Black Boy Fly by Kendrick Lamar

There’s a scene in the 90’s film, Boyz n the Hood, in which Ricky, a high school football star, is discussing a possible football scholarship with the coach of USC. Ricky’s mom, incredibly poor and riddled by the constraints of 1990’s Southern California poverty, is ecstatic about the offer; she reprimands Ricky about his low grades and subpar test scores and reminds him that without this scholarship, he will not go to college. To his surprise, he aces the SAT, allowing him admission into USC on a scholarship. One day later, Ricky is shot and killed while walking to the grocery store due to gang-related retaliation. At this point, one can’t help but ask oneself if they are watching a movie or living real life; it’s an all too familiar scene. We’ve all seen the newspaper article with the picture of a smiling, young teenage boy in football gear below the caption, “Teenage Boy Shot and Killed in Gang Skirmish,” or the Fox News coverage of a family torn apart by a son’s introduction to the criminal world. We usually react to these stories with, “How sad. He had so much potential,” and flip the page to the Target sale catalog, forcing our brains to suppress the world’s cruel, depressing reality. What happens when these Detroit, Compton, Harlem, and other countrywide ghetto-bred kids defeat their stereotype of tragic failure? Art. Pure, cold art– no matter what medium these kids succeed through. Whether it be music, painting, athletics, academics, business, anything– these kids are the true pioneers of our country.

Kendrick Lamar hit the rap game with a hard fist in 2010, releasing his critically acclaimed mixtape, Overly Dedicated. Lamar’s flow was unique and crisp, a refreshing adjustment to the somewhat decaying hip-hop scene of 2010. His pensive and urgent persona was entirely its own, no other rapper of the year could compare to Lamar’s polished literary prowess. In 2011, he released Section .80, another critically acclaimed mixtape that expanded Lamar’s production and focused on the themes of racism, addiction, and gang violence. Overly Dedicated and Section .80 were something of Lamar’s thesis statements, while his new LP, Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City, is his autobiography. The album is overly personal in a good way, featuring voicemails from Lamar’s parents, lyrics regarding Lamar’s volatile youth, and multiple references to his hometown, Compton, California. “Black Boy Fly,” a bonus track on Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City, is a shimmering track that analyzes the brutal and driven mentality of the ghetto. The song revolves around Lamar’s envious feelings toward the ones that got away. Lamar’s desirous anger is set up from the song’s opening lines, “I used to be jealous of Arron Afflalo, he was the one to follow.” Lamar parallels Afflalo’s ability to “fight his way out of Compton with further more to accomplish,” with his redundant failure, rapping, “Cause every basket was a reaction or a reminder, that we was just moving backwards,” revealing Lamar’s desire to escape and succeed. “Black Boy Fly’s” production is sleek and driven, relying on smooth piano samples and urban drum beats to push the song forward into the center of Lamar’s hard-won memory. The rapper’s flow is as intriguing as it always is, never failing to dullness or triviality and always burning with fiery importance. Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City is solely proof that there is always a future. Kendrick Lamar grew up with nothing. He lived in Compton, California– the poster boy of all ghettos. He flirted with slinging drugs and gang violence. Where is he now? Rapping on stages in front of thousands of people. “Black Boy Fly” is a triumph over life’s unfairness, it’s a reminder that sometimes, chasing your dreams is the only thing you can do.

-Ryan

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