Promise That You Will Sing About Me: How Tupac Has Influenced Kendrick Lamar

BYDanny Schwartz15.7K Views
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Examining the ways in which Kendrick Lamar draws inspiration from Tupac Shakur.

Kendrick Lamar is a nimble, flexible rapper who uses clever wordplay to shift between characters, places, times, to explore worlds other than this, the composite of all which is a multi-dimensional self-portrait.

There is a prominent spiritual component to all this, and and the person who's spirit Kendrick attempts to channel more than anyone is Tupac Shakur. It may sound corny, but when you look at Kendrick’s body of work... it’s true. If he is Simba, Tupac is his Mufasa in the clouds: "Remember who you are."

Meanwhile, we hit the streets of New York to ask the good citizens: is Tupac still alive? Watch below.

A young Kendrick attends the "California Love" video shoot 

Promise That You Will Sing About Me: How Tupac Has Influenced Kendrick Lamar

Yesterday marked the 19th anniversary of Tupac's death, and Kendrick had the honor of having a letter he penned to his idol published on the official Tupac website.

"I was 8 years old when I first saw you," he wrote. "I couldn't describe how I felt at that moment. 20 years later I understand exactly what that feeling was... INSPIRED."

It is a moment that Kendrick has alluded to many times: Tupac's "California Love" video shoot in Compton. Here's how he's described the scene: "It was like pandemonium. My dad put me on his shoulders, and there they was, Dr. Dre and Tupac, in I think a white Bentley... these motorcycle cops trying to conduct traffic but one almost scraped the car, and Pac stood up on the passenger seat, like, 'Yo, what the fuck!'  Yelling at the police, just like on his motherfucking songs. He gave us what we wanted.”

It was the first of two moments that would cement Kendrick's spiritual and musical connection to Tupac. "That momentum right there, subconsciously or not, I think it eventually branched me off to what I'm doing now," he said. "It was already designed and destiny."

Kendrick's first glimpse of Tupac occurred at the Compton Swap Meet -- in the video, Tupac goes there to buy clothes to wear later at Dr. Dre's party. Kendrick paid homage by heading to the Compton Swap Meet to film his "King Kunta" video. “It blew me away, tripped me out that 15 years later I’m doing that same thing ’Pac was doing right in Compton,” he told MTV News. “It’s just a beautiful thing.”


Promise That You Will Sing About Me: How Tupac Has Influenced Kendrick Lamar

Tupac visits Kendrick in a dream: "Don't let my music die"

Kendrick says Tupac visited him in a dream one night towards the beginning of his career, when he was 21 or 23 years old. depending on the retelling. It is the second crucial juncture in the Kendrick-Tupac connection, an instance that Kendrick has repeatedly described as being a light-bulb moment that helped him develop a deeper meaning of what his music should be about.

"I was coming from a late studio session, sleeping on Mom's couch... I remember being tired, tripping from the studio, lying down, and falling into a deep sleep and seeing a vision of Pac talking to me. Weirdest shit ever. I'm not huge on superstition and all that shit. That's what made it so crazy. It can make you go nuts. Hearing somebody that you looked up to for years saying, 'Don't let the music die.' Hearing it clear as day. Clear as day. Like he's right there. Just a silhouette."

Kendrick believes that the vision helped him realize his larger purpose. "It wasn't just about money, hos, clothes, drinkin'," he said. "I mean, I come from that world, but at the same time, I started to realize that there's people out there that can't really connect to that lifestyle. They're in the struggle." He most notably recounted his surreal encounter with Tupac in the introduction of his "Hiipower" video: 

Kendrick as Tupac's successor

Promise That You Will Sing About Me: How Tupac Has Influenced Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick crowned as Tupac's successor

Kendrick has been dubbed by many as the bearer of Tupac's torch. When asked what Tupac would think of his music, he responded, “I think he would thank me for keeping the legacy alive of speaking on something that's real. Not only to him, but what i feel everybody needs to be listening to.”

And though Kendrick is a worthy successor, Tupac's legacy is a heavy burden to carry, as he discussed on his 2012 song "The Heart Pt. 3 (Will You Let It Die)":

When the whole world see you as Pac reincarnated
That's enough pressure to live your whole life sedated
Find the tallest building in Vegas and jump off it
But I could never rewrite history in a coffin
And if they said that I'm the one, why you asking me, nigga?
Cause when the whole world see you as Pac reincarnated
Enough pressure to make you just open the Book of David
And pray to God that ya make it or live your life in the matrix

But these pressures are not only external -- Kendrick has repeatedly made clear the spiritual bond he feels with Tupac. His music bears many similarities to that of Tupac; common themes include morality, temptation, black empowerment, and the social ills of the ghetto. Like Tupac, Kendrick likes to explore the various corners of his personality, and his chorus on GKMC track "Sing of Me, I'm Dying of Thirst" could be read as Kendrick inhabiting Tupac's voice, reliving the night when Tupac visited him in a dream.

When the lights shut off
And it's my turn to settle down
My main concern
Promise that you will sing about me
Promise that you will sing about me 

Heaven v Hell

Promise That You Will Sing About Me: How Tupac Has Influenced Kendrick Lamar

Hell and heaven, death and rebirth

Tupac's death at the young age of 25 has no doubt informed Kendrick's recurring musings on heaven and hell, the everpresent shadow of death looming in his periphery. As he continues to draw inspiration from Tupac, surely Tupac must be speaking to him from somewhere, someplace. On Overly Dedicated finale "Heaven & Hell," Kendrick gives his vision of hell in the first verse before giving his vision of heaven in the second:

Malcolm laughing, Martin laughing, Biggie spittin'
Pac is rapping, Gregory tappin, people singing, bells is ringing

Kendrick's preoccupation with heaven and hell continued on TPAB, which included a pair of parables in which he interacts with the two foremost spiritual forces -- On "For Sale," he raps about the temptations of a character named Lucy, short for Lucifer, and on "How Much A Dollar Cost," he talks to a homeless man who eventually reveals himself to be God.

If judged only by its title, TPAB can be seen as a vehicle of or allusion to Tupac's spiritual rebirth. It was originally titled Tu Pimp a Caterpillar (TUPAC) but he ultimately switched from "caterpillar" to "butterfly" to lighten the mood, a transition that serves as a pleasant metaphor for Tupac shedding his cocoon and taking flight.

Conversing directly with Tupac

Promise That You Will Sing About Me: How Tupac Has Influenced Kendrick Lamar

When Kendrick attempts to channel Tupac's spirit, sometimes he does so literally. On "Turn Me Up" on Ab-Soul's 2010 mixtape Long Term 2, he alludes once again to that vision when Pac spoke to him directly.

Pac told me fuck the world, I'm 'bout to cum now
I've been a pro, but now I'm profound

On TPAB's  "Mortal Man," he addresses an artist's life after death -- "when shit hits the fan, is you still a fan" -- and lists Nelson Mandela, MLK, Malcolm X, and Moses as spiritual influences:

The ghost of Mandela, hope my flows they propel it
Let these words be your earth and moon
You consume every message

He then reconstructs an old Tupac interview so that the two of them are having a conversation about the big questions they face(d) as famous artists -- influence, fame, the black struggle. Kendrick uses Tupac's voice not merely as a guiding hand, but as a literal voice -- diaphragm, vocal cords, and all -- giving him a body to bridge the gap between our world and the afterlife. Tupac is a means by which he broadens his view of the universe, to draw on all its joys, sorrows, and wisdom, to tap into the ancient well.

About The Author
<b>Staff Writer</b> <!--BR--> <strong>About:</strong> President of the Detlef Schrempf fan club. <strong>Favorite Hip Hop Artists:</strong> Outkast, Anderson .Paak, Young Thug, Danny Brown, J Dilla, Vince Staples, Freddie Gibbs