Culture:: On Kendrick Lamar, Black Male Friendship, and the Lyrics to ‘Birdz and the Beez.’

The authors of The Pact have garnered praise and acclaim in the literary world because it is a story that  illustrates how friendship can impact  black youth  achievement. It is often cited for two reasons 1) there is a dearth of literature by and about black male friendship and 2) it is a compelling story about a group of friends who make a commitment to one another to endure the often desolate conditions of life in the archetypal urban city in crisis. It is a choice point because the novel is a demonstration in peer motivation as the three young men navigate turbulent, fatherless lives in hopes of skipping generations and becoming great men.

It explores how “three young men make a promise and fulfill a dream” to support each other in their quest to become doctors. They find that their shared struggles and the fears that come with trying to achieve “unachievable” dreams of becoming doctors were tempered by one  another’s energy. They become heavily motivated by the idea of a group of individuals, working collectively as an irresistible force.

Examples of the”Pact” model can be found throughout Hip-hop. The concept of housing a collection of talent under one umbrella and cultivating them in concert is what many Hip-hop labels strive to achieve. The concept is rooted in the original Motown model and business philsophybuilding talent in community with other artists yields healthy competition between artists and breeds creativity.

Among budding labels employing this model, Top Dawg Ent. is the most recent incarnation. By making their “Black Hippy” band–a Hip-hop super group comprised of Kendrick Lamar, Jay Rock, Schoolboy Q, and Ab-Soul— the centerpiece of their brand, they were also able to cultivate each artist’s individual talent and leverage their talent to create legitimate stars.

This example is evident on the 2011 track titled “Birdz x The Beez” by Schoolboy Q accompanied by Kendrick Lamar. Schoolboy laments the struggle of supporting his lady (and child), being diligent in his pursuit of legitimate rap stardom and art, and being tempted by the fast money of the familiar “Dough Boy” existence he had hopes to escape.

The second verse he spits gets to the mental and spiritual obstacle that can become barriers to one’s artistic pursuits without proper motivation and mindset. He confesses, “N*gga wanna do a song, but its hard to carry on” when his “daughter sitting home and [his] girl is sitting home” lonely and without comfort. Its enough to make him give up even though he “can tell its over in her tone.”

In theory, he understands how unappealing a life of drug dealing is, no matter how much MCs glorify it in song. He knows that every dollar closer to a drop/every drop is closer to a cop,” but the pressures of his problems, compounding upon his shoulders is beginning to wear on his patience. In reality,  he sees few ways for young men in his position to make money and maintain his dignity other than selling drugs; he feels like he will soon fall into his old ways.

He needs money today, but he also knows that with every drug deal comes the risk of going to jail and being away from the family he hopes to provide for. His choice is between pursuing the life with “the Birdz”–like the stamp on a kilo of cocaine–or the life with “the Beez;” making a living off the buzz generated by his music. The brilliance of Schoolboy’s wordplay is he is also articulating the truncated options that are a reality of young men living in South Los Angeles. The birds and the bees are a metaphor for the natural state of being for those relegated to life in the hood.

Still, Schoolboy wishes to “live righteous,” especially because he is finally getting praise for his skills as a rapper. His difficulty to stay focused is amplified by the negative influences of his gang-banging friends (“schoolboy but gangsters were the tutors). Its often easier for him to do the wrong thing, so he continues to look at dealing drugs as a more successful option to make money than doing so honestly.

Luckily for Quincy, he also has the influences of the other comrades in Black Hippy that can motivate him to stay committed to his vocation of being an MC. As artists in arms, they all share in the struggle of wanting to fully invest themselves in the art of rap without being enticed by the criminal ways of his past. Kendrick Lamar, as the first of the Black Hippy set to gain national attention is the perfect person to intercede on Q’s behalf and help to get him back on track through his verse on “Birdz & the Beez.”

Like Q’s gang-banging friends in south Los Angeles, Kendrick came of age in the midst of the heavy gang culture of the ingrained in the area. Unlike them, however, he managed to it without being about that life; he describes himself as “just a good kid from Compton that knows how to rap.” On the track he is so much more. He acts as Q’s support system by affirming Q’s rapping skills and Kendrick’s personal faith in Schoolboy Q’s ability to succeed.

After Schoolboy has finished listing all of the setbacks that makes him want to go back to gangster life, Kendrick enters the track to provide some much needed perspective. He first talks to him about all he wants Schoolboy to achieve while offering a helping hand. He admits to Quincy that taking the legit route is a challenging one, but he will also be supportive throughout.

He decides to push Q slightly past his edge in hopes of preventing him from giving up on his dream of being a rapper and diverging from his chosen path (“show these motherf*ckers that have been tighter than they ever been/Its evident that you intelligent but you can’t escape that life”). According to Kendrick, Schoolboy is too bright to buckle under a system that is designed to undertake him in the first place. If he keeps a strong mind, endures his struggle, and believe in his own talent; Kendrick believes only then will Q achieve the watershed moment of success he is working toward.

Kendrick drives home how much success he wants for Q: “and for you my n*gga I would sacrifice myself to make it, just to see you hold the mic.” In other words, he would give up his spot in order for him to achieve; but he knows that only Q can actually go after the goal. Kendrick also know’s that Schoolboy understands how important Kendrick’ s desire for success is as well. For him to say that he would give that up for Q to achieve also underscores how much he believes in Quincy’s talent in the first place. Kendrick lays out the stark contrast that Quincy’s choices will yield (“won’t you think about it n*gga, life or death/life or cracker hang you by the neck.”) This a choice of life or death.

He leaves him with the central question: “do you wanna see them boys and jet? or you wanna see the runway jets? ” Kendrick makes the point that a life of gang-banging ensures that his life will be constrained by systems anxiety-educing racism while to the result of him pursuing music will give him the option to live comfortably and to live free.

Kendrick knows this, communicates it, and provides Quincy with a strong mindset to keep the challenge of artistry from becoming a barrier to his dreams.. He carefully lays out Q’s choices in vivid contrast: “blue pill, red pill/birds or the bees.” Thank God for choices. Thank god for friendship. Thank God for Hip-hop.

 

 

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