Grammy Award Winner Kendrick Lamar on Purifying Hip-Hop: It’s a Calling

By Batiste Safont (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
By Batiste Safont (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Christian Hip-Hop artist Kendrick Lamar wins five 2016 Grammy Awards.

Kendrick Lamar, who received five trophies for his acclaimed album, To Pimp a Butterfly in last night’s 58th Grammy Awards, delivered a captivating performance at the star-studded awards show. Lamar, according to the Los Angeles Times, “whose complex songs about black identity and racial strife have dazzled critics,” performed a powerful medley of his songs “The Blacker the Berry” and Alright. Dubbed by critics as the performance of the night, Lamar walked into the stage as part of a chain gang, with his band locked inside jail cells. At one point, he made the ritual sign of the cross hand motion. He ended the performance with the word “Compton” over a silhouette of Africa.

Grammy Award Winner Kendrick Lamar on Purifying Hip-Hop: It’s a Calling[/tweetthis]

The Verge calls it “one of the most striking performance[s] to hit the Grammy stage in years.” Lamar’s music is also part of the soundtrack of controversial N.W.A. biopic Straight Outta Compton.

Lamar was nominated for 11 Grammy Awards this year, more than any other nominee. He took home five awards: Best Rap Performance, Best Rap/Sung Collaboration, Best Rap Song, Best Rap Album, and Best Music Video for “Bad Blood”, in which he collaborated with Taylor Swift. He was nominated twice in the Music Video and Rap Song categories.

Upon accepting an award during the pre-show ceremony, Lamar immediately thanked God.

Lamar, who is passionate about reaching others through his art, is an outspoken Christian. When his major label debut, good kid, m.A.A.d. city, became a success in 2012, Lamar did not throw a big party to flaunt success. He instead publicly acknowledged Jesus Christ and got baptized. The hit single Swimming Pools (Drank) warned about the consequences of alcohol and Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe starts with the religiously inclined line: “I am a sinner, who’s probably gonna sin again.” The album “was the story of his redemption, not just from street gangs through rapping but from a life of sin by embracing Jesus Christ,” according to the New York Times. The much anticipated follow-up, “To Pimp a Butterfly,” “is about carrying the weight of that clarity: What happens when you speak out, spiritually and politically, and people start to listen? And what of the world you left behind?” The album has also been dubbed as “an evangelist for black power.”

Lamar has spoken openly about his rough upbringing in Compton California, describing how he became “saved” as a Christian. The grandmother of a friend of his, who he called an “angel,” led him to Jesus in the parking lot of grocery store Food 4 Less. Lamar realizes his special role to reach others with a message of hope. “For many fans, I’m the closest thing to a preacher that they have. I know that from being on tour — kids are living by my music.” He maintained an attitude of humility. “My word will never be as strong as God’s word. All I am is just a vessel, doing his work.”

Lamar’s vision is to “purify” the hip-hop genre, which he hopes to ground in true experiences in growing in poverty, instead of the current “opulent fabulism” of some mainstream work that now exists in the genre. “You know the songs that are out — we all love these songs,” he said. “They sell a lot of singles and make these record labels a lot of money.” He emphasized that those who truly lived in the streets, really don’t want to hear songs with a proud attitude in issues such as drug dealing and murder. “They want to get away from that,” Mr. Lamar said. “If it comes across as just a game all the time, the kids are going to think it’s just a game.”

The mission to send positive, uplifting messages through rap and hip-hop, while being true to his roots is a “calling” for Lamar. “From my perspective, I can only give you the good with the bad,” he said. “It’s bigger than a responsibility, it’s a calling.”

The New York Times cites Lamar as a “rap messenger.” Not only is he religious, he rarely indulges in vices such as drinking or smoking, does not flaunt fancy clothes and jewelry and enjoys a quiet, 10-year relationship with a woman he met in high school. His vices are limited to constantly recording music, watching his favorite TV show Martin, and munching on Fruity Pebbles.


Follow the Conversation on Twitter