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The Exegesis of Kendrick Lamar, feat. Americorps VISTA

By Maya Beck, Career Strategy Development Associate, Lifetrack Resources
1. Rapgenius was originally going to be called rap exegesis.
2. Pulitzer-prizewinner writer Michael Chabon has commented on the literary technique on Kendrick Lamar on Rapgenius.
3. Kendrick Lamar’s album To Pimp a Butterfly has recently broken the Spotify record for most streamed album. I’m assuming you know who he is.
4.The Grammy-winning initial single of his most recent album the album, ‘i’, follows in a long line of black self-love anthems characteristic of the civil rights movement in the 1960s and 1970s.
5. His latest single, King Kunta, has Kendrick chronicle his roots in Compton with thoroughness that New York Times writer Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah has compared to James Joyce.

What does all this have to do with AmeriCorps VISTA?

Me, for one. Maybe even you.

I sing Alright as I check that my VISTA living allowance has gone through, whistle Complexion as I do my makeup, and mull over For Sale? as I update my resume. King Kendrick has been helping me cope with moving to the Twin Cities for my VISTA year. Heck, the kid’s the same age as me, and supposedly he was over here recording the album with Prince. The Blacker the Berry was my anger, i was my peace.

Still, I knew there were people of color in Minnesota, or I would never have come. I just didn’t realize I would be moving to a city where the gaps in employment, health, education and so on are bigger than anywhere else in the country. Sorry, I’m from Cali. It didn’t occur to me that cities could be this divided.

But just to sweeten things, I chose to move in the middle of a social movement, in a time of unrest and protests. Maybe this is not the best time or place to be black.

I was lured in by all those articles about how MSP is one of the US’s best places in terms of literacy, health, arts, employment, and so on. But I’ve been wondering if all that bestness applies to me. I know the employment is high for young people, but for young black people? Most livable city for who, now?

I didn’t come here aiming reevaluate my identity, but I had to. I still am. And as someone who loves the arts, is black, is conscious, has a conscience and wants to change things but gets frustrated, feels alienated, I turned to Kendrick.

Everybody lack confidence, everybody lack confidence / How many times my potential was anonymous? / How many times the city making me promises?

“Do what your heart tells you to do because the reward is even that much better.”

Dreams of reality’s peace / Blow steam in the face of the beast / The sky could fall down, the wind could cry now / The strong in me, I still smile

“But when we don’t have respect for ourselves, how do we expect them to respect us? It starts from within. Don’t start with just a rally, don’t start from looting — it starts from within.”

Wait, wait, wait, did you catch that? I’m all-in for self-respect, but what he did there sounded like respectability politics. That’s not cool.

If you don’t know, ‘respectability politics’ is arguing that you, as an (insert minority status here), don’t deserve full rights because you make mistakes, because you’re fallible, because you deserved it. Pull up your pants, don’t be bossy, smile more, improve your English, keep your agenda away from our kids, work harder, and then, if you’re patient, you’ll be treated as an equal. Someday. Maybe.

In the meanwhile, you have to work twice as hard to get the same things, always on edge because when you do wrong, you’re seen as doing worse worse than your white colleague doing the exact same things.

So do I think we can fix this racial divide by following the rules until things fall into place?


I think we need to challenge the rules. I think someone needs to school on institutional racism until he raps about how much building and rebuilding goes into undoing decades of discrimination.

Don’t get me wrong, I love artists of every sort. People will always need solace and encouragement. Bbut you can raise awareness until the cows come home and that doesn’t change that we still got work to do.

I personally, I’m involved in both: art and action. We need both in the world: head and heart, mind and body, rationality and emotion, the local and the global, all of that. The Twin Cities are beautiful because so many other people believe this. So many purposeful and driven people are turning their frustrations into action and accomplishment. In aiming to fight employment disparities, the Phillips Family Foundation is one of the organizations doing that work.

I’ll be blunt: I’m mainly addressing you out-of-state peeps of colors. Maybe you’re curious about the Twin Cities or about Americorps VISTA (PSEI is one of the best programs just so you know). I’m talking to you who found this site unexpectedly, you who are a bit undecided on next steps in life, you who are skilled. We want you, O disaffected youth!

The experience will be tough because change is tough. We’re in the middle of a movement, and with racial disparities like these, Minnie and Paul are on the frontlines.

Hopefully you’re down for a challenge, down to learn and question. It won’t be easy. You’ll feel alone in crowded rooms, self-conscious, irked by microaggressions and passive aggression–in other words, more of the same.

But when it gets rough, when you feel beaten, that’s when you turn to your poets and prophets, whoever they may be. There’s a lot of culture here to sustain you. I think you’ll be okay.

Maybe you’re also leaving home. Maybe you plan to return with wisdom.

Just know you won’t be alone in this. I wasn’t.

Phillips Family Foundation

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