The Unbelievable Story Behind Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Damn’ And What It Can Teach You About Destiny
Who’s really in the driver’s seat?
It’s been 5 years since Kendrick Lamar’s seminal piece of work, DAMN, was released to the world and despite rumors of a new album on the way, there have been no signs or indications that the project is coming out anytime soon. Thankfully, the ever intricate DAMN is filled with enough gifts to leave listeners learning and pondering the music to this day.
The work itself is powerful, intentional and littered with literary devices that only a true genius can pull together in one cohesive storyline. It’s no surprise that Kendrick won a Grammy for Best Rap Album in 2017, but he also deservedly took home a Pulitzer Prize for Music in the process.
A key theme throughout DAMN is the role of fate and destiny within Kendrick Lamar’s life. Ever intertwined and constantly pulling the strings in the background of the young Compton lyricist’ life, it is fate that pulled Kendrick from the hostile streets of South-Central Los Angeles to the prophetical heights of international stardom. Even larger than fate however, is the small acts of fortitude and choice we make as humans that eventually lead us to where we are supposed to be.
The Mindblowing Story of Top Dawg and Kendrick Lamar’s Father
Understanding Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN starts and ends with the final track, DUCKWORTH. Lamar stated soon after the album drop that the project can actually be played forwards and backwards with the same storyline playing out. Regardless of where you begin, you end at the very same idea that Lamar has skillfully planted for all of his listeners to take in. That without destiny protecting Kendrick and watching from over his shoulder, he probably would’ve died too young to fulfill his role as messiah of hip hop.
DUCKWORTH begins with Lamar’s skillful imagery and description of the Nickerson Garden projects where a young Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith resided. As the oldest of seven it was up to him to provide for his family and make sure his younger siblings were taken care of. Adapting to the world around him, Tiffith took on a life of drug dealing and hustling to make ends meet. It wasn’t long before he graduated to selling high-end products that came with the price tag. Making his first million at only 20 years old, and as Kendrick describes, “the first in the projects with the two-tone mustang.” Undoubtedly it drew a lot of attention.
This is where the story gets interesting, if not unbelievable. Just across the street from Top Dawg was a Kentucky Fried Chicken he used to frequent. At the window of this unassuming KFC, tucked away in the hidden streets of Los Angeles, worked a man known as Ducky. He came from inner-city Chicago, moving to LA with his wife, small child and only $500 in his bank account. Having known the reputation of Top Dawg and his associates, Ducky was an intelligent young man himself and as Kendrick describes, consciously made the effort to stay on Top Dawg’s good side. He gave him “free chicken every time Anthony posted in line,” Lamar’s lyrics state.
And because of Ducky’s generosity to Top Dawg, Triffith decided not to rob that very KFC. According to Kendrick’s lyric, Triffith was planning to do so, but changed his mind, potentially sparing Ducky’s life.
“The first thing I asked [Kendrick] was, is this a true story?,” explains close collaborator, 9th Wonder, “he said yes, it’s a true story. Top Dawg has confirmed that it’s a true story. The beauty of that is, he chose to tell that story, and we’re like four albums in. Usually, people will tell that story the first time.”
The Small Acts of Fate That Led to Kendrick Lamar’s Reality
It was this tiny act of friendship, or survival depending on how you’d like to look at it that would change the face of hip hop forever. That young man, Ducky, who surreptitiously worked the window at a KFC somewhere in South Central Los Angeles would happen to be the father of hip hop’s greatest lyricist, Kendrick Lamar. Over a decade later Top Dawg would go on to sign Ducky’s now 15 year old son to his label, Top Dawg Entertainment, and the rest is history. 20 years later, Kendrick would re-introduce the two men in a studio in Los Angeles to both of their surprises.
“Top himself didn’t know I was going to do it or even execute it in that fashion,” explains Kendrick, “to be the last song or to be anywhere. Just making it make sense. I remember playing it for him, he flipped because further than the song, when you really can hear your life in words that is so true to you and that effected your life one hundred percent through one decision, it really makes you sit back and cherish the moment. I think that’s something we all did playing that record. Like, man, look where we at. We’re recording music for the world to hear and we’re taking care of our families. We’re blessed.”
Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Damn’ Will Make You Question Your Sense of Control
Lamar delivers a masterclass in storytelling and fate in this powerful piece of art. Above all, he shows his listeners how little acts of random human interaction will lead you exactly to where you’re supposed to be. That, in and of itself, is what fate is. These seemingly random occurrences can bring a young, black child from one of the most dangerous hoods in America to the highest heights that life can offer.
There’s something to take away for anyone who listens. The obvious conclusion is that it’s important to embody kindness and openness to everyone you meet, because you never know how your paths may cross again. However, even more powerful: the idea that you are constantly on the road to your own enlightenment. Every small step is a part of the journey, and having faith and understanding in that single point will lead you to self-actualization. Destiny is ever-changing, disintegrating then reforming in front of our eyes. We are simultaneously in control of it while also being at its mere mercy at all times. Letting go allows one to fully embrace all that is around them, the wonder of the world and where it is taking them.