Fall 2013, I was a Junior at Georgia State University taking four courses. One of those being a dreadful Biology class that I had grown so tired of as the semester came to a close. A four-page paper was due in two days and procrastination had gotten the best of me yet again. It was 2 am and I was in dire need of some motivation. Scrolling YouTube in search of new music sufficed. I noticed on the right tab “Kendrick Lamar- Poe man’s dreams” and thought “why not?”
The opening rhythms drew me in with its dreamlike harmonizing sound followed by Kendrick’s troubled tone emanating he was in need of just venting instead of entertaining.
Then he said,
“My momma is stressin,
My daddy tired”
Simple, yet relatable, vulnerable and piercing. Kendrick’s pause following that line allowed everything I was feeling at that time to settle in. Listen to his tone, feel his energy, he sounds exhausted. In Hip-Hop, some lines are just setups for a punchline or fillers to keep the listener attentive. Not this one, this one evoked pain, regret and bitterness I could taste at that very moment.
The flashback of that skinny boy standing at the top of the steps selfishly begging his mistreated momma to stay with daddy played through my head, accompanied by shame. She stayed and her stress did as well. Pops slowly broke down as he worked two jobs, dragging a swollen right leg around opposites sides of the city in a pinto.
Man, I was in for a long night now after dropping to such a dim state of mind. I was in no condition to write that paper. Partly due to Mr. Lamar, but mostly because I dodged honest self-assessments like unpaid tenants do landlords. I buried the guilt. The moment clarity hits is like no other feeling ever. There’s no heads up, it just kicks down your door like the boys in blue.
For the rest of the song Kendrick finds moments to reassure his father and family he will make their troubles vanish through his work ethic. Those words dragged me out of a slump around 3 am and breathed determination into my lungs. “Leveled up” has become a popular phrase to describe one’s evolution and growth, and that is exactly what occurred that morning. The kid from Compton did something nobody could, and for that I will always be indebted to him. I hold that night with me forever and at times casually mouth to myself ,”Smoke Good, Eat Good, Live Good”.
I earned a B on that paper.