If the 4th wall could talk
Kendrick Lamar’s meta- approach to creation
With the drop of ‘DAMN.’, it is clear that Kendrick Lamar’s albums are more than just a series of songs, but rather a globule of concentrated meditation, a bundled experience, a self-encompassing mission.
Despite his works becoming increasingly conceptual, he has not compromised his core with gimmicks, driving each project with diverse beats, melodies, hooks, and of course, lyrics. His lyrics tackle the social, political, and economical problems he has been “diagnosed” with as person of color in America, often looking in on himself and providing perspectives from both inside and out of the hood he was raised in.
The stories Kendrick weaves throughout his work are a personal catharsis, and inside this pain, fear, anger, is an ever-present honesty that cannot be overlooked. Kendrick is continuously self-reflective, looking in the mirror (literally in the song ‘u’), and selflessly acting as the voice of struggle for the many surrounding him.
This reflection is so deeply entrenched in Kendrick’s work, that it transcends the confines of the album itself. The song ‘FEAR.’ (from Kendrick’s most recent album ‘DAMN.’) mentions six of the album’s songs by name, before meta-analytically stating, “Within fourteen tracks, carried out over wax”, referencing the number of songs on this very album.
The album knows itself, breaking the “fourth wall” in a not-unlike-Kendrick fashion, similar to author Kurt Vonnegut introducing himself as a character in his own book, Breakfast of Champions. It is clear that the author and main character are one-in-the-same, allowing Kendrick the freedom and ability to talk about the album itself as it is being produced.
This is an important distinction, because the experience of listening to ‘DAMN.’ is an instrumental part of the vinyl itself. The album is audibly rewound in it’s final song to be played again, further breaking apart where the boundaries of the album begin and end.
And it isn’t the first time Kendrick has done this. You can hear the cassette tape being inserted in past album, ‘good kid, m.A.A.d city’, giving us listeners a backseat vantage of the story unfolding and a feeling that we are both observing and within its scene. To go back further, Kendrick uses this tactic in ‘Keisha’s Song’, from his first studio album, ‘Section.80’:
“My little sister eleven, I looked her right in the face
The day that I wrote this song, set her down and pressed play”
This technique adds a true significance to his words — he cannot wait until after the song is finished to announce it as a necessary message to his younger sister.
The four walls surrounding each of his albums are constantly broken and misshapen. So what if these walls, the walls that surround Kendrick’s experience as a rapper, son, man, uncle, brother, and voice for many, could talk — what would they say? Listen up.