While he’s known for his clever turns of phrase, astonishing flow, and sharp lyricism, Kendrick Lamar is above all else a storyteller. On good kid, m.A.A.d city, he created a semi-biographical concept album about growing up in Compton. Then on his 11-time Grammy-nominated followup, To Pimp a Butterfly, he expanded on those themes to connect with deeper race issues throughout our country. Through his music, he’s put Compton—a microcosm of the gang violence that terrorizes cities across the U.S.—back under the microscope. Lamar’s art even helped inspire Dr. Dre, another legendary Compton rapper, to emerge from retirement to make an album dedicated to the city. It’s hard to say what—if any—tangible benefits his music has had on the city, but there’s absolutely no denying that Lamar has become a hero for many who live there.
“There’s a lot of kids that grew up the way I did that feel like there’s no way out,” Lamar told Essence in June. “We don’t get a lot of celebrities or whatnot to come to the city and actually put they hand back in the city and say, ‘You can do it, too.’ I feel like it’s only right that I champion them, let them know I’ll always be behind them. Let them know I know the sacrifices and the struggles they go through and give ’em some type of inspiration.”
Now, the city is recognizing Lamar’s contributions to the community. Aja Brown, the mayor of Compton, tweeted today that she’ll be giving Lamar the key to the city.
From here, he’s off to (hopefully) sweep the Grammys.
by Matt Miller