Kendrick Lamar: A Message of Social Justice Through Religious and Unity Themes

On April 14th, 2017 (Wikipedia, 2019), Kendrick Lamar released an album that has since become one of the best-selling in his entire career. DAMN, a critically acclaimed album and winner of a Pulitzer prize, for its eye-opening lyric on current social issues black Americans struggle with day to day. Music has grown to become much more than just entertainment, but rallying calls for current-day issues. Embedded inside various lyrics are strong put forth messages and references to bring about social change, social justice, and social freedom. The most important track, “HUMBLE,” held the worldwide number-one spot for over 37 weeks. Has cryptic lyrics, but when paired together with the music video emits an unlocked and more effective message of bringing social change.

Entangled within this lyrical work from Lamar are references to religion, unity, and even his views on women as well as his self-perceptions of himself. Right from the start, there are strong religious presence from the first few lines of the lyrics as well as the opening sequences of the music video. The music video opens up with Lamar dressed in Papal Garb (dress robes of the Pope). He stands in the house of God while a ray of light from what appears to be coming from the “heavens” shine upon him. This is the first of many scenes as he depicts himself as a prominent religious figure. Lamar’s character is bounced between him in the Pope’s robes and the money printing room with scantily clad women surrounding him. Kendrick is either trying to take the place of God and absolve himself of his sins, or he’s attempting to repent his sins by becoming a man of the church.

The next scene cuts to Lamar riding a bicycle using a special 360° camera to once again put the point across that he’s on top, relating back to him wearing the robes of the Pope in solitude at the house of God. The largest religious reference was the classical recreation of the last supper, where Kendrick was in the middle, taking the “Christ” position. The theme trying to be conveyed is that Kendrick himself is not perfect, but he wants to be an idol and lead his people through this trial of social justice. The strong religious ties of Lamar and a strong sense of unity throughout help send his strong message across.

The back lives matter movement was helped spawned from Lamar’s album DAMN, more specifically “HUMBLE,” where the message of unity is strong. In the music video, the first sign of unity is shown when the group of bald, black men is standing all around Lamar, bowing their heads. Lamar is to be perceived as “god-like,” as stated above. They are bowing their heads in respect and standing together while Lamar preaches. Another more personal sense of unity depicted through death adds depth to the video and also the lyrics. Lamar is standing dressed in white, surrounded by his fellow brother with burning ropes around their head.

Unpacking this scene, they were possibly references to the KKK. The ropes signify the lynching of African Americans, and the fire symbolizes the burning of crosses, which contradicts Lamar’s overall religious theme throughout. Kendrick still doesn’t miss his chance to stand out as he goes off the color scheme and wears white to show the importance of his role vs. the others in the shot. Lamar believes he runs the rap world. He thinks he’s at the top of the world and depicts himself to be god-like in relation to the music world. Whether or not he’s using religion to depict himself to be repenting of his sins, Lamar boasts about himself throughout the song and music video. One of the lyrics that stick out the most to validate the above point would be, “If I quit this season, I will still be the greatest.” Kendrick acts with great pride here and, throughout the song, tries to make it known that he’s the best. He is saying that if he went away for a year and came back, nothing would change. He would still be the best.

The scene is shown after the printing room of Lamar riding the bike, perceiving himself as though he is on top of the world. The same goes for his trying to depict himself as Jesus. He’s both perceiving and boasting about being the best. The struggle of a Black American growing up in the states is accurately depicted through the lyrics. One of the opening lines of the song reads, “Ay, I remember syrup sandwiches and crime allowances..” this line gives a look into the household of an average black American living in poverty and the cheap foods they ate to get by. In the video, there is a shot of a group of black men under an underpass eluting the thought of poverty and homelessness again. There is also the scene where he’s inside a house wearing that same white sweatshirt from earlier with many red dots on it as well as red and blue lights flashing, implying and bringing about the social struggle with police brutality among African Americans.

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Kendrick Lamar: A Message of Social Justice Through Religious and Unity Themes. (2023, Mar 16). Retrieved May 19, 2024 , from

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