Why human kings so often become savages
In the last post, we discussed how the mental descent and emotional storm that Kenny experienced on the track “FEEL.” mirrored Jonah’s descent below the deck of a ship that would soon be caught up in a powerful rainstorm. We also discussed the irony in Kenny’s complaint that “ain’t nobody prayin for him” and how this mirrored Jonah’s lack of awareness that everyone around him was praying except for Jonah. Lastly, in the podcast we discussed how Kenny began to suspect that his friends and family had become compromised and disloyal.
These details helped to characterize Kung Fu Kenny as someone who is self-centered and out of touch with reality. Rather than come back to reality, Kenny’s desire for loyal subjects seems to have inspired Kenny to create his own society.
It’s a secret society
All we ask is trust
All we got is us
Loyalty, loyalty, loyalty
Loyalty, loyalty, loyalty
Here in “LOYALTY.”, Kenny seems to have recruited R&B singer Rihanna to be his female counterpart at the center of this new society. As we mentioned in the podcast episode, Kenny’s choice to partner with Rihanna and demand loyalty from those around them seems to be inspired by Rihanna’s own experience dealing with a disloyal accountant — an experience that Rihanna portrayed in her music video for “Bitch Better Have My Money.”
Shit, your wife in the backseat of my brand new foreign car
Don’t act like you forgot
I call the shots, shots, shots
Like bra, bra, bra
Pay me what you owe me, don’t act like you forgot
Bitch better have my money
- Rihanna from “Bitch Better Have My Money”
The music video for “Bitch Better Have My Money” depicts Rihanna taking revenge on her accountant after he stole millions of dollars from her and left her effectively bankrupt. In the video, Rihanna kidnaps the accountant’s wife by stuffing her in a large suitcase. Rihanna and her friends strip the wife half-naked and tie her up in the backseat of Rihanna’s foreign car. They then proceed to torture the wife and hold her hostage. Meanwhile, Rihanna repeatedly calls the accountant and tells him that he better have her money.
However, the accountant is not inclined to give Rihanna her money or rescue his wife since he is using a large portion of the money to indulge his sexual appetite by showering money on prostitutes. After the accountant fails to comply with Rihanna’s demands, Rihanna and her friends bring their accountant’s kidnapped wife back to his house. The video shows the man already tied up as Rihanna approaches him with a knife.
The video then cuts to images of splattered blood and police tape. Finally, the video ends by showing Rihanna covered in blood, lying half-naked in the suitcase that she used to kidnap the wife. However, now the suitcase is filled with money.
In summary, the music video for “Bitch Better Have My Money” is essentially a visual manifestation of Kenny’s message on “ELEMENT.”:
If I gotta go hard on a bitch, I’ma make it look sexy
Moreover, the last scene of Rihanna lying half-naked in a suitcase filled with money wile covered with the blood of her accountant proves that Rihanna has sex, money, and murder in her DNA. She thus seems to be the perfect queen to rule the new society alongside King Kenny.
I’m a savage, I’m an asshole, I’m a king
Interestingly, in the line where Kenny directly claims to be a king, he describes himself as a savage and an asshole. This negative depiction of human kings is consistent with how the biblical authors talked about the kings of their day. One of the first examples of this biblical critique is found in a passage where the Israelites became dissatisfied with the Prophet Samuel, who God had appointed to be their leader. The Israelites then demanded that God should appoint a king over them.
“So all the elders of Israel gathered together and approached Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “Look, you are old, and your sons don’t follow your ways. So now appoint over us a king to lead us, just like all the other nations have.” But this request displeased Samuel, for they said, “Give us a king to lead us.”
So Samuel prayed to the LORD. The LORD said to Samuel, “Do everything the people request of you. For it is not you that they have rejected, but it is me that they have rejected as their king. Just as they have done from the day that I brought them up from Egypt until this very day, they have rejected me and have served other gods. This is what they are also doing to you. So now do as they say. But seriously warn them and make them aware of the policies of the king who will rule over them.”
- 1 Samuel 8:4–9
When the Israelites demanded to have a king rule over them, God said that their desire to be like other nations is the same inclination that had previously caused the Israelites to worship the gods of other nations. God thus told the Prophet Samuel to warn the Israelites of the oppression they would have to endure if they chose to have a typical human king.
So Samuel spoke all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, “Here are the policies of the king who will rule over you: He will conscript your sons and put them in his chariot forces and in his cavalry; they will run in front of his chariot. He will appoint for himself leaders of thousands and leaders of fifties, as well as those who plow his ground, reap his harvest, and make his weapons of war and his chariot equipment. He will take your daughters to be ointment makers, cooks, and bakers. He will take your best fields and vineyards and give them to his own servants. He will demand a tenth of your seed and of the produce of your vineyards and give it to his administrators and his servants. He will take your male and female servants, as well as your best cattle and your donkeys, and assign them for his own use. He will demand a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will be his servants. In that day you will cry out because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the LORD won’t answer you in that day.”
-1 Samuel 8:10–18
God warned the Israelites that a king would oppress them by taking the best of the men, women, animals, and produce for his own personal benefit. However, this warning did not dissuade the Israelites from demanding a king.
But the people refused to heed Samuel’s warning. Instead they said, “No! There will be a king over us! We will be like all the other nations. Our king will judge us and lead us and fight our battles.”
- 1 Samuel 8:19–20
Indeed, Israel would become like all the other nations around them. Most of the kings who ruled over Israel ruled in the exact manner that the Prophet Samuel had described. Even David, Israel’s greatest king temporarily abandoned his faithfulness to Yahweh. After becoming rich, David’s power caused him to become proud. One day David’s pride drove him to get up from his bed and stand on his roof so that he could look down on his subjects. He then noticed a woman who was bathing down below. He decided that he wanted to take her from her house so that he could have sex with her. Even though King David learned that the woman was the wife of his most loyal soldier, King David still brought the woman to his palace and forced himself upon her. When the woman became pregnant, David tried to cover up his adultery by ordering the generals to orchestrate the murder of his most loyal soldier. King David was then free to marry the soldier’s wife. However, God was displeased by King David’s egregious acts of injustice and allowed David’s family and kingdom to be divided by internal strife, murders and rape. Hence, even Israel’s greatest king became a selfish asshole when he was overcome by his desires for sex, money and murder.
As a succession of Israelite kings increasingly turned towards corruption, injustice, pride, and idolatry, the Israelites would switch their loyalties from Yahweh to the gods of other nations. In response, God again gave them what they wanted by allowing Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, to conquer Jerusalem, destroy Yahweh’s temple, and deport the Israelites to nations around the world — nations who worshipped other gods.
As King Nebuchadnezzar continued to conquer much of the known world and establish one of the world’s first empires, he also became exceedingly proud until one day he had a troubling dream.
“Here are the visions of my mind while I was on my bed. While I was watching, there was a tree in the middle of the land. It was enormously tall. The tree grew large and strong. Its top reached far into the sky; it could be seen from the borders of all the land. Its foliage was attractive and its fruit plentiful; on it there was food enough for all. Under it the wild animals used to seek shade, and in its branches the birds of the sky used to nest. All creatures used to feed themselves from it. While I was watching in my mind’s visions on my bed, a holy sentinel came down from heaven. He called out loudly as follows: ‘Chop down the tree and lop off its branches! Strip off its foliage and scatter its fruit! Let the animals flee from under it and the birds from its branches! But leave its taproot in the ground, with a band of iron and bronze around it surrounded by the grass of the field. Let it become damp with the dew of the sky, and let it live with the animals in the grass of the land. Let his mind be altered from that of a human being, and let an animal’s mind be given to him, and let seven periods of time go by for him. This announcement is by the decree of the sentinels; this decision is by the pronouncement of the holy ones, so that those who are alive may understand that the Most High has authority over human kingdoms, and he bestows them on whomever he wishes. He establishes over them even the lowliest of human beings.’
- Daniel 4:10–17
When none of his Babylonian advisors could interpret the dream, King Nebuchadnezzar called upon an Israelite named Daniel. Daniel had become King Nebuchadnezzar’s top advisor after the king recognized that Daniel was filled with the Spirit of God. As a result, Daniel was able to interpret the dream.
Daniel said to King Nebuchadnezzar, “The tree that you saw that grew large and strong, whose top reached to the sky, and which could be seen in all the land, whose foliage was attractive and its fruit plentiful, and from which there was food available for all, under whose branches wild animals used to live, and in whose branches birds of the sky used to nest — it is you, O king! For you have become great and strong. Your greatness is such that it reaches to heaven, and your authority to the ends of the earth. As for the king seeing a holy sentinel coming down from heaven and saying, ‘Chop down the tree and destroy it, but leave its taproot in the ground, with a band of iron and bronze around it, surrounded by the grass of the field. Let it become damp with the dew of the sky, and let it live with the wild animals, until seven periods of time go by for him’ — this is the interpretation, O king! It is the decision of the Most High that this has happened to my lord the king. You will be driven from human society, and you will live with the wild animals. You will be fed grass like oxen, and you will become damp with the dew of the sky. Seven periods of time will pass by for you, before you understand that the Most High is ruler over human kingdoms and gives them to whomever he wishes. They said to leave the taproot of the tree, for your kingdom will be restored to you when you come to understand that heaven rules. Therefore, O king, may my advice be pleasing to you. Break away from your sins by doing what is right, and from your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor. Perhaps your prosperity will be prolonged.”
- Daniel 4:20–27
According to Daniel, the dream about the tree was meant to warn King Nebuchadnezzar that his pride had grown too great. Unless the king learned to humble himself, turn away from injustice and stop oppressing the poor, God would humble King Nebuchadnezzar by allowing him to lose his sanity and live like a savage beast for seven periods of time — which could either be seven days or seven years. Unfortunately, King Nebuchadnezzar did not heed Daniel’s warning and thus had to be humbled.
“Now all of this happened to King Nebuchadnezzar. After twelve months, he happened to be walking around on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon. The king uttered these words: “Is this not the great Babylon that I have built for a royal residence by my own mighty strength and for my majestic honor?” While these words were still on the king’s lips, a voice came down from heaven: “It is hereby announced to you, King Nebuchadnezzar, that your kingdom has been removed from you! You will be driven from human society, and you will live with the wild animals. You will be fed grass like oxen, and seven periods of time will pass by for you before you understand that the Most High is ruler over human kingdoms and gives them to whomever he wishes.”
Now in that very moment this pronouncement about Nebuchadnezzar came true. He was driven from human society, he ate grass like oxen, and his body became damp with the dew of the sky, until his hair became long like an eagle’s feathers, and his nails like a bird’s claws.
But at the end of the appointed time I, Nebuchadnezzar, looked up toward heaven, and my sanity returned to me. I extolled the Most High, and I praised and glorified the one who lives forever. For his authority is an everlasting authority, and his kingdom extends from one generation to the next.’”
- Daniel 4:28–34
As soon as King Nebuchadnezzar looked up to heaven and acknowledged that the God of Israel was the Most High ruler, King Nebuchadnezzar’s curse was reversed into even greater blessings.
“At that time my sanity returned to me. I was restored to the honor of my kingdom, and my splendor returned to me. My ministers and my nobles were seeking me out, and I was reinstated over my kingdom. I became even greater than before. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, for all his deeds are right and his ways are just. He is able to humble those who walk in pride.”
- Daniel 4:36–37
King Nebuchadnezzar’s story thus serves as a perfect illustration of Kung Fu Kenny’s words: “I’m a savage. I’m an asshole. I’m a king.” In the end, King Nebuchadnezzar learned the hard way that God humbles those who exalt themselves in pride. This seems to be the same conclusion that Kung Fu Kenny and Rihanna arrive at by the end of “LOYALTY.” when Rihanna sings:
It’s so hard to be humble
It’s so hard to be
Lord knows I’m tryin’
Lord knows I’m dyin’, baby
The last lines of “LOYALTY.” represent a complete reversal from the beginning of the track where Kenny and Rihanna were exalting themselves as king and queen over their own society. This reversal seems to have been the result of personal reflection that occurred after Kenny and Rihanna grew suspicious of one of their subjects and demanded to know who or what he was ultimately loyal to.
Tell me who you loyal to
Is it money? Is it fame? Is it weed? Is it drink?
Is it comin’ down with the loud pipes in the rain?
Big chillin’, only for the power in your name
Tell me who you loyal to
Is it love for the streets when the lights get dark?
Is it unconditional when the ‘Rari don’t start?
Tell me when your loyalty is comin’ from the heart
Tell me who you loyal to
Do it start with your woman or your man?
Do it end with your family and friends? (Mmm)
Are you loyal to yourself in advance?
I said, tell me who you loyal to
After beginning with the most basic loyalties to money, fame and drugs, Kenny and Rihanna move up the hierarchy of needs to question whether those around him are loyal to their cultural identities. They then question whether their subjects are ultimately loyal to their loved ones or to themselves. However, after questioning others, Kenny suddenly turns to question himself, which leads him to declare who he is ultimately loyal to.
Is it anybody that you would lie for?
Anybody you would slide for?
Anybody you would die for?
That’s what God for
Ironically, after choosing to reject God’s call, disobey God’s commandments and follow his own intuition, Kenny here declares that he is ultimately loyal to God. The contradiction between Kenny’s declaration and his decisions mirrors the moment in Jonah’s story when the sailors on the ship found Jonah and demanded to know which God Jonah was loyal to.
Jonah said to the sailors “I worship Yahweh, the God of heaven, who has made the sea and the dry land.”
- Jonah 1:9
Despite the fact that Jonah had rejected God’s called and boarded a ship going in the opposite direction from where God wanted him to go, Jonah nonetheless declared that he worshiped Yahweh. The fact that Jonah would try to get on a boat to run away from the God who created the sees reveals the futility of Jonah opposing God. Eventually, Jonah and the sailors would come to the conclusion that the storm would not subside unless they threw Jonah into the sea, where unbeknownst to Jonah, God had prepared a large, carnivorous fish to eat Jonah.
Given where “LOYALTY.” seems to fit within the story arc of Jonah, it is interesting to note that the music video for “LOYALTY.” contains some imagery which suggests that Kenny is about to sink into deep waters filled with carnivorous fish. Throughout several scenes in the music video, Kenny has to dodge to avoid sharks which are swimming in the ground near his feet.
Fittingly, the music video also ends with Kenny and Rihanna sinking into the watery ground, just like Jonah sank into the sea.
However, even as Kung Fu Kenny sinks into the proverbial sea, there is hope in the fact that he now realizes that he must struggle to relinquish his pride and become humble. Indeed, Jonah’s transformation happened as he composed a poem while he was trapped under the sea in the belly of the beast. We will consider how Kenny follows a similar pattern when we look at the next track, “PRIDE.”
- “1 Samuel: Read Scripture” video by The Bible Project
- “Daniel: Read Scripture” video by The Bible Project
- “Jonah: Read Scripture” video by The Bible Project