3 Ways To “Get” Songs You Don’t Understand

Strangers help if you know where to look

M.A. Mercier
The Riff
Published in
5 min readJul 2, 2021

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Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

There are songs that Justin Beiber puts out, and there are also songs that deeper than words or instrumentals. They need contextualization, knowledge about the topic, and a certain amount of wisdom to interpret it.

Sometimes, I get everything the artist meant for me to understand on myself, but if you are anything like me, you come across a song/album that just refuses to give up its meaning to you. More often than not, we go to Youtube, and sometimes to Genius, and if it comes to it, interviews. However, I believe the best way is none of those.

The best way to get to know the meaning of a song you are desperate to understand is… well to look for oversharing strangers on the internet. They are surprisingly easy to find. Here are three ways to find them:

Reddit

I don’t use Reddit. However, I know, for a fact, that every artist’s subreddit has some people that just pump out these theories over the songs and albums that artist has put out. That person won’t have any benefit from it, but if you find that post, you have got the meaning you desired.

While I won’t trust every post on Reddit, I think it is much more reliable than Facebook, or Twitter. The most upvoted posts are generally pretty accurate, too.

It’s literally top 5 on the album for me personally. It’s literally him denouncing all the bullshit people use to define being “real” and instead him literally looking in the mirror and reassuring himself that he is real (to himself)

It’s a very heartwarming track and one that assures people who are insecure that they can love themselves.

The hook is catchy and Ana’s vocals are great. Y’all just hate positive vibes.

— From a review of ‘REAL.’ on r/KendrickLamar

Rate Your Music

Rate Your Music has become one of the most reliable websites to find the public’s opinion on music. For the most part, I find that the reviews there are(the top ones) pretty detailed and accurate.

Sometime after I`ve digested Atrocity Exhibition, I`ll get around to a full Danny Brown reviewing. I quite enjoyed XXX and more than half of Old met that standard.

This single however, is the one track, beat-wise, rhyme-wise and with features included, that makes me excited for AE.

The beat is going in the direction I feel DB should go in as he explores his own corner of Experimental Hip-Hop. I enjoy Earl`s Previous album, and most of his features, and I cannot overstate how much I dig Kendrick.

I like the mixing as well, the way the kicks seem to be center-part of the song and the dischorded chimes in the background give nostalgia for an older time in hi-hop as well as succeeds in establishing a more abrasive, industrial sound.

Lastly, this is a track that makes me feel Danny Brown is still very relevant in his delivery. There were moments on Old where I felt like he was just stretching out the ideas, punchlines, and character he flushed out for XXX simply becasue they worked. This song does not sound like one of those moments.

— From a Review of ‘Really Doe’ on Rate Your Music

Youtube Comments

Not the videos, comments. Go to the official music video/audio and if there is something interesting about the song, you’ll find it here. I found it twice, once for ‘For Free’ and ‘u’. This is the ‘u’ one-

too late to be commenting but here goes my attempt in interpreting this: when talking about “u” he’s referring to himself, about how he seemed to have influenced all of his fans, but can’t influence his friends his family, blaming himself for his sister getting pregnant, friends and family dying. the second half of this video is the song “for sale?” In this, we hear kendrick frequently rap from the point of “Lucy,” who we can assume to be “Lucifer,” telling him how great his life could be if he sells his soul to him, which is why the track is titled the way it is. In the visual we are presented with a constant change between blue and red. I interpret this as a choosing point in kendricks life: follow God, or the devil. we hear a voice in the background say “THEY SAY IF YOU SCARED GO TO CHURCH. BUT REMEMBER, HE KNOWS THE BIBLE TOO.” basically telling kendrick to choose the red/devil path. which in this video, he does. and this leads directly into DAMN. , short for “damnation.” in DAMN. kendrick chose the red path, and is given feelings from “lucy”, which are tracks like LUST. and PRIDE. , but he is faced with new sets of problems and distresses. however, in real life, we know kendrick took the “blue” path, and he changed his profile pictures on socials to blue themed photos, and the alternate cover for DAMN. is blue. i am 15 years old, sitting on my couch, 11:40 PM, realizing how much of a musical genius kendrick motherfucking lamar is. EDIT: hope u guys are doing good lol I’m 16 now and I came back to this comment (with a lot of likes holy) but my connections to DAMN. from TPAB is off. at the end of TPAB with Mortal Man, we see Kendrick step up and take a prophetic role. In DAMN. Kendrick seems to fold under the pressure of this role and ultimately reject Gods invitation, Only to come closer to him at the end. The narrative of DAMN. ultimately mirrors the Jonahs story in the Bible, where he is thrown into a prophetic role and rejects Gods call, only to embrace him in the end. Love and peace.

— From a comment on this video.

I actually got the idea from this comment that explained the whole album ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’, using the titles of songs as the most important words, and it is surprisingly near accurate. Creativity on YouTube isn’t confined to videos.

Wesley’s Theory was that we should all live For Free unlike King Kunta who was Institutionalized within These Walls. They asked u, “are you Alright?” Didn’t they tell you everything was For Sale? Didn’t your Momma warn you about the Hood Politics? Where people don’t know How Much A Dollar Cost and judge you based on your Complexion. Just remember though, The Blacker The Berry the sweeter the juice, therefore, You Ain’t Gotta Lie to anybody, including yourself. Go on, don’t be afraid to say “ i love myself!” Don’t just say it, believe it! These are the words of a Mortal Man. Now with that knowledge, will you still allow them To Pimp A Butterfly?

How do you find the meaning behind the music you cannot guess? Let me know in the comments! Also, sorry for oversaturating every music-related post with Kendrick Lamar. I just love his music very much! Thank you for reading, and hey! I have a newsletter now! It will be a monthly email, a kind of monologue about literature, writing, philosophy, and music, linking the articles I found most useful. It will be delivered on the 19th of every month. Do Subscribe if you are interested.

That’s it then!

P.S. — Just a 5-minute read!!

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