“It’s pulling with the experience of going through change and accepting change; that’s the hardest thing for man, accepting change… That can draw a thin line, you know, between you having your sanity and you losing it. And this is how artists deteriorate, if you don’t catch yourself… when we don’t have respect for ourselves, how do we expect them to respect us? It starts from within. Don’t start with just a rally, don’t start from looting — it starts from within.” – Kendrick Lamar
The Pulitzer Prize for music is an American tradition dating from the 1940s that each year celebrates “a distinguished musical composition of significant dimension.” Over the decades, some of the best (though often esoteric) modern classical, opera and jazz composers have been awarded the prestigious prize. So, it was somewhat out of the blue this week when this year’s award went to the album DAMN by Kendrick Lamar, a 30 year-old black rapper from Compton, California who combines hip-hop, funk, soul, jazz and the spoken word to create dense and often intense constructions about American life, particularly from the Black perspective. The achievement is remarkable given the boundaries and structures that make up these kinds of awards (no one is surprised by his many Grammy Awards).
I’ve had the chance over the years to become familiar with his music, as my son listens to him frequently. And I’ve been impressed with his depth of sincerity, fiery creativity and honest vulnerability underscoring a conscientious altruism within a frame of art that doesn’t always prioritize these. But beyond that, I like and respect his angle of insights into some of the issues and personal dynamics I’ve tried to include here on this blog, which he often folds into richly layered, unusual musical compositions. His focus often highlights struggles within what has been called the five primary values — Care/Protection, Fairness/Reciprocity, Ingroup/Loyalty, Authority/Respect and Purity/Sanctity (mentioned in a blog post here on 7 May 2015, and often addressed in seminars and retreats I’ve lead).
This offering may be a challenge for some readers here, but it’s meant to be in the best sense of that, crossing boundaries and moving beyond the familiar in an attempt to discover something out of the ordinary that informs real learning and expansive understanding. Here are a couple presentations that give a good feel for his work and presence. In the first, notice especially his unpretentious sincerity and authenticity, as well as his tempered passionate investment behind his observations; there’s a wonderful settling in to genuine contemplation (don’t be fooled by the style or use of language):
And this is some excellent quality art, worthy of the patient consideration and true passionate curiosity one should give to any exceptional yet challenging piece of classical, opera or jazz music, or immersion into an unfamiliar culture with a different language:
For those with extra interest and curiosity, here’s an insightful article to explore: