Kendrick Lamar, good kid, m.A.A.d. city & The Hip-Hop Bildungsroman

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Eóin Ó Donnghaile and Sean Mac Cionaoith, co-founders of Nothing But Good Vibes (with a link to website). You can follow them through the links in this bio.

I wouldn’t write, and I didn’t care what happened next. It was June 2012, just another day in my English classroom spent in an endless reverie, staring down at the ugly jail of my scrawled handwriting from which beauty tried to escape. I was becoming more and more introverted, less and less willing to divulge inspiration. If you were to die tomorrow and I handed you a pen today, how would you write your obituary? What would you want it to say? If you asked me this five years ago you’d have been met with a blank stare and a few thoughtful, slow blinks that led precisely nowhere. Because I didn’t fucking know. Maybe I’d have offered you some empty platitudes, sentiments overheard in the graveyards of false idols, the people I was meant to aspire to but was never really inspired by. I had not yet come of age, young in body and younger still in spirit. What I did have, though, was a penchant for brilliance, a love of creative writing that would manifest itself every so often when my English teacher would goad me by hyperbolising the poetic achievements of my classmates. Excuse my hubris. She knew how I worked, lazy to the core and that I would only write when I felt I had something to prove. At the time, my mentality was akin to Genghis Khan’s: “It is not enough that I succeed. All others must fail.” Where this toxic mantra came from I don’t know, but the tornado of anger and passion swirling through me was beginning to lose its potency. Anger can be a useful fuel, but it is no infinite well, and all my inspiration was beginning to run dry. When I don’t write, a reservoir of passion overflows and floods the wired circuit of my brain, a natural trip of electrifyingly alchemical energy that’s just as likely to shut me down as turn every minus positive. At 17, my metaphysical intrigue was submerged by the humdrum scourge of routine. Reaching down into the dust of my soul, all I could find was apathy. Like Kendrick, I too was dying of spiritual thirst. George Carlin said it best: “inside every cynical person, there is a disappointed idealist.” He was right. My default disposition of a dreamer was beginning to dissipate with disastrous timing, with A-Levels round the corner and a place in my chosen- can you ever really decide anything at that age?- Law course at stake.

It’s nothing to be proud of, but if I told anyone how little work I done in my A-Level years they wouldn’t believe me. My rapidly deteriorating effort levels had not gone unnoticed. Just one week prior I had been kicked out of my A-Level Religion class for good, banished to the study for the rest of my most critical year in education. My crime was simple. Engaged in one of my customary, meandering inner monologues delivered to the visual backdrop of a window-pane, my Religion teacher attempted to engage me in the class, to which I responded with that blank stare, those thoughtful, slow blinks that led to precisely nowhere as I attempted to reclaim the lost fragments of whatever noise she just made. Something about St Patrick… Nothing. “Sorry, what was the question?” Her face turned to molten lava: “GET OUT!” I couldn’t believe my ears. It was a minor indiscretion, but the final straw in what was a steady incline to Not Giving A Fuck Mountain. It was a familiar conversation, but I’ll never forget that private meeting, seeing her cry uncontrollably as she asked me what was wrong, why I wouldn’t work. It was a question I couldn’t answer. A nameless malaise had consumed me to the point I didn’t realise it was there. My guilt was palpable whilst insufficient to alter my inaction. Back in that English classroom one week later I was again prompted to look in the mirror and face up to the prospect of wasted ambition. The only one I had never disappointed, my English teacher Mrs O’Donnell, held me back after class, looked me right in the eye and delivered the fatal blow to my ego: “Eoin, I’m worried about you. I’m worried you’re going to fail.” She told me that, owing to my talent, if I achieved anything less than an A* I’d have failed. Hubris prevented me from ever countenancing the possibility, but it was three days before I’d be examined on Jane Eyre and I didn’t even know how the book ended let alone have a rounded critical perspective and list of learned quotes at my disposal. I didn’t deserve it, but somehow I managed to get an A in both Religion and English; my place at university was secured.

So what has any of this got to do with Kendrick Lamar? Before I had hip-hop rhyme saviours to worship my life as a teenager was characterised by an ongoing duel between self-belief and a crippling sense of resignation. Deep down, I felt possessed by a rare talent, but with each passing year came more excuses, more external influences to blame for my failure to change. Was my confidence misplaced? Was my ability self-delusion? Truthfully, I could never fully believe I could succeed at anything because I never knew anyone that was successful. The greatest achievement you can manage where I come from is having a nice car. At 17, Jane Eyre was the first time I had heard the term ‘bildungsroman’, a German literary genre meaning ‘to come of age.’ What I encountered in Charlotte Brontë’s novel was a Victorian England inculcated in sexual antipathy, formalistic prose as alien to my experience as a Hugh Grant movie without any of the fervour, glitz or thematic depth that made me fall in love with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby a year prior. Cover your ears literature nerds: coming-of-age had never seemed so boring. To me, coming-of-age was a bunch of wildly different teenagers realising they had more in common than outward appearances suggested (The Breakfast Club), Ferris Bueller embracing the fleeting joie de vivre of adolescence, the gifted but wayward Will Hunting overcoming his past through the eyes of a girl who’s still around the morning after; coming-of-age was Robin Williams’ poetic wisdom invoking the raw, human passions of a classroom of insipid young men (Dead Poets Society), Evan and Seth gaining the affections of their dream girls (Superbad), and last, but not least, coming-of-age was Ice Cube’s seminal acting debut, Boyz n the Hood. It is both indicative and damning of the cyclical nature of life that the same narrative that immortalised Compton’s original ‘Best Rapper Alive’ in cinema laid the foundations of Kendrick’s major label debut, good kid, m.A.A.d. city over twenty years later, but the travails of life in the ghetto are more than just a plot device. People die young and often, entire families are decimated by drug addictions, and basketballs and notepads transform gangsters to Gods.

“They don’t make them like this anymore.” Walk into any bar in any city in the world and you’re virtually guaranteed to hear this sentiment when a classic song lights up the jukebox. Nostalgia’s one helluva drug! The graveside of culture welcomes hundreds of millions of people every day, hundreds of millions of people sorrowfully placing flowers bequeathed with the placard: “MUSIC IS DEAD”. The condom was the glass slipper of the last generation and the virtual reality headset may well be the glass slipper of the next. The Information Age is a disposable culture where its inhabitants perpetually skip from text to meme to trending TV show to Instagram to Snapchat to left-and-right swipes, a never-ending sugar-rush in cyberspace where each hit feeds the craving for more. We consume everything but ponder nothing, overdosing on so much viscera that it’s lost its potency. I’m no different. I’m always on the hunt for the next album, the next movie, the next writer that tugs my heartstrings. Rampant consumerism runs amok and it’s increasingly difficult to find something real. As access and improvements to technology has made making music easier, thus cutting out the middle man between artist and consumer, musical compositions have become more rudimentary, all window-dressing without a great product. The monochromatic hues that colour modern-day pop music aren’t worth the cover of a book never mind a place on your shelf. It’s this onslaught of randomness that’s culminated in a cultural apocalypse. With so much more channels to choose from, we have so much less to unify us. The mainstream culture is at a more palpable discord with reality than ever. Music today is an industry so broken by failure to adapt to streaming it constantly tries to rectify itself to no avail. Modern-day superheroes can only stand idly atop burning skyscrapers, cape blowing in the wind waiting for someone to notice. So thank God for Kendrick Lamar, rap’s Mewtwo in a stadium full of discombobulating Psyducks, both man of the moment as well as throwback to a time when the album was the litmus test of popular artistry rather than a solitary spot in a popular playlist.

“Will you let hip-hop die on October 22nd?” These are the final words Kendrick rapped before the release of his major label debut just four months after that Jane Eyre exam, a statement of intent on what was to come fused with a sobbed delivery that hinted at the hardship behind the passion and the magnitude of the stakes for hip-hop culture at large. Officially the most popular musical genre on the planet as of 2017, it is easy to forget that prior to October 22nd 2012 hip-hop was in the midst of its own Dark Ages. Sans Kanye West’s magnum opus in My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, the early 2010’s marked a transitionary period where Drake’s emergence shifted the emphasis from meaningful lyrics to catchy RnB melodies, legends past their prime (Lil Wayne, Jay-Z, Eminem, Lupe Fiasco) failed to recapture former glories and newcomers cowered like vampires in the spotlight. In hip-hop, flattery is a deception that fools nobody worth impressing. Fads die quicker than hairdo junkies, only the sculptors of immortal poetry will have statues built. Lamar’s bronze-cast rhymes would soon end the famine.

Hype was high in October 2012 for a reason. Eight years after signing to newly-founded indie label Top Dawg Entertainment and six mixtapes deep, Kendrick finally released his debut album Section.80 in July 2011. Long before Louis Theroux was making documentaries about the opiates crisis that President Trump has labelled a national emergency the ever-clairvoyant Kendrick was assuming his now familiar position as sly observer in the shadows of hedonistic mayhem, assuming leadership to warn us of the perils of apathy amidst destruction. ‘A.D.H.D.’ was the first Kendrick Lamar song I heard, a song I stumbled across when searching for answers for my inability to retain attention in class. Before then, I was no more a fan of rap music than any other average teenager who lived amidst Irish hills. As always, it was art that defined the times. At last I found my generational voice speaking to and for me, succour in human form reaching down to the pit of the zeitgeist and pulling me clear. I’ve been intoxicated by his voice ever since:

“I’m in the house party, trippin’ off

My generation sippin’ cough syrup like it’s water

Never no pancakes in the kitchen

Man, not one of our lives is caught up

In the daily superstition that the world is ’bout to end

Who gives a fuck? We never do listen

‘Less it comes with a 808 (A melody and some hoes)

Playstation and some drank (Technology bought my soul)”

This was a moment in The Matrix. Based off internet buzz alone, the tearful 5 foot 6 giant was anointed King of The West Coast by none other than Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre and The Game just one month later. It was a moment that becomes more and more iconic as Kendrick’s name becomes more and more synonymous with the 2Pac’s, the Biggies, the Eminem’s, the Andre 3000’s and the Nas’s of hip-hop history. Sure, Section.80 had amassed a wave of critical acclaim and was rapidly gaining notoriety in hip-hop circles, yet its peak position of 113 on the Billboard album chart crystallised the obvious: good kid, m.A.A.d. city was make-or-break. However, long before Kendrick established himself as the funkiest of homosapiens on To Pimp A Butterfly– my favourite Kendrick album- and became the highest-selling artist on the planet in 2017 with DAMN, his musical foundations were planted firmly in the yellow-blue hues of the sun-soaked California mesosphere, with each synthesiser coloured deeper by intimate storytelling details that situate Kendrick’s newfound sagacity at the epicentre of each song. Great rappers grab the brass ring and legends create a crown all on their own.

In a nutshell, good kid, m.A.A.d. city is a tale of biblical proportions, a certified classicjourney through the psyche of a thoughtful seventeen year old from Compton coming to terms with his adverse surroundings, navigating his way through vice entrenched in his environment for generations and slowly assuming spiritual leadership of millennial black youths. The acronym is bipartite: my Angry Adolescence divided, and my Angels on Angel dust, an allusion to Kendrick’s personal metamorphosis after a smoke sesh gone wrong as well as an illustration of the ongoing drug battles of his friends: “That was me and it’s the reason why I don’t smoke. It was just me getting my hands on the wrong thing at the wrong time and being oblivious to it.” Without succumbing to any of the shallow trends that are en vogue in rap music, Kendrick has become the biggest rapper on the planet. His lens inspects the moral ills of the world with the same forensic detail that he applies to his own failings. With a non-chronological narrative structure straight out of a Quentin Tarantino movie- Kendrick said as much himself– and poetic punches that build to an emotional payoff that would turn the Annual Misanthrope Convention into a room of blubbering wrecks (‘Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst’), it is fitting that the album was subtitled ‘A Short Film by Kendrick Lamar’. In the thousands of albums I’ve listened to, never have I heard one with imagery, production and storytelling so ripe for the big-screen experience. This shit is enjoyed best with popcorn. Maybe one day I’ll write the screenplay myself. How do you maintain virtue in the backyard of vice? How do you preach peace in the crosshairs of war? Where do you find God in a room full of devils? If you know you can fly, why do you fall? These are the questions posed by good kid, m.A.A.d. city, and they are answered with aplomb.

As far as album openers go, ‘Sherane A.K.A Master Splinter’s Daughter’ is one of the all-time greats. As far as songs about losing your virginity go it’s even better. Give this a look though. The sound of the tape-deck that commences GKMC arouses instant feelings of nostalgia. There was no love like sliding a Toy Story VHS in for the 1000th time.

“The summer had passed, and now I’m likin’ her

Conversation we havin’ probably enticin’ her

Who could imagine? Maybe my actions will end up wifin’ her

Love or lust, regardless we’ll fuck, ‘cause the trife in us

It’s deep-rooted, the music of being young and dumb

Is never muted; in fact, it’s much louder where I’m from”

‘Sherane’ is peak storytelling. Every time I hear it I feel like I’m riding shotgun, rooting for Kendrick all the way on his noble quest for a smash ‘n’ dash. The Lord’s Prayer, eerie backing vocals and sensual yet ominous beat forebode trouble that seems to contradict the lustful story he weaves, until that ending… Kendrick has a habit of changing your entire perspective on a track with a final line (‘These Walls’, ‘The Blacker The Berry’, ‘Duckworth’, ‘Untitled 01’).

Operating as a flash-forward, the story does not pick up from ‘Sherane’ until track 7. In between, Kendrick zones in on avarice, quintessential rap braggadocio, hood politics and the most precarious of peer pressure. Much like The Wire exposes how every institution is compromised by its own aims, which are often counter-productive to society at large, Kendrick exemplifies how every individual is an institution onto itself, a hardwired dogma of patterned self-rule manifesting as an illusion of free will. How many other albums could be taught on a college curriculum? Kendrick’s chiaroscuro verses are not just reminders of the poetic potential of the ghetto gospel, but serve as cautionary tales that expose the lines between vice and virtue, leader and follower, saved and lost as just as thin as the margins on passion-splattered pages of angry adolescents trying to chart a path to prosperity.

With hindsight, the achievement of good kid, m.A.A.d. city is even more remarkable. “Everybody serenade the new faith of Kendrick Lamar” was a victory lap fit for the ovation it earned, but it is in the intermittent years that Kendrick’s actions on behalf of his community have adorned it with real gravitas. Kendrick’s embrace of sobriety, modest lifestyle, philanthropic endeavours and monogamous commitment to his high-school sweetheart are borderline novel concepts in the land of the rich and famous writ large, but are all the more awe-inspiringly subversive in a culture that habitually indulges and rewards displays of opulence with more blank cheques. The dichotomy of Kendrick Lamar is eminently relatable. Like you and me, he’s all too aware of his flaws, haunted by his mistakes but emboldened by an insatiable hunger to make amends, lost and dangling from the stalactites of doubt but indomitable in his resolve to find a way out. Whether he’s robbing reverends (‘Money Trees’), getting jumped on the way home from bible study (‘good kid’) or cradling a dead friend in his arms (‘Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst’), you feel exactly like him. Songs like ‘Backseat Freestyle’ and ‘Swimming Pools (Drank)’ are signposts to the untaken path, reminders of just how easy Kendrick could have exploited his talent for commercial gain, luxuriating in the opiates of fame with a middle finger firmly propped up to the same city where he witnessed his first murder aged five. In a city full of Banes and Jokers and without a Robin’s assistance, Kendrick came out Batman. Onward he marches, plunging his hands into the filth so the rest of us can keep ours clean, erstwhile he is nakedly exposed, shackled and victimised by the very same moral hypocrisies he pinpoints as the downfall of mankind. Forthcoming with advice he may be, but the self-righteous veil of superiority never comes close to hanging from Kendrick’s dreadlocks.

Eschewing the Holy Trinity of Money, Drugs and Bitches so synonymous with hip-hop- and unfairly so-, Kendrick takes the genre to new thematic heights without sacrificing the beguilingly alluring West Coast hard edge. Don’t be fooled by the abrasive delivery. Kendrick is a carnivore with the mic but a prophet with the pen. Beneath the veneer of profanity lies the proselytising poetry of Messiahs masquerading as pariahs. ‘Swimming Pools (Drank)’ is an anti-alcohol morality tale in disguise, serving up the homemade dish of the taste of failure as a club anthem. The hypnotising beat and entrancing tête-à-tête between Kendrick and the perspective of his own conscience leading him astray replicates the allure of temptation that leads Kendrick to sin. I guess that’s why we all down shots at the bar every time it booms from the club speakers. Even the most juvenile and formulaic of song concepts (‘Backseat Freestyle’) is afforded thematic depth by a painted stroke of narrative genius. With the album delivered from the perspective of his 17 year old self, Kendrick is able to exhibit his most obnoxiously boisterous persona with all of the vicarious sense of fun that accompanies hip-hop’s archetypal lifestyle, nonetheless all moral responsibility and external admonishment is abdicated via story progression. Like dipping your feet at the sinning spa only to cannonball into a Jacuzzi full of ambrosia, each example of typically asinine rap braggadocio is directly counterpointed by tragedy, failure and self-flagellation. The point is simple and the execution brilliant: one wrong turn can alter your life forever. Frivolous freestyles about money, power and fucking the world for three days straight with a dick as big as the Eiffel Tower is only great fun until you’re being chased by police (‘The Art of Peer Pressure’). Cause and effect is Kendrick’s secret tonic. Synergy entwines dreams of living life like rappers do (‘Money Trees’) with the nightmare of reality in Compton.

Hip-hop at its very best is to me the translation of the greatest pain into the greatest wisdom needed to navigate the path to the greatest joy, and not many albums have done that better than good kid, m.A.A.d. city. This is where the utopian vision and the barbaric reality converge. Encapsulating this best of all is ‘m.A.A.d. city’, a juggernaut of a record and perhaps the greatest Kendrick song to date, with subject matter and lyrical bombs as gargantuan as the monstrous instrumentation they accompany. On ‘m.A.A.d. city’, the malleability of Kendrick’s rambunctious flow and fluid cadence is commensurate with the detail of his tightly woven narrative, a perfect harmony of chaotic order that replicates his surroundings. Kendrick exposes the long-standing origins of gangland animosity where a cousin slain over a decade prior can sow the seeds for future violent conflicts. Verse one is the flow that woke Uma Thurman’s Bride from her coma. Its outro is an aural strobe light where each flash is greeted by the intermittent faces of gods and devils as Kendrick questions:

“If I told you I killed a nigga at sixteen, would you believe me?

Or see me to be innocent Kendrick you seen in the street

With a basketball and some Now and Laters to eat?

If I mentioned all of my skeletons, would you jump in the seat?

Would you say my intelligence now is great relief?

And it’s safe to say that our next generation maybe can sleep

With dreams of bein’ a lawyer or doctor

Instead of boy with a chopper that hold the cul-de-sac hostage

Kill ’em all if they gossip

The Children of the Corn, they vandalizin’ the option

Of livin’ a lie, drown their body with toxins

Constantly drinkin’ and drive

Hit the powder, then watch this flame that arrive in his eye

Listen, coward, the concept is aim and then bang it and slide

Out that bitch with deposit, a price on his head, the tithes

Probably go to the projects, I

Live inside the belly of the rough,

Compton, USA Made Me an Angel on Angel Dust”

Propulsive storytelling rhythm keeps GKMC just as enthralling on its thousandth listen as its first. The true test of a work of art is not in its capacity to command attention at the moment of conception, but in its ability to retain relevance and inspire continued conversation in the years following. Taken on its own is one thing, but listened to with familiar understanding of the classic albums that preceded it is to come face-to-face with an esper. It’s as if Lamar has been cryogenically frozen for 25 years with nothing but hip-hop record after hip-hop record to accompany him. The compassion of 2Pac is there, the street hijinks of Nas, the pathos of Scarface, the ferocious multi-syllabic bars of Eminem. Rap is in his DNA, a paranormal energy just waiting to be translated into auditory magic. Throughout, Kendrick raps in cognisant pursuit of the elusive promise of immortality with 12 songs iridescently aimed at expounding the full magnitude of living. On first listen these are songs to bob your head to, upon many more these are dense philosophies to be picked apart and applied to experience. Perpetually cascading tension from booty call gone wrong to car chase to confrontations with the red-and-blue of the LAPD, Crips & Bloods culminates on ‘Sing About Me’ in epic fashion. It takes ambition to attempt a record spanning 12 minutes, but it is the execution that lodges this song deep in the recesses of the seat of the soul. Emotional depth is stitched into every thread of this outstanding rap tapestry. With 1668 words of lyrical information, this rap dissertation is an immortal piece of songwriting that will arouse the most spine-tingling of human emotion in 500 years as much as it did five years ago. Traversing twin narratives in the third-person, Kendrick’s torrential outpour of grief captures the perspectives of two ghosts lost to the prototypical ghetto lifestyle speaking their demise into existence. Their stories live on through Kendrick, who relays his own passion for breaking the cycle by creating a positive legacy in the third verse over heavenly strings:

“Look at the weak and cry

Pray one day you’ll be strong

Fighting for your rights even when you’re wrong

And hope at least one of you sing about me when I’m gone

Am I worth it?

Did I put enough work in?

Promise that you will sing about me”

Of all the lyrics on GKMC, nothing hits me harder. Then as now, to the most indelible degree I am inflicted with an obsession with creating something that outlasts me. There is no cheque or possession you could offer me that could vanquish this desire. My iPhone notes are littered with hundreds of ideas, some half-baked and some more fully realised. Provided that I didn’t come back from Vegas rigamortisised in a box, the second thing I’d do with a lottery jackpot is set up my own publishing company, bask in the sunshine with a notepad and get down to work. When GKMC was released, all faith in myself was gone. All I could think about was where I was going wrong. Even now, I sometimes begin to feel like Wile E. Coyote, the self-described genius watching slow Road Runners pass by me in the race to success. Wasted potential is the story of my life. It is the greatest curse of my existence that I’m utterly incapable of devoting even a tiny proportion of my mental faculties to anything that doesn’t appeal to me emotionally. I can relate to Kendrick. When I was 17 I had never even been on a plane yet I was naive enough to think that I knew everything there was to know. Encountering his music was an emotional sucker punch that still has me on the ropes wondering how to fight back against the stasis-inducing behemoth of Life. Casting light with words is my first wild swing in the dark. In a narcissistic generation often concerned mostly with how we appear to others, Kendrick is the antidote we can all bask in, a beacon of purity imploring us to look in the mirror and come to terms with our flaws beneath the filters. In interviews, the way Kendrick speaks about putting words together, his unbridled passion to be the best and his sense of responsibility to his fans is infectious. I’ll never have that level of influence or success, but with such enthusiasm for his craft and an apex of curiosity and empathy, I can’t help but be inspired to make my vocabulary my vocation. It is a way for me to reclaim the true complexity of myself that I feel has been robbed of me by the rules of the world and my own inability to alter my pattern of actions, crayons outside the lines that have only ever coloured me in simple shapes. Every time I hear Kendrick rap, a 5 foot 6 beast is awoken from his slumber and a pen kicks off the dust. His words, through written on pages, are more like the trees that birthed them, fortifying me in moments of adversity, absorbing the light of nature and redistributing it as the fruits of knowledge. They built a platform for me to stand and provided me materials to build myself up from. My love of the world was fortified as was, for the first time, my love of myself.

“I will spark the brain that will change the world”, once said Tupac Shakur. Years later, he came to Kendrick in a dream with a simple but powerful message: “Don’t let my music die.” Lord knows we’re in need of a hero. Nuclear weapons, Islamic extremism, clashes of ideologies, mental health pandemics, postmodernist nihilism, globally polarised politics, virtual reality, neo-Nazi resurgence, environmental crises… the list goes on and it is terrifying. Evidently, 2017 is a scary time to live, but we will always have music to unify us. Optimism is difficult to retain in a world of pain, but if you can cradle a friend killed by your enemies and still preach peace, then who the Hell am I to do any different? Kendrick constantly instils in me the invaluable knowledge that though adverse experience can influence distressing thoughts; actions are ultimately the exclusive domain of mine and mine only. In lieu of action, even the greatest self-realisations are no more than Pyrrhic victories. The great poet James Baldwin once said that “people are trapped in history and history is trapped in them.” The past is undoubtedly a chain that holds our expression as slaves, an umbilical cord which only you can sever. The screams of our ancestors need only haunt our dreams if we allow them to. If Kendrick can give perseverance to be a better person to a lazy reprobate like me, he can do it for anyone. Just as in that Religion class, my wandering mind is sure to seal my demise in the working world, but my lack of concentration is my knack for imagination. I’m on the ground floor in a profession with a ceiling higher than Snoop Dogg on 4/20, but the more I feel the walls compress my expression, the less I feel this is the ladder I should be climbing. I can be better. I can do better. I am better. I’m a writer, first and foremost.

However, other than losing creativity, my biggest fear is expressing myself. It is only in the working world when I was deprived of the medium of writing that I realised that to be defeated by either is to conquer neither. Fear has trapped the treasure of my talent inside the chest of my invisibly thumping heart. If I don’t write, every passion inside of me will die, and their ghosts will haunt me like tragic, empty promises of everything I could’ve been. Anybody who knows me knows how much I connect to Kendrick Lamar, but how many know why? Every time I listen to GKMC, the finely-tuned orchestra of the melody of my emotion and the rhythm of my intellect combine to a crescendo, 86 billion neurons sparked into frenzy by one perfect frequency. Its integrity is irresistible, its artistry undeniable. This is hip-hop with an e at the end, a destiny-affirming, perception-altering urban document that gives hope to any ordinary person in a hopeless place that ever longed to devote their life to inspiring or helping others. Surely it says something about the fundamental nature of my character that at 17 the only reason I applied to study Law was because I was discouraged from becoming a writer by dreamkillers with ‘Career Adviser’ nametags, prompted to explore Law as a career option after I won an essay competition adjudicated by Northern Ireland’s Attorney-General, and now here I am six years later, Law degree obtained but still irrevocably drawn by the compulsion to write. Ironically, though written months before GKMC, it too was an exploration of the human impetus to obey trends and the consequential cyclical practice of crime. Writing is the rapprochement between my spirit and my surroundings, the one process by which I can communicate the incommunicable, excommunicate the festering embryos of demons and assert my magnificence at the brow of God. It is by language humans conquered the world, and it is by language I’ll conquer myself. I’ll build my own pyramids, write my own hieroglyphs. Paradoxically, as carefully considered as these words are, reading them will not imbue you with the euphoric transcendence that the most powerfully honest music can. The best and only thing my words can really achieve is intrigue you enough to click this Spotify link, pop your headphones on and plug your mind into the essence of greatness. I myself have not yet come of age, but I’m on that road. Back to that obituary- what would I want it to say? Like James Baldwin, I want to be remembered as a good writer and an honest man. That’s all.

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mckenna1994

Eóin Ó Donnghaile and Sean Mac Cionaoith, co-founders of Nothing But Good Vibes (with a link to website). You can follow them through the links in this bio.

Kendrick Lamar, good kid,…

by mckenna1994 time to read: 22 min
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