If we look at the news today, what do we see? On October 18, 2019, a bombing occurred in a mosque in the province of Nangarhar in Afghanistan resulting in over 90 casualties. In Sudan, tensions continue to rise between civilians and the oppressive ex-ruling party after the Khartoum massacre on June 3, 2019, which killed 118 people and injured hundreds of others. In our history textbooks, we read about the dehumanizing ethnic discrimination against Jews during the Holocaust. Violence and discrimination are only a few of many sins eroding our humanity in this world. Among the economically privileged of us, greed, lust, and abuse of power are omnipresent. Jeffrey Epstein – a 66-year-old billionaire who flew underaged girls to a private island to sexually abuse them – recently committed suicide in prison. Sex, a once-sacred symbol in society, has permeated into the minds of young children and has become increasingly glorified and treated as utilitarian in our culture. Over 50% of teens in America regularly watch pornography online. Furthermore, over 80,000 men are arrested for soliciting sex every year in America.
What does this all mean? Some of us may be optimistic or ignorant of these issues, but these ills in society can evoke the biggest cynic inside of us and make us search for the lost – or at least hidden – soul of humanity. Witnessing society or our selves exploiting wealth, experiencing poverty, and engaging in violence can evoke an inflammation of indignancy and even misanthropy. Or more productively, it can serve as a catalysis for the creation of revolutionary art harmonized by poetry, theology, and music, echoing the timeless sentiments of our predecessors. Such is the case of Californian rapper and musician Kendrick Lamar, who issues a damning warning to humanity on his track “Untitled 01” completed on August 19, 2014.
This untitled track is part of a loose collection of eight leftover and rough-draft songs released after Kendrick Lamar gifted the music and literature world with arguably the most conceptual and profound composition ever: To Pimp a Butterfly, a compelling exploration of the Black experience in America. “Untitled 01” depicts the apocalypse and features masterful employment of biblical allusions, vivid imagery, and eye-catching intro and outro. All of this, in conjunction, forms both a paralyzing warning to and perceptive critique of society. Because of the importance of the biblical content of this track developed in Kendrick’s damning verse, we are going to isolate the intro for now and come back to it at the end after fully grasping the focal point of this composition.
The first verse starts with Kendrick rapping:
I seen it vividly jogging my brain memory, life is…
I seen it vividly jogging my brain memory
If you carefully notice Kendrick’s vocals echo while saying, “I seen it vividly jogging my brain memory.” Therefore to the listener, it sounds more accurately like:
“I seen (I seen it) in it (in it) vividly jogging (vividly jogging) my brain memory (my brain memory)”
This vocal instability is no accident; it doesn’t appear anywhere else in the song. Knowing Kendrick takes advantage of vocal pitches in his music – like when he raps in an absurd pubescent falsetto in his teenager-mocking track “m.A.A.d city” – we must question why his vocals are constructed in this way. Kendrick’s fragmented thinking gives the listener the appearance that Kendrick is pulling something out of his memory with difficulty and trepidation. This can be interpreted as a subtle metaphor for the ancient truths our society has forgotten. Many of us live life in the moment, pursue materialism and shallow endeavors, thus burying the essential moral principles built from our Judeo-Christian roots. While Kendrick stutters to recall the hidden ancient message he is subsequently going to convey, he indeed now “vividly” paints the scene of this track. He first sets up the apocalyptic stage as dismal and lifeless with “No birds chirping or flying, no dogs barking,” followed by “We all nervous and crying, moving in caution/ In disbeliefs our belief’s the reason for all this.” In the latter line, Kendrick employs clever wordplay of “beliefs” and vaguely tells us the reason for the event depicted in this short-story: our ill-conceived, irreligious notions of the world as a society. Next, Kendrick uses cataclysmic imagery: The tallest building is “cracking and crumbling,” planes are “falling out the sky,” and the city is “covered in fishes” as a result of “fire burning more tides out” because of the apocalypse. The latter detail is a subtle nod to Revelations 8:8-9:
8 And the second angel sounded, and as it were a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea: and the third part of the sea became blood;
9 And the third part of the creatures which were in the sea, and had life, died; and the third part of the ships were destroyed.
Kendrick further builds this world-ending scene by juxtaposing innocent and harmless symbols with the total demolition taking place during the apocalypse: “young woman with a baby, daisies, and other flowers burning in destruction.” Because the apocalypse isn’t an event that exclusively impacts one person from another, even innocence and precious things like children have no mercy from this catastrophe. Within this paralyzing apocalyptic scene, Kendrick highlights the profound ills and sinners of society: “atheists are committing suicide” and the famous “[are] screaming in agony.” Most eye-catchingly, Kendrick calls out the striking corruption of religion:
Preachers touching on boys run for cover/
Backpedaling Christians settling for forgiveness
After backpedaling in their faith, the Christian individuals Kendrick is depicting are now attempting to gain superficial forgiveness from God. Kendrick’s most vicious attack on religious corruption is his line “Preachers touching on boys run for cover.” In itself, the sexual and criminal implication here sounds revolting. However, individuals with religious authority sexually abusing minors is not an odd reference, nor is it a single or one-off story. Scandals in the church in the US over the past ten years have been unusually and relatively common. For example, on August 14, 2018, the Pennsylvania Attorney General issued released a report stating more than 300 Catholic priests across Pennsylvania sexually abused children over seven decades, protected by a hierarchy of church leaders who covered it up. The 884-page grand jury report states the following:
Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all.
Pennsylvania is no outlier case, either. The Southern Baptist conventions have allegedly sexually assaulted 700 victims in the past 20 years. This perversion of religion is not merely repulsive, but mystifying considering the lack of religious justification for this. Kendrick Lamar is apoplectic and is channelizing his frustration in this song. Before we move forward and become armchair master theologians and conduct an exegesis on Kendrick’s scripture-inspired art, we must understand the biblical context of this track. This track primarily contains a prominent allusion to the Book of Revelations, specifically section 8 part 6 to section 9 part 20. The Book of Revelations was written primarily by John the Apostle, the messianic Jewish prophet, and is the last book in the New Testament. The genre this book belongs to is Apocalyptic literature, which at the time referred to work recounting a prophet’s symbolic dreams and visions that reveal God’s perspective on history and current events so that the present could be viewed in the context of history’s final outcome. John states this apocalypse is a prophecy, which means it is a word from God through a prophet to God’s people, usually to warn or confront them in a time of crisis. This is especially interesting since Kendrick Lamar similarly stated the purpose of his art in an interview with Complex:
God put something in my heart to get across, and that’s what I’m going to focus on, using my voice as an instrument and doing what needs to be done…. We’re all put on this earth to walk in the image of the Master.
In terms of the genre of the Book of Revelations, Jewish apocalypse is communicated through symbolic imagery and numbers. As Rosedale Church of God pastor, Nathan Hewitt best puts it, the Book of Revelations consists of “pictures, thoughts, images, and concepts.” This also parallels with Kendrick’s nuanced usage of such vivid imagery and pictures in his music, a phenomenon that is relatively new to Hip-hop and music in general. Kendrick Lamar is the ringleader of this new narrative approach of rap music, where the artist paints a linear narrative throughout their albums. Other artists are following such as Kanye West, Tyler the Creator, SZA, Frank Ocean, etc. After painting this apocalyptic picture like John’s symbolic writing, Kendrick starts referring to the concept of the seven trumpets. In the Book of Revelations, the trumpets symbolize warning; they are a precursor to the apocalypse. And the precursor to the seven trumpets is the seven seals that secure a sacred scrawl detailing the message of the Old Testament and how God’s kingdom will fully reach the earth. Once the seventh seal is broken, but before the scrawl opens, the seven trumpets emerge. Each trumpet has its own meaning; for example, the first trumpet concerns the destruction of nature, specifically plant life:
The first angel sounded, and there followed hail and fire mingled with blood, and they were cast upon the earth: and the third part of trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up.
While the first six trumpets serve as warnings to humanity, the seventh trumpet serves as an announcement to humanity that it has reached the threshold of sinful behavior which triggers God’s kingdom to come to earth:
The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever.”
This new reign of God on earth is known as the “Second coming” in the Bible where Jesus returns to earth and rules for a thousand-year period before Judgment Day, where there is a White throne of judgment for believers and a general throne of judgment for non-believers. Here, God decides who goes to Heaven or Hell. Now back to the song, Kendrick raps:
Another trumpet has sounded off and everyone heard it
What’s fascinating and curious about this line is Kendrick asserts “Another” trumpet despite never mentioning a trumpet in the song before this line. Kendrick is implying we as a society are deaf and entirely oblivious to the ringing of the previous trumpet or trumpets. We are so selfishly and pettily caught up in our worldly desires, we ignore God’s warning signs. Perhaps the preceding disaster imagery could also represent global warming or violence in present-day as opposed to a more hypothetical scene Lamar is painting. The “tallest building” plummeting could vaguely allude to 9/11. And issues such as sexual assault, murder, wild fires, the endangerment of certain aquatic wildlife species such as Sea Turtles due to climate change, and oil spills are no theoretical problems. Therefore, Kendrick Lamar isn’t portraying a completely alternate, abstract apocalyptic world; rather, he is dramatizing and exaggerating real and omnipresent issues that confront us today. Of course, his composition fits in the genre of apocalyptic literature because of the subject matter here, but his work also uses a heavy hand of realism. Following Kendrick’s assertion that this trumpet has sounded off, he discloses:
(It’s happening) no more running from world wars
(It’s happening) no more discriminating the poor
(It’s happening) no more bad bitches and real niggas
Wishing for green and gold the last taste of allure
This sequence indirectly lays out the reasons, in Kendrick’s mind, for the Apocalypse transpiring: world wars and violence, discrimination and poverty, and materialism and greed. These are the ills of the world that are eroding our humanity. This mention of world wars, discrimination, and materialism aren’t generic or superficial references that anyone of us could name as a “bad” part of society. Obviously, violence and war are terrible things; taking advantage of the poor is morally reprehensible and indulging in worldly desires and money no matter what our true goal is no holy deed. However, Kendrick has personally and extensively experienced each of these things that represent the worst humanity has to offer. When Kendrick was young, he participated in gang-violence in crime-plagued Compton. He illustrates this best in his 2012 track “The Art of Peer Pressure,” another display of Kendrick’s superlative storytelling ability as he paints a vivid and dramatic scene of him and his homies robbing a house in Compton, barely evading the police. He also described in an interview witnessing someone get shot in front of his house when he was five years old. Despite the sinful criminality, Kendrick has been immersed in his adolescence, he has also experienced discrimination. He details this on his track “good kid” from his sophomore record good kid, m.A.A.d city.
And you [police officer] ask: “Lift up your shirt,” because you wonder if a tattoo/
Of affiliation can make it a pleasure to put me through/
Gang files, but that don’t matter because the matter is racial profile/
I heard ’em chatter: “He’s prob’ly young, but I know that he’s down/
Step on his neck as hard as your bullet-proof vest/
The next line in the song serves as a transition:
I swore I seen it vividly
Of course, Kendrick hasn’t literally seen the apocalypse, but this rhetorical technique (I “swore”) momentarily tricks the listener (or reader) into believing the realness of this cataclysmic event. This single line – let alone this composition as a whole – is reminiscent of the poem “The Second Coming” by Irish poet William Butler Yeats in 1919. In his poem, Yeats writes:
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand
Of course, the level of hyperbole Yeats uses in his prediction for an imminent “Second Coming” is uncertain, but in the framework of his poem, he is truly embodying this paralyzing feeling — that is the beauty of literature. Yeats also uses biblical imagery in his apocalyptic poem:
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
the ceremony of innocence is drowned
Like Kendrick’s allusion to Revelations 8:8 – “the third part of the sea became blood” – Yeats also paints a vivid picture of this catastrophe. The latter line is also similar to Kendrick’s juxtaposition of “a baby, daisies, and other flowers” and their “burning in destruction” during the apocalypse. Innocence has indeed “drowned,” according to both authors. Like Kendrick’s direct exposure to violence, discrimination, and hedonism reflected in his song, Yeats’ poem is not some otherworldly fictional exploration either. His art reflects his environment. He wasn’t immersed in gang culture where he saw his partners die like K. Dot, but he saw the aftermath of one of the deadliest world-conflicts documented in our history textbooks: World War I. The result: deep-rooted cynicism. Yeats cynically states:
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity
The world Yeats is describing is fundamentally backward. The best people are those that are lazy, idle, and mediocre. And quite disturbingly, the worst people are those that are overzealous and fervent about the wrong things such as power, money, authority, or whatever it may be. This is similar to the fundamental backwardness Kendrick depicts in his work. Preachers are sexually assaulting young boys, fishes have covered the land, and God’s sacred symbols have been perverted (which we will get into depth later). At the end of Yeats’ compelling poem, he mysteriously prophesizes:
And what rough beast, its hours come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
This ending is rooted in theology (because Jesus was born in Bethlehem and he will start ruling the world at the Second Coming) but is a fictionalized concept. Yeats is implying a malicious, Anti-Christ figure will ascend to power on earth as opposed to Jesus. To some degree, Yeats was right. Fourteen years after the publication of Yeats’ poem, Hitler ascended to power in Germany, which lead to the holocaust. In 1936, 3 years after Hitler took control in Germany, Yeats wrote, “My horror at the cruelty of governments grows greater…I am not callous, every nerve trembles with horror at what is happening with Europe.” 1936 was a time in history when the powers of Fascism and Nazism were metastasizing. Hitler had become chancellor of Germany and had passed the dehumanizing Nuremberg Laws creating the anti-Semitic culture in Europe. As illustrated by Yeats, artists in society have a way of divulging truth — a way of examining society and predicting future outcomes. Some may have perceived Yeats’ “Second Coming” poem as just a poem — a collection of words expressing some abstract fictional idea. However, Yeats was on to something, and I sincerely believe we should look to Kendrick’s composition and reevaluate where you the individual and we as a society are collectively heading towards.
The next part of Kendrick’s Rap song (if we can still call it that) is introspective and personal with another prominent biblical allusion. He starts by rapping from the perspective of God, where God asks Kendrick, “What have you did for me[?]” after which Kendrick reverts to his perspective and says “[I] pulled out my resume.” If we condense this passage of the song to Kendrick’s accomplishments and merits it reads as follows:
I was valedictorian
I made To Pimp a Butterfly for you
I tithed for you
I pushed the club to the side for you
If we rewrite this highly impressive resume from the perspective of the listener, it reads the following:
Kendrick was diligent and hard-working
Kendrick spoke God’s words on his highly successful album
Kendrick donated money to help the church
Kendrick resisted hedonism and temptation (to some extent) unlike many others
This (plausible) resume is highly admirable. Anyone analyzing Kendrick’s working and studying his incredible escape from the murderous environment of Compton knows Kendrick has accomplished more than the average individual, both materially and spiritually, as well. An initial reading of this track suggests Kendrick is perhaps frustrated with his faith. He is trying to be good and virtuous, but he is still suffering; he got excellent grades, paid money to the church, and didn’t waste his life in drinking and doing drugs, yet he is still suffering in his life. This made sense to me as a Hip-hop and Kendrick Lamar fan. In his song “FEEL.” Kendrick raps
I feel like the whole world want me to pray for ’em
But who the fuck prayin’ for me?
As a transcendent figure in Hip-hop or art more broadly, Kendrick feels he has been entrusted by God to spread his message of virtue and enlighten the masses, like Jesus. However, this interpretation veers into blatantly anti-Christian territory. Throughout the Bible, it is clear that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Upon a more critical examination of Kendrick’s composition and the Bible, it becomes clear that Kendrick’s desperate presentation of his accomplishments and virtues connotes deliberate hubris and vanity. To better understand this interpretation, we must turn to The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector which Jesus told to those who were “confident of their righteousness and locked down on everyone else.” In this parable, Jesus compares the actions of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector act in front of God. The Pharisee says the following:
‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
(Luke 18: 11-12)
Similar to Kendrick or the role he is depicting, the Pharisee gave money to the church. This starkly contrasts with the tax collector who cries because of his sins. Jesus says the following about the tax collector:
“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
(Luke 18: 13)
To this Jesus says:
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18: 14)
Pride is extensively highlighted in the Bible as a detrimental trait. It is one of the seven deadly sins and has been labelled as the “father of all sins” by various biblical scholars. The Pharisee exudes extreme pride and asserts his superiority over other sinners. And he vainly boasts of his charity and fasting. Conversely, the Tax Collector acknowledges his sins and modestly asks God to have mercy on him. Kendrick, who is famous for his role-switching ability in his songs (for example in the 7-minute long “Sing about me” Kendrick raps from the perspective of four different relatives in his life), is playing the hubristic Pharisee from Luke 18 or at least is playing a blatantly prideful fool shockingly similar to the Pharisee.
This interpretation is supported by a few specific lyrics in this section of Kendrick’s song. First, Kendrick says the following:
“I thought you [God] said that I excel”
Of course, anyone who vocalizes their belief that God thinks they are excelling blasphemous. Furthermore, Kendrick’s simile, “My paperwork was like a receipt” also supports this interpretation. A receipt contains items one has purchased. Kendrick’s simile here connotes braggadocio and hubris again. Saying his accomplishments are like a bill of things one buys at the store, suggests he has numerous, valuable accomplishments. Generally, this receipt simile is theologically fallacious and irreverent. One does not receive God’s grace, let alone entrance to heaven by metaphorically purchasing certain things or checking the boxes of some list, which includes tithing, fasting or spreading God’s message. Of course, any remotely religious individual knows one cannot ‘buy’ their way to God’s grace. The idea that one can win God’s grace through material accomplishments, as ambitious as they may be (such as producing TPAB), is foolish thinking.
The magnitude of moral and religious corruption (which he calls out earlier) Kendrick is deliberately embodying is akin to that of corrupt clerics in the 17th century Holy Roman Empire who believed in the act of selling indulgences. If the rest of this track didn’t contain prominent allusions to the Bible, the interpretation that Kendrick is self-depicting the Pharisee would have been unwarranted and far-fetched. But knowing Kendrick’s deep understanding of the Bible as epitomized by this song in the start of the verse and in general in his interviews, it becomes clear that Kendrick is purposefully illustrating the foolishness of his vice. If we understand this interpretation, the next line clearly shows a deliberate display of sinful hubris as opposed to genuine religious concern.
Who love you like I love you?
As Kendrick is experiencing the apocalypse, he wonders:
Crucifix, tell me you can fix
Kendrick is asking Jesus if his death on the cross is enough to save him for his sins which are playing a part in humanity’s moral deterioration thus causing the apocalypse. Now Kendrick speaks some genuine words of wisdom:
I’mma start jotting everything in my diary
I can see, our days been numbered
This apocalyptic experience has humbled Kendrick, and he will now begin to appreciate everything in life and noting it in his diary. And because of humanity’s downward spiraling, Kendrick concludes the world’s existence is finite and not unlimited. Now Kendrick transitions into real time and says:
All man, child, woman, life completely went in reverse
Kendrick is describing the preceding event depicted in this composition. In that sequence, the world reversed and went upside down. The next line is the crux of Kendrick’s composition, an encapsulation of the center conflict of this track:
I guess I’m running in place trying to make it to church
This summarizes the meaning of this composition as a whole. While the ills of society, poverty, discrimination, and materialism are catalysts of the apocalypse, Kendrick asserts the big problem in society is spiritual stagnation. “Running in place” is an idiom that denotes a lack of progress. Kendrick feels he, or humanity more generally, is spiritually stagnant and stuck. Also, Kendrick uses the pronoun “I” rather than “we” which would most directly refer to society as a whole. This personalization is no foreign idea for Lamar. After the controversy when Kendrick (allegedly) critiqued the Black community’s supposed hypocrisy in his track “The Blacker the Berry” Kendrick Lamar stated the following in an interview:
“I can’t change the world until I change myself”
Kendrick ends his verse with a self-critique. He feels he is spiritually stagnant. This is the direct analysis of his line. But like any poem, we must expand and look at the universal meaning. Kendrick is stating that society is “running in place;” it is not progressing, spiritually or otherwise. The outro is incredibly powerful but features a different tone and markedly different diction:
Young nigga act an ass
Young nigga act a fool
Young nigga get yo’ cash
Young nigga do what it do
Young nigga go, young nigga go
Young nigga go, young nigga go
Whatever makes all of you happy in this bitch
Just take it all back before the light switch
Note the usage of the slang “n****” and the labeling of life as a “bitch.” While Kendrick, like any other rapper, uses the word “n****” in his music, he only uses this slang word once in his verse compared to this outro where he uses it 8 times. This repetition of the n-word highlights the informality of the outro, a representation of the profane, trivial and pleasure-seeking lifestyle of many people in society. Also, calling life a “bitch” suggests these “young” people in society are our to exploit anything they can for mere pleasure; short-term pleasure is the only thing that seems to matter. The mockery of hedonism could be a stretch of an interpretation in this outro, but a much more apt interpretation is Kendrick mocking the concept of Carpe Diem. Carpe Diem is no mere aphorism; it is a philosophical term coined by the Greek philosopher Horace. It translates to the common phrase “seize the day” and Horace used it in his poetry to express the idea that everyone should enjoy life while they can.
Before we analyze Kendrick’s critique of this idea, we must note this philosophy has its merits too. It focuses on living in the present as opposed to dwelling on the past or future. In the Hip-hop world, this idea was compellingly vocalized by sensational teenage pop-singer Billie Ellish in her concert in Vancouver on June 2. During the concert, Billie critically observed the crowd’s obsession with their phones. Virtually everyone in the crowd had their phones out and were taking videos and pictures for future social media sharing. Billie critiqued this (verbatim):
We’re always looking forward to what’s gonna happen next, what are we gonna do next, what’s gonna happen next what do I tomorrow? What do I do after this? We’re never actually in things when they happen. I just have to say this: whether this the best night of your life or the worst moment and you are miserable, just live in the moment. Now everybody put your phones down and live in this concert!!
This incisive statement exemplifies the philosophy of Carpe Diem; it would resonate with Kendrick as well considering how reclusive and anti-social media he is. Kendrick also practices the principle Carpe Diem in his daily meditation practice. While being interviewed by legendary music producer and guitarist Rick Rubin Kendrick said
I just need twenty minutes with myself every day to soak in the present.
Meditation is used to promote mindfulness and living in the present in Hindu, Buddhist, and Taoist philosophy. In his famous book Om Chanting and Meditation, spiritual master Amit Ray writes
“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.”
By meditating, even Kendrick tries to live in the present and not dwell in the past or the future. However, Carpe Diem has its clear limits. It’s ugly (and ubiquitous) side is hedonism or extreme pursuit of pleasure. Despite artists such as Billie Eillish crafting original and cathartic music, the majority of artists in Hip-hop’s mainstream glorify drug usage, sexual promiscuity and hedonism. Kendrick is essentially criticizing the nasty, crude incarnation of Carpe Diem which glorifies drug usage, drinking, and sexual promiscuity. This isn’t the first time Kendrick has mocked this unhealthy part of Hip-hop culture. In his 2012 track “Backseat Freestyle” Kendrick satirically raps from the perspective of a lusting adolescent:
“I pray my dick get as big as the Eiffel tower so I can fuck the world for 72 hours”
Many who listen to this song interpret the refrain as genuine. However, within the chronological narrative of good kid, m.A.A.d city (which ends in Kendrick’s spiritual epiphany on the track “Real”), it is clear that Kendrick is mocking this hysterical, youthful lust. Later in an interview he also said the following about this song:
That is just me capturing the moment and being 16 and saying the most outlandish shit when you are around your homeboys
Carpe Diem can be a dangerous philosophy — one that indirectly promotes hedonism, indulgence, and violent behavior. On a less explicit scale, this concept is best mocked by Robert Frost’s poem Carpe Diem written in 1987. This is Robert’s most misinterpreted work of all time, which echoes the malleability of Carpe Diem; it can be a bad or good thing. In this poem, the narrator patronizes the naïve children who are in love:
Be happy, happy, happy,
And seize the day of pleasure.
The casual repetition of “happy” suggests the intention of the narrator is disingenuous and not straightforward. He is mocking the children and patronizing their naivety and lack of experience in the real world. However, the narrator shares his actual belief in the closing lines of the poem:
Is too much for the senses,
Too crowding, too confusing-
Too present to imagine.
In our present moment in life, we are often surrounded with tempting things such as drugs, alcohol, parties etc and we can make brash decisions without considering their potential consequences. The present is indeed “too present to imagine” therefore we must be wary of the context of our past and future in order to make informed decisions. But Kendrick has keenly observed that people are just out to get their “cash” and do whatever makes them “happy” even though that isn’t the best for them. Indeed, like Robert Frost Kendrick is blithely satirizing the concept of Carpe Diem, something that has become all too pervasive in our society. Kendrick finishes the track with more satire, now in the form of advice to the listener:
Just take it all back before the light switch
The light switch is a very light-hearted and mechanical metaphor for death – a concept and natural occurrence that carries such dark and ominous connotations. This metaphor implies the materialistic worldview of society – we often see things in the physical – as objects or things to use and we fail to see beyond the surface-level and into the spiritual. Death is a concept that has been examined and interpreted across different scientific and religious doctrines but to simplify it to something as mundane and objective as a “light switch” indicates the secular and materialistic lifestyle of those Kendrick is satirically giving this advice to. Furthermore, it is absurd to advise someone that they should take their sins “all back” before death after living an irreligious lifestyle. Encouraging repentance is good, but promoting it in this last-minute, secular way does not demonstrate true faithfulness. Okay, now it is time to address the elephant in the song—or the lamb rather:
Come here, girl
Oh, you want me to touch you right there?
Oh, like a little lamb, play in your hair
Oh you want it? Oh you want it right now
Like that? I got you baby
All on you baby
Push it back on daddy
Push it back on daddy baby
The intro is best to explain last in context of the meaning of Kendrick’s composition as a whole. When I first heard the intro, I was almost as repulsed as when Hamlet sexually confronted his mother in rage in Shakespeare’s famous play Hamlet, or when Hassan was raped by Asif in The Kite Runner. Without understanding the biblical allusions of this poem, the hypersexual intro is more mystifying than a Shakespearean monologue. Kendrick’s work here is best categorized under these literary greats precisely because of intent. While this is obvious, Hosseini’s intention is obviously not to condone rape in The Kite Runner, nor is Shakespeare’s to glorify incest in Hamlet. If we turn to an extreme example like the novel Frankenstein, Shelley clearly didn’t create the monster to show how appealing it is; she used its heartlessness and bloodlust to illustrate to us the dangers of lack of family or ethics in our lives. While Kendrick’s work belongs to the genre of Rap music, “Untitled 01” is diametrically opposed to the glorified profanity often portrayed in mainstream rap culture; Kendrick isn’t glorifying the sexual exploitation of women. He’s conveying a deeper meaning.
We can infer there is something very profound at play here in the explicitly incongruous and horrifying scene of Bilal supposedly having sex with a lamb-like “girl.” Because the subsequent verse depicts the apocalypse, the intro acts as a trigger for the world degrading, and Kendrick is commenting on a popular but toxic part of mainstream American culture: hypersexuality. We live in a culture that has taken the sacred symbol of sex and perverted it into something dirty and profane. Because of the theological context of this track, we must understand the concept of sex in the Bible. According to the Bible, sex is the act that brings forth life, which is sacred. It brings many to the ultimate form of intimacy they might ever know, which is also sacred, but this act was always exclusive within the boundaries God placed on sex, which is marriage.
Today, mainstream culture (Hip-hop related or even more broadly) is doing real violence to this notion, and the contrast of the little lamb (gentle, trusting, and innocent) to what is lecherous and immoral, is telling. With Bilal’s creepy, ominous voice Kendrick isn’t simply depicting the universal theme of moral degradation in this intro; this scene is more aptly an outright, blasphemous perversion of morality and the sacred symbol of the lamb. Hypothetically, Kendrick reasons this to be one of the many things which could cause our world to end. Despite delivering this damning warning to humanity, Kendrick ultimately (and perhaps cynically) concludes that “young” and naïve individuals in society will continue wrongfully pursuing pleasure without acknowledging its potential consequences.