Dying of Thirst

Thomas Quan
13 min readFeb 28, 2021

Kendrick Lamar’s deeply intimate writing communicates both personal and universal elements of faith.

Photograph by Annie Leibovitz

With the 2017 release of his fourth studio album Damn, Kendrick Lamar sent ripples across not only the hip hop community but the entire music sphere. Scores of music blogs and publications dived headfirst into this richly lyricized, darkly complex work that was following one of Lamar’s most acclaimed works, To Pimp a Butterfly. One of these voices was DJBooth.net, where one of its many thought pieces on the provocative album was titled: “Praise & Questions: How Kendrick & Chance Talk to God in Different Ways” (linked here). In it, writer Miguelito analyzed the contrast between two of the industry’s most openly religious artists: how Chance the Rapper adopts a praise-heavy approach to referencing God in Coloring Book while Kendrick travels the path of questioning and doubt in Damn. To the surprise of perhaps everyone at DJBooth.net, Lamar himself responded to the article in a private letter, which he gave the site permission to post, expressing his agreement with the points made and providing some additional context regarding how he sought to express his faith in his music.

In this response (linked here), Kendrick made one very clear point: “So in conclusion, I feel it’s my calling to share the joy of God, but with exclamation, more so, the FEAR OF GOD. The balance. Knowing the power in what he can build, and also what he can destroy. At any given moment.”

As Miguelito wrote in his original article, Kendrick and Chance’s approach to God are two sides of the same coin, reflecting the duality of God’s nature. By understanding God’s abhorrence of sin are we able to understand the great love and sacrifice required in His plan for our redemption and the joy found in Him. Kendrick’s fixation on the justice of the Lord combined with the injustice of systemic racism, having been brought into the national spotlight with the Black Lives Matter movement, provides a backdrop to his most recent works. In an interview, Kendrick Lamar said this regarding his two latest albums: “To Pimp a Butterfly would be the idea of, the thought of changing the world…Damn would be the idea, ‘I can‘t change the world until I change myself.’ ”

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Thomas Quan