How Kendrick Lamar’s Family Continues To Shape His Musical Progression On ‘DAMN.’

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“Some times I wanna say f*ck rappin’ / I need money now, should I start trappin’? / If what I write down / Don’t collect this very moment then I’m on it, no question” — Kendrick Lamar, “R.O.T.C.”

As DAMN., Kendrick Lamar’s latest and most direct audio sample comes to a close, the idea of family once more stands out. “Duckworth.” is a whirling dervish of an album finale, a conversation about fate and divinity between two men who’ve become father figures to Lamar. There’s Top Dawg, the label boss who helped him tell his story with the same steely glances as a ‘90s Suge Knight save for the violence and eye-sore red suits. Then there’s Kenny Duckworth, the Chicago dad turned Compton resident who only attempted to steer Kendrick down a path that would ultimately keep him safe from the streets.

Naturally, the streets and Lamar’s salvation decided to meet in the middle. Lamar’s biggest gift as a rapper isn’t his voice; a nasally instrument that tweaks itself ever so often. Rather, his biggest strength is his storytelling, his overthinking, as if no plot point need be left open. As he argued in his interview with Zane Lowe before his Coachella headlining set, Lamar believes that DAMN. is about the centering of himself, the next step after he wanted to save the whole world on To Pimp A Butterfly. Whether he realizes it or not, his family has been attempting to center him ever since he started recording music.

“What is my purpose?” — Kendrick Lamar to God, 2009

Paula and Kenny Duckworth are the most direct influences to Lamar’s music. Listen from the beginning of 2009’s Kendrick Lamar EP and the idea begins to build from there. Here was Kendrick, still rapping with a lower registered rasp believing he could be king of the world. The only grounding he would ever get didn’t come from his friends at Centennial High School in Compton or by watching Aaron Affalo make it pro. Instead, it came drilled down from Kenny, affectionately known as Ducky and Paula. He dreamed big on “Wanna Be Heard” rapping, “I used to wanna rap like Jay Z until I finally realized that Jay wasn’t me.”

Being Jay Z was bigger than being the son of Ducky, in his eyes. Kendrick would later admit to mimicking flows and adlibs from the Brooklyn emcee, though the two wouldn’t cross paths for another four years. While Kendrick held ideals for how his rap career would go, Ducky saw different. Even if Paula was adamant in watching her son’s dream go sky high, Ducky was hesitant as most fathers are. Kendrick and his mom’s van have been intertwined for years, the first vehicle to lead him to the high of chasing success. “Even though she know her tank is empty, that’s who I do it for,” he rapped on “Wanna Be Heard”. Yet in the very next stanza, he juxtaposes his mother’s dreams with his father’s curiosity and penchant for comparison.