For my college global class, I had to read Edward Said's Representations of the Intellectual (OK, I know this already sounds boring, but please bear with me. Lucky for you, I'll spare you the dense reading and just sum it up in five sentences. 1.) Said coined the term "organic intellectual." 2.) To Said, an intellectual is not just a well read, college educated and professional person. 3.) An organic intellectual attempts to provoke social change and/or educate a population. 4.) An organic intellectual's obligation is to give a voice to the voiceless. 5.) An organic intellectual stands for freedom and justice. I'm going to tell you why Kendrick Lamar is an organic intellectual.
Last summer, I saw Kendrick Lamar perform live at Lollapalooza. On that hot summer day, I was standing in the crowd surrounded by thousands of intoxicated teenagers and young adults. A bunch of them were trying to complete the task of taking a shot every time Kendrick said, "Drank" as he performed his hit song "Swimming Pools." At the time I really didn't think much of it, but after I read through the song's lyrics I discovered the irony.
In 2013, this song blew up and became a pre-game staple for high school and college students. Kendrick Lamar's "Swimming Pools" quickly become a drinking anthem. However, the meaning and intended message behind this song strongly contradicts that embodiment.
The hook, that high school and college kids often drink to, states, "Pour up, drank/head shot, drank/stand up, drank/Pass out, drank/Wake up, drank/Faded, drank/Faded, drank." The excessive use of the word drank is used to point out the addictiveness of alcohol. The term "head shot" also references the violence that can erupt when people are under the influence, something that Lamar experienced first hand growing up in Compton. The hooks claims that even after a person becomes head shot, or passes out or becomes faded, that he/she feels the need to keep drinking.
In the first verse, Kendrick discusses why people drink and how he got sucked in. The line "Some people wanna fit in with the popular/That was my problem," expresses the pressure that teenagers feel to drink in order to be cool. (A little ironic that kids drink OD to his song though, right?)
The next verse has a really interesting section where Kendrick raises his voice an octave and has this conversation with his "conscience." His conscience tells him, "Okay now open your mind up and listen to me, Kendrick/I'm your conscience, if you do not here me/Then you will be history, Kendrick/I know that you're nauseous right now and I'm hoping to lead you to victory Kendrick/If I take another down/Imma drown in some poison abusin' my limit." Kendrick is describing the ultimate struggle for high school and college students: drunken nausea. He's drunk. He's nauseous. He feels the need to drink more. Sound like a familiar scenario? Yet, he points out that poisoning his body. He's not glamorizing drinking and drug use like a lot of other rappers in the industry.
Kendrick proves to be an intellectual individual because this song "Swimming Pools (Drank)" provokes social change. He's giving a voice to the peer pressured and sending a strong message to the world. He relates to teenagers, expressing that he's been there and gave into peer pressure. He also uses his own life experience to explain not only that excessive drinking isn't cool, but also that it can lead you to a perilous and poisoning path. So why don't young people respect that?
Lyrics used to be the most important part of the song. Artists use their lyrics to express themselves and get a real message across. Now with EDM on the rise, I noticed that there are physically less lyrics in songs. It's all about the "drop" these days. There is a lot to learn from an artist's lyrics and it's troubling to think that a lot of young people are missing out.
How did this song turn into a drinking song in the first place? I could not have been the first person to ever Google "lyrics to swimming pools by kendrick lamar." I know I'm not the only person who takes pride in being able to rap an entire song. #Fact, you're automatically cooler if you're in the car, at a pre-game or at a party and can rap an entire song. It impresses people. But seriously, a lot of people actually know the lyrics to this song. Are they ignoring them? Are they blinded by the beat? The "drank" hook maybe?
Are kids not listening to the lyrics anymore? Am I the only one who missed that memo? What does this say about our generation?
To all the teenagers reading this, next time your listening to the radio or to your iPod, pay some extra attention to the lyrics. You'll be surprised by how much you can learn and how many new role models you'll find.
Watch the "Swimming Pools" music video here: