By: Jequcory Davis, Contributing Writer (@groovycory)
Kendrick Lamar never fails to draw us in politically with his lyrical social commentary, and his last album DAMN. was no exception. There are a number of gems to unpack and take a lot from including “XXX.” (police brutality), “FEEL.” (Who’s praying for Kendrick Lamar) and “YAH.” (religion). But the most important song on the album is not one of the three songs above — it’s “FEAR.”
In four verses, “FEAR.” unpacks important topics in the black community without sounding preachy, unrelatable or boring. It’s timeless — “FEAR.” is a song that transcends our current political climate: It could just as easily be played at the height of Jim Crow and still be relevant. In the song, Lamar uses himself as a muse, detailing terrors that he experienced three times in his life–at ages 7, 17 and 27 respectively.
Lamar has said that “FEAR.” contains the best verses he’s ever written, and it’s hard to disagree with that sentiment after reflecting on the lyrics.
“Why God, why God do I gotta suffer? Pain in my heart carry burdens full of struggle. Why God, why God do I gotta bleed? Every stone thrown at you resting at my feet.”
These bars are forth telling of Lamar setting up to dig deep in this seven-and-a-half minute long song. “Why God, why God do I gotta suffer” sets the tone for what is to come.
It’s a daily question the black man in America has to ask himself. Whether it’s the weariness that comes from repeatedly seeing unarmed black people get shot or the discouragement of being denied for a job that one is clearly qualified for, there’s always a looming heaviness that comes with being a black man in this country.
The first verse is important. It details the relationship of young Kendrick and his mother. Any young black man can resonate with the things Kendrick details in this verse. “I beat yo ass keep talking back” equates to anytime a child says something back to his/her mother after she makes a definitive statement scolding her child. “I beat yo ass who bought you that” means “I didn’t buy it, you can’t afford it, where did you get that from?”
“With tears in your eyes, runnin’ from Poo Poo and Prentice, go back outside I beat yo ass little nigga” equates to “if you lost that fight don’t come back in here with your head down or I’m beating your ass. Go back outside and avenge that loss.”
“I beat yo ass, you know my patience runnin’ thin, I got buku payments to make, county building on my ass, tryna take my food stamps away” highlights a sad reality many black mothers live in. They’re stressed out from seemingly having to carry the world on their shoulders every day and trying to make ends meet, the stress of which can impact their relationship with their children.
Kendrick ends that verse by saying “Seven years old think you run this house by yourself? Nigga you gon fear me if you don’t fear no one else.” The fear that a mother can instill in a child that young is important. The mother is showing that the world can be cold, even at the hands of those you love. She’s teaching her son how to be strong when she tells him to go back outside and not to steal because if he gets caught, the harshness of the criminal justice system will be upon him.
In this verse, Kendrick shows us how strong the black woman is. The young Kendrick was often fearless, but his mother recognizes that fear is necessary for survival; she wants to mold him into a strong black man if the evils of the world don’t take him down.
If you’ve never heard “Die” by Beanie Sigel, go ahead and listen to it because it’ll help you understand Kendrick’s second verse a little better. It’s a verse rooted in the many ways Kendrick Lamar could have died at 17 years old. The reality is all of them are possible fates for a young black man.
“I’ll prolly die anonymous, I’ll prolly die with promises” translates to “I’ll probably die and be forgotten. I’ll probably die with a world of opportunity in front of me, none of which I was able to fulfill because I died so young.” Sad realities, but both are real problems growing up as a young black man surrounded by poverty and violence.
There’s not enough time to digest one death before the next one happens. He ends the verse by saying, “I’ll probably die cause that’s what you do when you’re 17,” and that’s the perfect way to drive the point of that verse home. So many young blacks die young and some feel that’s just what you do cause that’s all they’ve seen in their young lives.
In the last verses, Kendrick grapples with the concept of fear–fear of losing everything he’s sought after and obtained, fear of going back to struggling even though he’s made it so big and fear of not being creative anymore. What you can really find in these last verses is a fear that those who fought for our freedom had to deal with so many years ago: fear of losing humility and fear that this world is wicked.
He harps on police brutality and the fear of dying young as both problems that existed in ‘68 that still exist today. “FEAR.” might seem like a creative, thought-provoking record, but I think it’s more than that. It explains things within the black community that we sometimes struggle to articulate while creating an avenue for solidarity because of its relatable narrative.