Kendrick Lamar - DAMN.
i. Kendrick stands on a street corner waiting for the light to change. A butterfly flutters by and catches the corner of his vision. He turns to see a woman, a blind woman, walking back and forth on the sidewalk across the street. His impulse, after observing her situation, is to lend a helping hand. An encounter with a homeless man with a semi-tan complexion crosses through his mind as he asks how he can be of assistance. The woman smiles.
Oh yes, you have lost something. You’ve lost…
Your life. A shot is fired that echoes through Los Angeles and everything freezes. The sky tears open as the concrete ground strips away and arms of winged wicked things clasp to legs and arms and stomach and face and cock and tongue, tearing into flesh and nearly splitting his body into two. Is this how it happens? Kendrick thinks as a beam shines down. Was it wickedness or weakness that brought upon this judgment? And why now? But no time for questions: His legacy won’t be much for most anyway, he thinks as a TV stutters in the background and two Fox News anchors offer a limp, pithy eulogy. “Ugh, I don’t like it”, the anchor spouts dismissively, turning her attention to the next pre-packaged slab of daily dissection.
ii. And then the beat drops. Life and death, heaven and hell, lust and love, humility and pride, war and peace, and power, poison, pain and joy. It’s all split into two. Everything. Even his own flesh it seems.
A fever kicks in: If told I’m wicked, then be wicked. The blood spilled on concrete represents more than simple molecules and Kung Fu Kenny is composed of the most elaborate of them. So take it all. Death to those who stand in his way. Flashes of heritage crystalize, a soldier’s DNA twisting in helix from the days of Section 8 housing to the newly minted king. But the narrative fractures again, Geraldo Rivera’s searing words ether-ing Kenny’s castle.
Hip hop has done more damage to young African Americans than racism in recent years.
Everything dissolves. Kendrick loses himself, an explosion of atoms, as he watches a kingdom in ruin.
iii. Blink. Hours before he saw that woman on the street he’d known something was off. Call it intuition. On the couch with his niece, Kendrick watches as they roll footage of his BET Awards performance. Today, at least, is for family. That’s what Pops is always yelling about anyway. Phone buzzes and it’s his cousin. Keeps trying to tell him they’ll all be cursed – Okay, Carl, judgment comes when it does. Kendrick hangs up, but can’t shake that tiny buzzing. The air slowly intensifies with radio frequencies, a rush of blood to the head and -
iv. Kung-fu Kenny finds himself catapulted again as the preacher’s echoing irony…
What happens on earth stays on earth
…rings through the sky. As if he didn’t already know. So I don’t give a fuck. I don’t give a fuck. No one prays for Kenny anyway, so fuck nobility. He basks in the cloud of wrath he’s created. If Los Angeles is burning, he thinks, why not add fuel to the flame? The chemical reaction, the element, sets everything ablaze. The butterfly appears again, wings translucent before they burst into ash. Finally, amidst his own ranting, he manages to snuff out the buzzing that’s been snaking through his skin. Staring at his kingdom of dust he realizes, for the first time, he is utterly alone. A church, dilapidated, slowly emerges into focus.
v. No one will pray for me, Kendrick dreadfully asserts as he wanders through his empty wake. Approaching his chemically glutted body, he thinks about how it could have been different. If he’d been born somewhere else. If he’d been born into another house. If others saw his greatness for what it was. But no. America, the bad bitch, breeds a toxic form of human. The church crumbles around him and sky turns to blood. Coffins line the street. L.A. is as apocalyptic as ever. Embrace the evil. Howl at the moon.
vi. Some pop radio song drifts into focus and Kendrick scowls. It’s hard to tell if he’s being fucked with when the singer asks who he’s loyal to: Is it money? Is it fame? Is it weed? Is it drink? Do these harbingers expect a response?
He nearly forgot he was on trial when the wicked winged things begin to circle him again. He is being fucked with.
vii. Carried to his spot on the street, Kendrick looks down on his fresh corpse. Everything remains still. It appears the blind woman is willing to engage in a dialogue, having shown him enough for the moment.
She speaks of control, of ownership, of influence. She speaks of pride, of soul, of damnation. Kendrick constructs his defense: If things were different, well, he wouldn’t be in this position. In a perfect world he’d be its equal perfection. We’re all a product of the hell you’ve put us through, so we sin. Of course we sin.
The look on the blind woman’s face says it all. She smiles a sinister one and the fingers of the demons noticeably tighten and then let go.
viii. Slamming into the deepest hell, Kendrick lands fist first. In his head he plays out an inevitable future in this place: it may be torturous, and soul fucking, and eternal, but at least he can stop pretending. At least it all plays out with transparency. Earth was just a thinly veiled form of this place. In fact, in hell, he’ll still be the greatest – lost souls may even bow to his presence. You do not amaze me, he thinks looking around at the burning agony.
ix. He continues forward, assuming this is the destiny built for him. Mixed in with the smell of blood and burning flesh is sweat. And he’s transported back to so many days swiftly shifting by. Spending money, kicking his feet up, indulging in his lust. Though the days were equal parts sloth. As long as he makes it count who can tell him he hasn’t earned it? What was that? What was elected? How many perished? How sad. Kendrick changes the channel even as a creeping sensation crawls up his spine.
x. Again, the pop drifts into focus and with especially poor timing. The angels grow louder, reminding him that perhaps someone is praying for him and has been all along. If you dig through the lust and pride and anguish, there’s a soft sad core to you, Kendrick. Perhaps life’s secret is nestled in there somewhere.
Typical emotionally manipulative pop bullshit he thinks. Kendrick’s heart grew three sizes that day.
xi. The channel flips again. The middle east in flames, reports of the largest bomb dropped ever. America’s pornography. The static clears long enough for him to catch snatches of MOAB and non-nuclear. Another victory. America, the newscaster chuckles. God Bless it if it’s good to you.
Shit. Am I tripping? The local news snaps on to footage of Kendrick’s body from all angles. A pool of blood and no old woman in sight. Celestial, evidently, Kenny sees his insecurities for what they are, grid-lines in the patch-work of the American war machine. In unison, young soldiers raise their rifles and – pow! He snaps back – past the sidewalk, his niece – to his homie’s call. He thought it was Carl at first, more church babble, but something happened to his son. A whoosh of sirens and he snapped. What should his homie do?
If somebody killed my son that means somebody’s gettin’ killed.
All this death in his DNA rattles. Kendrick bursts – his body swollen with loss. If they touch one more person he might just – he might just – the car rattles to a stop. He might just give the kids the fucking speech.
Aye, man. Call you back.
The true gemini, he walks in. The static returns, a heavy fuzz of drum and bass. Pledging allegiance to the flag, distracted, Kendrick can’t quite deliver the speech with a straight face. All sorts of guns bang out there, fingers clicking triggers clicking pens. Trump’s face hangs overhead like a harvest moon. Kendrick tries to tell the story of his homie’s son, of telling him to be humble and pray but all he can see are the little Kennys marching in military fatigues lock-step to that same drum and bass. Rifles raised high, Kendrick holds his hands up. Don’t sh-
xii. Bzzzzzz. Carl AGAIN?? Still talking that Deuteronomy shit. A regular Job or George Bailey, Kenny has to wonder, why now, God? He tries to talk his way through the confusion, same as he always has, but he can feel the tightness in his chest. Hands shaking, he flips the Monopoly board. He is seven again, and reckless. And if he doesn’t take notice right now he’s gonna get his ass beat. He runs out into the street for fresh air, but there, too, is 17 year old Kenny. He’s dead in the streets. Or at the house party. Outside the apartments. He’ll make all the right choices. He’ll be the perfect victim. If he picks up the piece. If he’s not too afraid to…
Doot doot doot. That’s Kendrick’s old video with the nine banging in the background. ‘Cuz ignorance is bliss. King Kendrick took the throne at 27. The biggest hypocrite just caught his latest offense. Even if Kenny is afraid every time he holds the prop up. Even if he has more money than God. Even if God’s the only one laughing any more. Damn. God damn. And Carl’s still talking. God damn us all.
xiii. All white everything. Suspended, Kendrick struggles, waiting for the judge to bang her gavel. Sees his fingerprints on the gun, but that’s not evidence. Adoring fans. Bank rolls. And hey, if what happens on Earth stays on Earth – call him a Rap God. Strike him down now. DAMN. But instead the angels coo more intently. He can see the old woman’s crooked smile once more. If he could just choose right. And this? This what God feel like.
xiv. The distant singing of the angels reaches a crescendo. Mockingly, it seems, the preacher’s words ring out again…
What happens on Earth stays on Earth.
…We know, we know, isn’t it over? But this time they don’t seem to be talking about Kenny. Instead, he spies a familiar face at the KFC drive-thru. Anthony. Like microfilm, the whole story unspools. Sleepy, nearly catatonic, Kenny sees Ant’s life unfold in waves. Life’s OG comedian was once the oldest of seven. The siblings. The crack house. The street corner. The first offense. The million came easy and murder was the case. He cased the chicken spot in ’84, robbed the manager, shot a customer last year. Blood on the linoleum. A curly top, gap toothed manager named Ducky meant to request off that day. Hadn’t been in L.A. long, raised Southside, was hoping to get away so he and his son could take another ride. God was surely laughing. Anthony met Ducky and that day one of them would die.
Hey, hey, you want a few extra biscuits?
The gun never goes off. Ducky drives home that night to see his son, Kenny. A Good Kid. The bag crumples in Anthony’s hand. The curse is momentarily shattered, the cycle speeding up. The atoms of Compton rearrange, decades later, Anthony and Ducky shaking hands at the studio opening. Two strangers in random predicaments with choices they’ll have to live with. The gun goes off at the counter. The gun goes off in the street. Kendrick looks the other way. One lucky night with the homies. Anthony never says thanks. Nobody ever prays. Kendrick never sees her. Kendrick was always blind. So this is what Heaven feels like? Reality snaps rubber-band style and the turntable spills, needle scratch screeching. His old homie Dave is there, after all this time, smiling. And Mandela. And Pac, too. Maya. Each one an angel and demon, split between flesh and faith. Each one seeking paradise in this, our damnation. The world is a cocoon, then. The butterfly always emerging. Kendrick lives. Kendrick dies. Kendrick lives again. Just like Ducky did.
Kendrick stands on a street corner waiting for the light to change.