mostly through one of his songs, Good, taken from To revive a butterfly, which serves as a hymn to the demonstrators, which is the most present. “It was the demonstrators who gave him this greatness, 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. ‘Okay’ is proof that music can still serve as a support for a community’s political action. “

“I would say it’s one of my best songs, because it gives these guys a voice and gives them the idea that they can be a game changer, Kendrick Lamar analysis in Vice. They go out, act and make great speeches, even if they stay within their communities and don’t go beyond their circle of friends. They want to make a difference. “

Carrying the expectations 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 take it as a job or a hobby, it’s really about what I have to offer the world. “advances, still inside Vice. “This responsibility is very heavy to bear, but it exorcizes it in music”believes Nicolas Rogès.

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

Nicolas Roges, journalist

to franceinfo

On his fifth album, it shouldn’t be scrolling. The pseudonym “Oklama” under which he launched the album and which appears at the opening of the clip of The heart part 5 certifies it. “You could say it’s just a fusion 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 the words used to address a person or group.’ Oklama ‘is therefore a way of addressing their community (‘ listen, my people ‘). If he wanted to escape his role as spokesperson, he wouldn’t present himself that way. “

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