There’s lots of vulgar language over this 12 minutes of music, but between Kendrick’s bitter, desperate, vengeful, and dismal, yet undeniably compelling stories of young people grappling with life and death, searching for significance and coping with pain; and his own admission that we are all depraved [dying of thirst], we have one of the most potent and meaningful pieces of hip hop music released in quite some time. Throw in an enigmatic and resolute old lady in the last couple minutes of the track leading some would-be murderers through a prayer of salvation and things get a lot more interesting. This track needs not only to be experienced, but firmly understood and applied to our own lives.
Here are a few things that stuck out to me:
1. “When the lights shut off and it’s my turn to settle down, my main concern: Promise that you will sing about me.”
Everybody wants to matter. We all look for different ways to do so, but there isn’t one of us who isn’t trying to leave their mark on the world. What is it that you want to be remembered for, what legacy are you hoping to leave? Who will sing about you when you’re gone? What will they say?
2. “I’m fortunate that you believe in a dream, this orphanage we call a ghetto is quite a routine.”
As a Christian, I believe that there is more to life than what we see with our eyes, something just on the edge of our perception that is somehow bigger and truer than everything around us. Many times, people give me a hard time about these beliefs. We all see the same shadows, but we all think them different dreams, or nothing at all, but when it gets down to the raw truth, when everything around us is falling apart and nothing is as good or beautiful or peaceful as we want it to be, the people who can see beyond it are the people who wield the power. Whether you call them dreamers, visionaries, prophets, seers, or whatever, these people are the ones who become the leaders, influencers, creators, innovators, revolutionaries, and heroes of tomorrow. Do you know anyone like that? What do you admire about them? What have you learned from them?
3. “I got em and I ain’t give a f*ck, that same mentality had told my brother not to duck.”
Have you ever caught yourself doing something that you know ended badly for someone else, and realize that you’re stuck in the same cycle as someone you pitied before? What are some places in your life that you know need to change so that you don’t end up in a place you’ll regret later?
4. “And I love you cause you loved my brother like you did”
When it comes down to the wire, all people care about is whether you care about them. Beyond Kendrick’s idealism, personality, accomplishments, flaws, any disagreements he had with him, and whatever else, what moved this young man more than anything was the fact that in his brother’s last moments, Kendrick demonstrated a genuine love for him. Christians could stand to learn that even with all of our viewpoints and beliefs, we’d get a lot more respect if people genuinely believed we loved others.
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” — Jesus
5. “Just put her on blast and sh*t, judging her past and sh*t, well it’s completely my future.”
I think that the difference between this segment of the story and the first one, is that the characters who were involved in this one didn’t feel like Kendrick cared for them. As listeners, we know that his heart was the same for both parties, but this line reminds of how much of our culture views the church.
6. “A doctor’s approval is a waste of time, I know I’m straight, I’ll probably live longer than you and never fade away, I’ll never fade away, I’ll never fade away.”
She says right before she begins to fade… I’ve seen this happen so many times in reality, and every time I hear it, I have to ask myself if there are any places in my life where I’m doing the same thing. That’s not the way I want to leave this world…
7. “Fight for your rights, even when you’re wrong.”
So many times we are afraid to make mistakes and let the people around us make them, but when it comes down to it, we all have to. We all have the right to be wrong, make mistakes, behave foolishly, and learn the way we need to. God gave Adam and Eve permission to choose freely in the garden, and though it has cost us all a lot of pain and suffering, he thought it was somehow worth all of the damage. Do your best not to forget that, and always do well to learn well from the times you do slip up.
8. “Am I worth it? Did I put enough work in?”
Somewhere deep in me, I’m always asking these questions. This always hits me hard because it shows me just how much I’m like Kendrick, even though we’re completely different. We all want to matter. What is it that makes you feel like you matter?
9. “It’s hard to channel your energy when you know you crooked”
Don’t we all know this? There are so many things in my life that I just can’t seem to change even though I know I’m wrong. I’m learning day after day that the only way anything in me changes is that God changes me. I just can’t change myself. I can behave better, sure, but even if I do, I’m still the same person. Jesus changes my desires, and that’s the only way I’ve ever been able to change.
10. “Choirs is humming, tell us to visit, we lying about coming”
In my experience inviting people anywhere, especially to church, they won’t immediately come, even if they say yes. That’s just the way that people work. I’ve learned not to hold this against people, I do the same thing. Keep on inviting them and don’t be discouraged. (don’t be too pushy either!)
11. “Money, p*ssy and greed is my next crave. Whatever it is, know it’s my next grave.”
We always seem to want the things that are bad for us more than we want the things that are beneficial. How can we change that? Same answer as before: we need God to…
12. “See, you young men are dying of thirst, do you know what that means? That means you need water, holy water. You need to be baptized by the Spirit of the LORD.”
A little different from how I would’ve phrased it, but still true. Somehow, even though we have almost countless things on Earth to experience and fulfill us, none of them do for long. It’s a daily struggle to find any kind of real contentment for the figurative thirst we all feel. C.S. Lewis famously said that,
“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”
This world has never been enough, and will never be enough to make us happy, only God is because He made us for Himself. The source of everything that is good wants to share His infinite goodness with us, are you willing to stop looking elsewhere and take him up on his offer?
Kendrick is obviously a brilliant writer and storyteller, but he’s obviously still searching for something the same way that all of us are. I hope that his experiences help you to see a little deeper into yourself and into what we all need.