Kendrick Lamar and the nuclear family in rap


By Michael J. Warren.

"Real is taking care of your motherfucking family." -Kenny Duckworth Sr.

Kendrick Lamar's Good Kid, m.A.A.d. city is one of the most remarkable albums of our time for a number of reasons. The music is groundbreaking, the lyrics are complex, and it appeals to all facets of what falls under the umbrella of hip-hop

But, in my mind, the most unheralded unique aspect of GKMC is one that's most important to society as a whole. Through the voicemail skits that drive the narrative of the album, Kendrick introduces us to his parents. His real parents, not voice actors.

Perhaps this is the first truly intergenerational rap album.

Until now, the common trope has been the divide between what you listen to, and what your parents listen to. But rap is of the age where there are quite a number of mature adult fans with of-age children. This is probably best demonstrated in YouTube clips of a 2011, pre-GKMC Kendrick performing, when he takes a moment to tell the audience about how his parents raised him and then plays some of their favourite songs. His father's? Tupac's "Hail Mary". His Mother's? Snoop's "Ain't No Fun", where Nate Dogg croons "When I met you last night baby, before you opened up your gap."

Classic hip-hop records indeed, but a bit unconventional to enjoy with those who conceived you. But why is that? Why does our moral compass lead us to deny shared intergenerational interests when a few crass lyrics are involved? What if the Duckworth family is actually the prototype for a healthy enjoyment of hip-hop in the homestead?

I would argue that mothers, fathers and sons bonding over weed anthems, hoodrat tales and dominos is one of the most redeeming things in Kendrick's debut. In a genre where we've become accustomed to struggling single mother stories and rebellious children, we're instead presented with a strong two-parent household of common respect. For the most part. Kendrick has clearly abused his minivan borrowing privileges, but his mother's voicemails still reaffirm her faith in his success.

This isn't "Dear Mama."Poppa wasn't a player, and this isn't about feeling like a motherless-child.

K-dot's story isn't devoid of struggle. He's a good kid navigating one of America's maddest cities, dealing with the traps that come when violence permeates a collective adolescence. But he is not navigating these waters alone. More than homies, he has a father that imparts in him valuable survival lessons, and a mother who instructs him to live as an example for others.

And this is the best family can do, whether in Compton, California or the safest of Canadian suburbs. Provide your children with knowledge that can protect them, and encourage them to act likewise, all while keeping a roof over their head and food on the table. The same table where they sit and scribe one of the most progressive hip-hop albums the world has ever heard.

Kendrick's parents are hilarious. They're honest. They don't attempt to shelter their son. They don't hide their vices, and in doing so, teach a child how to balance theirs. They're role models for us: aging hip-hop listeners, now raising children of our own.

With GKMC, hip-hop has grown up. Not in a grown and sexy trending for the moment catch phrase, but in a way that's really really real.