Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” has soundtracked peaceful protests but as these same peaceful protesters get hit with teargas and rubber bullets, “HiiiPoWer” truly resonates with the times.
“I watch this video and reminise on that krazy am hour of september 13, 2010. I got a visit from Lesane Parish Crooks. Reserch this name.”
There’s a question that often frequents certain rap circles: “what would the rap game be like if Tupac was alive today?” ‘Pac doesn’t necessarily stand at the top of hip-hop’s Mount Rushmore due to his technical prowess or even the charge of his wordplay. He’s the greatest to ever do it because he wasn’t afraid of speaking his mind, and through that, he challenged the listener with timeless gems that resonate even during the most unpredictable moments in life. A pen that undoubtedly influenced generations of rappers that followed, Tupac painted an image of a Black America ravaged by the Reagan administration’s policies and budget cuts. An America that was being silenced and even further marginalized through Reaganomics and tough-on-crime stances that continued to target Black and Brown Americans across the country. That’s a narrative in hip-hop that hasn’t changed mainly because things haven’t changed. In the past few weeks, we’ve witnessed an uprising in America that has led to protests in other countries demanding justice.
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The murder of George Floyd isn’t an uncommon story in America. We’ve seen it in the past, most notably with Eric Garner, who died from suffocation at the hands of police in 2014, over allegations of selling loose cigarettes. George Floyd, it was an alleged counterfeit $20 bill. Both deaths shouldn’t have happened, and anyone with a grain of humanity in their soul would agree. But the death of George Floyd has sparked protests across the country calling for imminent change. Change that’s beginning to seem somewhat tangible. Not just within the justice system but in society as a whole. Racism is still rampant and has been, even in the most subtle ways. Nearly 100 years after Black Wall Street was burned to the ground, America’s witnessing some of their “sacred values” that are rooted in racism get burned to the ground as well.
In the midst of a revolutionary uprising, a few people across social media began criticizing artists like Kendrick Lamar for not using his platform to issue a statement or show his solidarity publicly. His music has previously been anthemic for the Black Lives Matter movement. The hook for “Alright,” for example, became a chant during demonstrations against police brutality. This week, Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 opus To Pimp A Butterfly returned back to Billboard 200 chart after seeing 120% increase in sales. “Alright” has soundtracked peaceful protests but as these same peaceful protesters get hit with teargas and rubber bullets, the intro to Kendrick Lamar’s “HiiiPower” truly resonates.
“The sky is falling, the wind is calling/ Stand for something or die in the morning.”
“HiiiPoWer” was initially introduced by Ab-Soul before every other member of TDE at the time began to push the movement as a collective. References to HiiPoWer are scattered throughout the TDE discography but there was a stronger emphasis on the idea in Section.80. Kendrick explained it as a movement that should be treated like a religion of sorts, one that’s meant to bring a sense of enlightenment and elevation to the minds of Generation Y.
“HiiiPoWer is the way we think, the way we live. See it’s known as today that the human race is nothing. No morals. No standards. What we’re about to do is raise the level of expectations. No, you don’t have to have a lot of money. You don’t have to be rich. But you will be rich in mind and spirit. Some say it’s as big as a crew, some say it’s as big as a gang. HiiiPoWer, we stand for it as if it’s as big as a religion.”
“HiiiPoWer” was a key introduction to someone who would become one of the most important artists of our time. 2011 was a year that many considered essential to the rap renaissance. Artists like Drake, Wale, J. Cole, and Kendrick Lamar were on their come-up, but truthfully, no one’s vision was as vivid as Kendrick’s.
‘Pac once said, “I'm not saying I'm gonna rule the world or I'm gonna change the world, but I guarantee you that I will spark the brain that will change the world.” Kendrick Lamar became that mind. “HiiiPoWer” was admittedly inspired by a dream Kendrick had, where ‘Pac visited him to tell him not to allow his message and his memory to die. He didn’t.
Kendrick Lamar tackles conspiracy theories and oppressive systems, taking notes from prominent Black figures who dedicated, and ultimately lost, their lives for Black liberation. MLK Jr. and Malcolm X had visions that were bigger than themselves or even their immediate geographical community. Even references to Black Panther co-founders Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton emphasizes the message of imminent change on “HiiiPoWer”, though we're witnessing it come into fruition nine years later. The reference to Seale, at this point in time, seems to reflect exactly what has gone on in the past two weeks. Bobby Seale was tried as part of the Chicago Eight accused of conspiring to incite riots at the 1968 DNC Convention in Chicago. The riots that ensued in late August 1968 sparked due to police brutality against demonstrators. Police fired teargas into the crowd, beat down demonstrators, and arrested them. Then-mayor Richard J. Deley shut down a protest permit for anti-war demonstrators before deploying 12K police officers, the Illinois National Guard, and Army Forces. Sound familiar?
“Tryna stay above water, that's why we shun the navy
Pull your guns and play me, let's set it off
Cause a riot, throw a Molotov
Somebody told me them pirates had got lost
‘Cause we been off them slave ships
Got our own pyramids, write our own hieroglyphs.”
The theme of liberty, especially for the Black community under an oppressive system, runs deep throughout the track. But there are moments when Kendrick admits that his fate could be similar to ‘Pac’s. Or Malcolm’s. Or Martin’s. As a voice of rebellion for a generation, a community of marginalized groups, Kendrick acknowledges that his words carry weight. There’s a long list of activists, Black activists specifically, who have been targeted and have been under surveillance for speaking out against the system. Kendrick invites the world to view his autopsy if ever he’s assassinated for speaking his truth. But even now, in the age of social media, where performative activism is at an all-time high, these community leaders and activists who have been at the forefront of the Black Lives Matter movement organizing and leading protests are being heavily surveilled under the FBI’s concern for “Black extremism.” Just last week, The Verge published an article on protecting digital security ahead of protests, to block authority from receiving information that would tip off the police, or allow them to trace you.
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What emboldens this is J. Cole’s production on the song. Cole enhances the feeling of paranoia with synths that sound phone-tapped blended with dial-up Internet tones and morse code. The drums kick with a powerful punch and a Just Blaze touch. Distorted guitars clash through the beat like an interception on a radio signal, and Kendrick’s leading the takeover.
2020 will mark 24 years since Tupac was shot and killed in Las Vegas. He was only 25-years-old at the time. He changed the world in his own way, though he never lived to witness it with his own eyes. Even as injustices continue to take place, the power system at large is beginning to dwindle at the hands of the people, slowly but surely. It’s long-deserved, and a battle that has been passed on from generation to generation. The level of expectation, as Kendrick Lamar explained on the “Cut You Off” outro, has been raised to a point where rebellion can be the only solution to change.
“All of society is doing is leeching off the ghetto. They use the ghetto for their pain. For their sorrow. For their culture. For their music. For their happiness. For their movies to talk about Boyz In The Hood,” ‘Pac said in the same interview referenced earlier. “I don’t want to be 50-years-old at a BET ‘We Shall Overcome’ achievement awards, you know what I’m sayin’? I want when they see me, they know that everyday that I’m breathin’, it’s for us to go farther.”
“HiiiPoWer” has been overshadowed in Kendrick’s catalog by the more commercially appealing records, understandably. His core fans, though, will always hold the record in high regards. Some were introduced to Kendrick with this single while others recognized a moment as his official arrival to the realm of rap’s elite. That same summer Section.80 was released, Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, and The Game officially passed the torch to Kendrick as the new reigning King of the West Coast. Surely, ‘Pac would’ve been alongside all three rappers if he had lived to see the day.