Reversing the Curse, Track 8: HUMBLE. — Intro
Why becoming humble means becoming like the ground
After getting to the bottom of the human condition on the last track and concluding that pride must be conquered to allow for the existence of a perfect world, Kendrick now uses the track “HUMBLE.” to assert that others should come down from their pedestals. Getting others to come down from their positions of privilege seems like a daunting task. After all, most people at some level agree with Aristotle’s assertion that humility is an obstacle to living the good life. Most people fear that humility will doom them to a passive existence that makes it impossible to improve their own lives or the lives of their loved ones. Thus, the process of becoming humble — i.e. “being humbled” —is predominantly seen as a negative experience that one should avoid as much as possible.
The widespread tendency to avoid situations that would inspire a greater degree of humility may be an indication that most humans either do not understand what humility is or do not understand why the biblical authors considered humility to be such a desirable trait. This diagnosis regarding humanity’s misunderstanding about the life-giving power of humility is the same diagnosis given by a certain Orthodox bishop who escaped from the Russian Revolution as a child before serving as a doctor and monk in Nazi-occupied France.
To me, humility is not what we often make of it: the sheepish way of trying to imagine that we are the worst of all and trying to convince others that our artificial ways of behaving show that we are aware of that.
The word ‘humility’ comes from the Latin word ‘humus’ which means fertile ground. Humility is the situation of the earth. The earth is always there, always taken for granted, never remembered, always trodden on by everyone.
Somewhere we cast and pour our all the refuse, all we don’t need. It’s there, silent and accepting everything and in a miraculous way making out of all the refuse new richness in spite of corruption, transforming corruption itself into a power of life and a new possibility of creativeness, open to the sunshine, open to the rain, ready to receive any seed we sow and capable of bringing thirty fold, sixty fold, a hundred fold out of every seed.
-Anthony Bloom from Beginning to Pray
As Anthony Bloom explained, the essence of humility is not found in developing an artificially low view of oneself. Such an approach —as Kendrick said in “PRIDE.” — would simply be faking humble because others are insecure. Instead, Anthony Bloom suggested that if one wants a true example of humility one should look at “the ground.”
The Humility of the Ground
Fertile ground is one of the most essential resources which allows life to flourish on the earth. Yet the ground is constantly taken for granted as we bury are waste and spread pollution. Nonetheless, the ground never stops receiving what is given to it from above. Even as it receives that which is dead and decaying, fertile ground will work to turn all that it has received into new life which will then ascend up out of the ground.
Fittingly, the word “fertile” comes from the Latin word fertilis, which means fruitful, and has at it’s root the Latin word fero, which means “to bear” or “to carry.” Fertile soil must bear with the pressures of hosting that which is foreign while simultaneously making it possible for these foreign intruders to bear fruit. Hence, the ground is considered fertile only when it routinely transforms foreigners into partners and death into life.
The fact that the words “humble” and “human” both come from the word “humus” implies that to be truly human is to be humble. To be humble is to transform death into life — just like good soil. In the minds of the biblical authors, when humans avoid becoming humble — when they refuse to bear the pressures of hosting foreign intruders — they continue to be soil but they cease to be good.
This assessment comes straight from the first page of Genesis in which God declared that things were good not because they were attractive or because they were moral but because they fulfilled their purpose toward God’s ultimate goal of creating and sustaining human and animal life. One can see evidence of this ultimate goal in the closing verses of Genesis chapter one.
God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.
- Genesis 1:29–31
While Genesis chapter one established the biblical use of the word “good” to describe things such as seed bearing plants which make new life possible for humans and animals, Genesis chapter two establishes that the essence of human nature was always meant to be of the same substance as the ground. In fact, just like the word “human” comes from the word “humus” in English, the Hebrew word for human, adam, comes from the Hebrew word for ground, adamah.
Yahweh God formed human (Hebrew: adam) from the dust of the ground (Hebrew: adamah), and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and human became a living soul.
- Genesis 2:7
Given that the foundational story of the Bible claims that humanity in its ideal state is meant to share the nature of good soil, it is not surprising that when Jesus described the Kingdom of Heaven he also used the image of soil. In one of his most famous parables, Jesus told a story of a farmer who went out to sow seeds in a field. Along the way, the farmer threw seed on different kinds of soil, including roadside soil, rocky soil, thorn-infested soil, and good soil. In the first three cases, the soil was not able to foster mature plants. It was only the good soil that brought forth mature plants. These mature plants were then able to bear fruit which contained within them many multiples of the original seed that was sown.
When Jesus first told this parable to his disciples, the disciples voiced their confusion about the parable’s meaning. Their confusion turned out to be for the benefit of later readers since Jesus went on to give one of the few parable interpretations contained in the Gospel accounts. This rare intratextual interpretation may be an indicator of how central this parable was to understanding the rest of Jesus’s message.
Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.
- Matthew 13:18–23
Jesus’s explanation makes it clear that the seed represents Jesus’s words about the kingdom of heaven and that the different kinds of soil represent different kinds of people. According to Jesus, most people who hear his words about the kingdom of heaven never reach maturity either because their hearts are not open, their level of commitment is shallow or their intuition keeps them looking for ways to get money. It is only the person that has been tilled, weeded, and devoted to the purpose of bearing fruit that is then humble enough to receive Jesus’s words as Good News.
Kendrick’s Seminal Moment
Lord God, I come to You a sinner.
And I humbly repent for my sins.
I believe that Jesus is Lord.
I believe you raised Him from the dead.
I would ask that Jesus come into my life.
And to be my Lord and Savior.
I receive Jesus to take control of my life.
And that I may live with Him from this day forward.
Thank you, Lord Jesus for saving me with Your precious blood.
In Jesus name, amen.
Alright now, remember this day
The start of a new life — your REAL life
- An anonymous woman in Compton from “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst” on GKMC
In Kendrick’s personal narrative, the day that the events of GKMC took place was the beginning of his new life. It was the day that his self-centered choices led to one of his closest friends being shot to death. However, it was also the day that Kendrick’s heart opened to Jesus’s words for the first time. The prayer of repentance that Kendrick recited at the end of that night was the pivotal moment when one man’s death was transformed into another man’s eternal life.
Nonetheless, even after Kendrick’s eternal life began, it remained a struggle to sustain that life toward maturity. Like the rocky soil, the hardships embedded in Kendrick’s existence — particularly the continued murders of his friends by rival gang members in Compton — made Kendrick question his new life and use pussy and Patrón to make himself feel alright (see “Faith” and “P&P” from Kendrick Lamar EP). Once these distractions proved ineffective, Kendrick was tempted to end his life until he remembered God’s word promising that we’re going to be alright (see “u” and “Alright” from TPAB).
Even though Kendrick’s faith grew past these initial obstacles, the cares of his former life — particularly his attachments to friends and family who faced the harsh, daily realities of Compton — continued to strangle Kendrick’s resolve to follow Jesus’s words. Instead, he was tempted to sell himself in the pursuit of the kind of wealth and social credit that would provide comfort and security for his family and friends (see “For Sale? (Interlude)” and “Hood Politics” from TPAB.)
These thorns came to a head when Kendrick had a sharp reaction to a homeless beggar who was asking for a single dollar bill. Kendrick’s concern from himself made it impossible for him to be affected by the beggar’s words and prevented him from realizing that Jesus was appearing to him in the form of a homeless man. Instead of showing thankfulness to Jesus, Kendrick’s pride provoked him towards violent anger.
He’s starin’ at me in disbelief
My temper is buildin’, he’s starin’ at me, I grab my key
He’s starin’ at me, I started the car, then I tried to leave
He’s starin’ at me, I notice that his stare is contagious
’Cause now I’m starin’ back at him, feelin’ some type of disrespect
If I could throw a bat at him, it’d be aimin’ at his neck
Starin’ at me for the longest until he finally asked
“Have you ever opened up Exodus 14?
A humble man is all that we ever need”
- Kendrick Lamar from “How Much a Dollar Cost” on TPAB
After seemingly peering into Kendrick’s soul , the homeless man reminded King Kendrick that the one characteristic his people need in their leader is humility. As evidence, the homeless man points to Exodus 14.
Fittingly, Exodus 14 is the story of how God saved the Israelites by using Moses to lead the Israelites through the Sea of Reeds. When Moses is first introduced in the book of Exodus, it is not clear why God decided to use Moses to lead the Israelites rather than someone else. After all, Moses was so nervous about public speaking that God had to recruit Moses’s older brother to speak to Pharaoh on Moses’s behalf. It is not until later on in the book of Numbers that we learn why God was able to use Moses. A third of the way into the book of Numbers, the author adds a parenthetical testimony to Moses’s character while simultaneously making a subtle reference to the association of humans with the ground as first seen in Genesis 2:7.
Now the man Moses was very humble, more so than any human (Hebrew: adam) on the face of the ground (Hebrew: adamah).
- Numbers 12:3
At first the author’s claim about Moses’s incomparable humility seems like a hyperbole inserted at random fifty chapters after Moses was first introduced. However, if this verse is also building on the identification of humans with the ground, a closer study of the Torah’s literary design might suggest purposeful authorial intent. One may begin to uncover this purpose if one considers the fact that chapter 12 begins a series of four stories in which various Israelites rise up, rebel against Moses and try to replace him as God’s chosen leader.
The Rebellion of Moses’s Sister and Brother
In Numbers chapter 12, Moses’s older brother, Aaron, and older sister, Miriam, rose up against Moses because they — perhaps due to racism — disapproved of the fact that Moses had married a black woman from Ethiopia. Miriam asserted that Moses wasn’t special and she and Aaron were just as qualified to lead the Israelites. As a consequence for their rebellion and disapproval of a black women, Miriam developed a skin disease which turned her completely white and marked her as impure. Moses interceded on the behalf of his siblings who had just tried to usurp him and prayed for God to heal Miriam of her affliction. God then provided a way for Miriam to be become pure by remaining outside the camp for seven days.
The Rebellion of the Failed Border Crossing
In Numbers chapter 13 and 14, the entire Israelite population minus a couple people rebelled against Moses’s instructions to enter the promised land because they feared death at the hands of those who occupied the land. When the people rose up against Moses, Moses and Aaron bowed their faces to the ground and pleaded with the people to put their trust in the Lord. However, the people then threatened to execute Moses and replace him with a new ruler who would lead them back to Egypt. As a consequence of their rebellion, God considered allowing a plague to infect the Israelites, but Moses interceded on behalf of the Israelites and prayed for God to spare his people from the plague. God then provided a way for the Israelites to enter the promised land by first remaining outside the promised land for forty years.
The Rebellion of Korah
As we discussed in Track 6: LOYALTY. — Outro, Numbers Chapter 16 begins with the story of the Korah rebellion, in which a group of Levites rose up against Moses. Korah and the Levites asserted that they deserved to be priests and rulers since they were just as holy as Moses. Moses bowed his face to the ground and pleaded with the rebels to be content with their role as servants in the temple. However, Korah and his rebels proceeded to gather the entire Israelite population against Moses and — quite ironically — blamed Moses for not bringing them into the promised land. As a consequence for their rebellion, God warned that the whole congregation would be consumed. However, Moses interceded on behalf of the people and prayed for God to have mercy on them. God then provided a way to escape being swallowed by the ground for those Israelites who chose to flee outside of Korah’s dwelling place.
The Rebellion of the Korah Sympathizers
Ironically, the very next day after being delivered from the pit that swallowed Korah’s rebellion, the Israelites again decided to rise up against Moses and accuse him of killing Korah and his men. As a consequence for this new rebellion, a deadly plague began to ravage the Israelites. Again, Moses and Aaron laid down on the ground and interceded on behalf of the people. Moses then instructed his brother, Aaron, to spread incense over the people in order to make an atonement — or covering as discussed in Track 1: BLOOD.. The plague began spreading from the middle of the assembled crowd. Thus, as Aaron walked towards those dying on the inside of the crowd, God preserved the lives of all who stood towards the outside of the crowd.
The Sign to End All Rebellions
In case these four disasterous rebellions were not enough of an object lesson, Numbers 17 recounts an event in which God instructed Moses to gather one walking staff from the leader of each of the twelve tribes of Israel and place the twelve staffs in God’s presence. Aaron was told to write his name on his staff and submit it for the tribe of Levi. The next day when Moses went to fetch the staffs, he found that Aaron’s staff had miraculously grown flowers and ripe almonds. God told Moses to keep Aaron staff in the temple from then on as a reminder of God’s covenant and a warning to anyone who thought of rebelling against God and the anointed leader that God had provided.
A Prophetic Pattern of Humility
Usually when modern people read this set of stories they end up very confused. It doesn’t help that these stories are so intense. However, much of the confusion comes from trying to read the individual stories in isolation rather than looking at the design pattern which ties the stories together. If one is looking for a pattern one may discover that each of these stories is a variation of the same narrative arc.
As the pattern goes, the people want the power to rule over their current circumstances rather than living under God’s rule or obeying God’s appointed ruler. The people rebel against God. They accuse Moses and rise up against him. In contrast, Moses lowers himself to the ground and tries to reason with the people. God warms of the coming consequences of the rebellion. Moses prays to God on behalf of the people who have attacked him. God provides salvation (or healing) for those who go toward the outside of the gathered masses. Moses is vindicated.
These four repeated rebellion narratives are bookended by two statements — one verbal and another visual. The verbal statement is the one that opens the section by declaring that Moses was the most humble human on the face of the earth. Given that this characterization opens the narrative movement, it stands to reason that one central purpose of the repeated stories is to illustrate what it means to be humble. Moses exemplified humility because even though he was already the ruler he did not consider his rule to be something he needed to seize by force. Instead, Moses lowered himself to the ground and remained obedient to God while seeking to bring peace and healing to those who threatened him with violence.
Because Moses remained humble to the point of death, God exalted Moses and all those who became loyal to Moses. This divine exaltation of Moses was so powerful that the name of Moses’s brother, Aaron, was able to transform a dead piece of wood into a life source for budding flowers and fruit. The recurring motif of reversing the curse of death and transforming it into the blessing of life seems to be the visual statement made by Aaron’s staff.
Furthermore, the exaltation of Aaron represents a dramatic reversal, since in the first rebellion narrative, Aaron was the one rebelling against his brother. However, in the remaining narratives Aaron partners with Moses by laying on the ground and following Moses’s commands. Thus, Moses’s humility also transformed a rebellious brother into a loyal partner.
A Prophet More Humble than Moses
While modern readers of the Torah tend to get hung up on the historical accuracy of these stories and miss the theological significance, ancient readers clearly focused on understanding these passages to be a true account of the human condition throughout history. Hence, it should not be surprising that the writers of the New Testament used the patterns established in Numbers 12–17 to explain the significance of Jesus’s life, conflict with the religious authorities, death and resurrection. Nowhere is the parallel between the Gospel and Torah narratives more clear than in the ook of Hebrews. Throughout that book, the author constantly uses references that show how figures such as Moses foreshadowed Jesus.
Like Moses, Jesus faced numerous rebellions and desertions. Nonetheless, he sought to partner with unreliable people.
For we have become partners of Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end. As it is said,
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”
Now who were they who heard and yet were rebellious? Was it not all those who left Egypt under the leadership of Moses?
- Hebrews 3:14–16
Like Moses, Jesus endured suffering without using violence to assert his rule. In doing so Jesus was made perfect — i.e. mature as we discussed in Track 7: PRIDE. — Verse 2. Like Moses, Jesus took the initiative to save those who previously rebelled against him and turn them into loyal brothers.
For it was fitting for God — for whom and through whom all things exist — in leading many children to glory, to make the initiator of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For both He who sanctifies and those being sanctified are all from one — so he is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.
- Hebrews 2:10–11
Like Moses, Jesus functioned as a priest and offered prayers of intercession for the salvation of his people. Jesus even prayed for God the Father to forgive those who were crucifying him because they did not know what they were doing.
But he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.
- Hebrews 7:24–25
Like Moses, Jesus called his people to go towards the outside of the gathered masses so that Jesus could offer atonement for their sins.
For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also suffered outside the city gate in order to sanctify the people by his own blood. Let us then go to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured.
- Hebrews 13:11–13
In the same way that the author of Hebrews implored his readers to follow Jesus to the outside, the Apostle Paul implored his readers to follow Jesus to the ground. While the author of Numbers pointed to Moses as the most humble human on the face of the ground, Paul pointed to Jesus as the perfect example of humility in the heavens who then lowered himself and became the most humble human on the face of the earth.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in human likeness. And being found in the form of a human, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
One of the most striking aspects of Paul’s poetic retelling of Jesus’s life is the fact that the trajectory that Paul describes is the exact opposite of David’s trajectory that we saw in Track 7: PRIDE. — Verse 1. While David rose up only to fall back down, Jesus willingly came down and allowed God to lift him back up.
Furthermore, Jesus’s life trajectory is a more extreme version of what Moses went through during each of the rebellions. Moses was God’s chosen ruler who became a humble servant by repeatedly lowering himself to the ground instead of rising up against others.
Lastly, after humbling himself to the ground, Jesus was exalted on a wooden cross. Yet, his death on a piece of wood was the pretext for his resurrection. Just like Aaron’s staff, the cross transformed death into life and exalted Jesus’s name to be known around the world for ages to come.
A Prophet Less Humble than Moses
Would you judge me a drug-head or see me as K. Lamar
Or question my character and degrade me on every blog
Want you to love me like Nelson, want you to hug me like Nelson
I freed you from being a slave in your mind, you’re very welcome
You tell me my song is more than a song, it’s surely a blessing
But a prophet ain’t a prophet til they ask you this question:
When shit hit the fan, is you still a fan?
How many leaders you said you needed then left ’em for dead?
Is it Moses
I been wrote off before, I got abandonment issues
I hold grudges like bad judges, don’t let me resent you
That’s not Nelson-like, want you to love me like Nelson
Yet again, we find that “Mortal Man” foreshadowed many of the themes in DAMN. The verses of that track all revolve around Kendrick’s belief that people are fickle and will not hesitate to rebel against the prophet who led them out of slavery. When Kendrick wanted to give examples of these rejected leaders, the first name on the list was Moses. It would not be surprising if Kendrick had Numbers 12–17 in his mind when he wrote “Mortal Man”. Fittingly, “Mortal Man” also expresses Kendrick‘s conviction that even when people attack his character, Kendrick must forgive these people and represent for them in front of the highest powers in the land.
Throughout the track Kendrick reflects on how hard it is become a leader like Nelson Mandela who was able to endure decades of suffering and still forgive his oppressors. If it is a struggle to reach Mandela’s level of humility, one can only imagine how much of a struggle it would be to reach Moses’s level of humility. Kendrick would have to become the most humble human on the face of “The Ground.”
The rap section of “Mortal Man” is then followed by Kendrick’s interview with 2Pac in which 2Pac explains the significance of “The Ground.” According to 2Pac, “The Ground” represents those who are poor and oppressed — or, in the words of the biblical authors, those who are humble. In 2Pac’s parable, the poor would eventually grow tired of being poor and would then devour the rich. Hence, 2Pac invoked the image of “The Ground” opening up to swallow the evil. From a biblical point of view, 2Pac’s prophecy is an assertion that “The Ground” will one day reject it’s purpose. It will cease to be good soil. Rather than becoming a humble resource for living, “The Ground” will become an open grave for the dead. Given the numerous times that the poor have risen up and turned to violence against their oppressors, 2Pac’s prophecy will likely continue to be applicable throughout the world.
As one who was born and raised in poverty, Kendrick has to decide if he will join the rest of “The Ground” in becoming a mass grave or join Jesus and Moses in becoming fertile soil.
At the end of “LOYALTY.”, Rihanna gave voice to Kendrick’s ongoing struggle when she sang “It’s so hard to be humble.” Then on the previous track, “PRIDE.”, Kendrick explained how self-exaltation is a poison that makes men and women sick — much like the Israelites who were devastated by the plague in Numbers 16. As we begin to listen to the track “HUMBLE.”, there is hope that all the knowledge that Kendrick received will enable him to become a leader like Moses.
Nobody pray for me
It’s been that day for me
However, the very first line of the track seems to show how Kendrick’s leadership is in stark contrast to Moses. While Moses continued to offer prayers of intercession on behalf of thankless rebels, Kendrick continues to echo the same complaint that nobody is praying for him. This is the same complaint he has been making since the fourth track, when he swore that he would not be taken out of his element. While the last few tracks have given Kendrick renewed knowledge about good and evil, the concerns of his heart have not fundamentally changed. Hence, he is not willing to endure another day filled with the pressures of becoming good soil. He is well on the way to rejecting his purpose.
Time to Decide
While these introductory lyrics are effective for showing Kendrick’s self-centered mindset through the course of the album, it is worth noting that these lyrics do not appear in the music video version of “HUMBLE.” The lines are instead replaced with a reference to the first dichotomy of the album.
Wicked or weakness
You gotta see this
This alternate intro actually makes it more evident that the track begins with Kendrick making a choice. Is it wickedness or weakness? Is it pride or humility? Kendrick now has to decide.
Before we even get a chance to ponder what Kendrick’s decision will be, the very next line finds Kendrick imploring all of us to focus our eyes on him — or at the very least on his video. While we might initially think disregard this statement as a throwaway line, the fact that Kendrick went through the trouble of changing the lines for the video suggest that this second line has a distinct purpose. So, what are we to make of Kendrick’s assertion that “you gotta see this”?
The first thing to note is that it doesn’t seem very humble to demand everyone’s attention. As we discussed earlier, humility is best exemplified by the ground. Good ground fulfills it’s purpose even when it is overlooked by everyone. It should also be noted that the Greek word most often translated as “proud” in the New Testament is hyperēphanos, which most directly means “appearing above” or “conspicuous”. Thus, Kendrick’s need to draw attention to himself is the first indicator that Kendrick has chosen pride rather than humility.
What’s that Jeezy Song Say?
While the line “you gotta see this” seems to have significance even as an isolated statement, there is also reason to be leave that the line is a reference to an obscure song by rapper Young Jeezy which was featured on Jeezy’s 2011 mixtape The Real Is Back 2. The song is called “Gotta See This”.
It’s your boy snow and I just left the dealer
Tag new shoes now I’m feeling like a dealer
Didn’t hit my new rims on the curb its all gravy
Mashed Potato seats nigga all I need is gravy
As I proceed to hit the blunt, now I’m higher than an airplane
30k of hundreds in my pockets, that’s the whole thang
Masterpiece presidential rollie call me four things
Masterpiece presidential rollie call me four chains
Straight sexaholic you should see the bitch body
Straight alcoholic, you should see the bitch party
Like my nigga young, 2–11 you gotta beat this
Brick white Porsche 9–11 you gotta see this
Jewelry game nice but the coupe’s be the meanest
Two-Fourty at the lot, swear to god I didn’t dream it
Gotta, gotta see this, gotta see this, gotta see this
- Young Jeezy from “Gotta See This”
It would not be surprising if Kendrick is directly referencing this somewhat obscure song, because Kendrick has significant history with Jeezy. Jeezy was featured on an obscure Kendrick Lamar track named “Westside, Right on Time” which was released in 2012 just a month before the release of GKMC. While Jeezy is not featured in GKMC, his legacy is evident within the album narrative as Kendrick relays the dominating influence that Jeezy’s music had over the mindset and attitude of 18 year old Kendrick and his high school friends after Jeeezy’s first major label album Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101 wwas released . Jeezy was who they listened to as they drove around the city looking for trouble and trying to get rich. This history is revealed on the GKMC track “The Art of Peer Pressure”, which tells the story about how Kendrick and his friends robbed a house, nearly got caught, but manage to get back in their car and evade the police. In the midst of this narrative, the track mentions Jeezy on three separate occasions — once in the first verse, once in the last verse and once in the skit following the musical section.
We on the mission for bad bitches and trouble
I hope the universe love you today
’Cause the energy we bringin’ sure to carry away
A flock of positive activists that fill they body with hate
If it’s necessary; bumpin’ Jeezy first album, lookin’ distracted
Speakin’ language only we know, you think it’s an accent
We tryna conquer the city with disobedience
Quick to turn it up, even if we ain’t got the CD in
But Jeezy still playin’
And our attitude is still “nigga, what is you sayin’?”
What that nigga — what’s that Jeezy song say, nigga?
“Last time I checked I was the man on these streets!”
Yeah, yeah, that shit right there
I’m tryna be the nigga in the street
- Kendrick Lamar from “The Art of Peer Pressure” on GKMC
From these references and the events that the track recounts, it seems clear that the energy, or spirit, behind Jeezy’s music has consistently driven Kendrick to make himself conspicuous through acts of disobedience and the accumulation of money and possessions by any means necessary.
Keep Ya Head Up
In addition to the loaded references in Kendrick’s words, the music video intro seems to also reveal Kendrick’s mindset through Kendrick’s body posture. At the very beginning of the music video before Kendrick utters a word, we see him alone in a cathedral. Light shines down on him from a high window. He stands still with his head bowed down to the ground. Then as soon as Kendrick begins to rap, he holds his head up high and delivers the first line. After delivering the first line, he returns to the position from the beginning of the video with his head bowed to the ground. When he begins to deliver the second line and third lines he goes through the same set of movements — raising his head when he speaks and lowering his head when he is silent.
Whether we are conscious of it or not, Kendrick’s head positioning tells us everything we need to know about Kendrick’s underlying message. As modern psychologists have proven, body posture is an essential part of non-verbal communication and is interpreted in similar ways across cultures. One’s body posture can communicate fear, annoyance, curiosity and many other mental states. In regards to head positioning, the angle of a person’s head is normally an indicator of that person’s social standing. When someone holds their head down, they communicate weakness, submissiveness and humility. When someone holds their head up, they communicate strength, superiority and pride.
It is thus ironic that while the song’s title implies that the song is meant to extol the virtues of humility, the posture from which Kendrick raps implies that the song is actually meant to amplify Kendrick’s pride. Moreover, Kendrick’s posture is the opposite of the posture that Jesus maintained when he endured suffering and abandonment. The fact that Kendrick repeatedly pivots between raising and lowering his head may indicate that at this point — in the middle of the album’s track list and transition point between “PRIDE.” and “HUMBLE.” — Kendrick is experiencing the essential struggle between following his intuition or following The Way.
This transition point is identical to the one that Jonah experiences as his narrative begins its second half. There at the beginning of chapter 3, the word of the Lord again comes to Jonah and calls him to deliver a message to his enemies, the people of Nineveh. Even though God forgave Jonah’s rebellion after Jonah was humbled into repentance during the previous chapter, it remains unclear whether Jonah is willing to extend such forgiveness to the people of Nineveh. In the case of both Jonah and Kendrick, we will need to first hear the prophet’s post-repentance message to determine whether the prophet has converted to the way of the Lord or reverted to their old ways.