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The Brilliance Behind Kendrick Lamar's Song "DUCKWORTH"

Luisa Moreira



Kendrick Lamar, a rapper best known for letting his songs speak for him instead of speaking himself, released his 4th studio album "DAMN" in the spring of 2017. Ever since then, the artist's storytelling that he so perfectly portrays throughout his songs has been discussed and analysed thoroughly, and that precise quality has made him one of the most acclaimed black artists of our generation. As mentioned, Kendrick isn't known to speak publicly much, hence why he only gave one interview after dropping "DAMN"- one where he discussed the story behind "DUCKWORTH", the last song on the album. Fans of Kendrick will recognize his signature beats and beloved rap style, however, upon deciphering the true meaning behind the lyrics, the song becomes all the more fascinating.


The song "DUCKWORTH" narrates the lives of two different people. The first person is a light-skinned man named Ducky. Ducky recently moved to California with his wife and newborn baby from the Robert Taylor Southside Projects and is worried for the safety of his family. Lamar raps: "He came from the streets(...) they had a son, hopin' that he'd see college". An important detail in Ducky's story is the fact that he works at Kentucky Fried Chicken. (Keep that in mind).


The second person's name is Anthony, a gang-affiliated hustler, described by many as "misspent youth". "His family history, pimpin' and bangin' . He was meant to be dangerous. Clocked him a grip and start slangin'." Lamar writes, describing the once dangerous man who we now know in the music industry as Anthony "Top Dawg" Tiffith. Kendrick bounces between autobiographical facts about Top Dawg (he's the oldest of seven children) and tales of his youth, highlighting his run-ins with police when he was younger.


As per Kendrick's lyrics, Anthony frequently attended the KFC where Ducky worked. Ducky, knowing Anthony's background and who he was associated with, made an effort to stay on his good side, always giving him some pieces of "free chicken" and "two extra biscuits" when he came through the door. Little did Ducky know, the KFC that he worked at would be robbed by Anthony and his gang, and the song even dictates that an employee was shot in the process. Because of Ducky's generosity, he got spared: "They didn't kill him, in fact, it looked like they're the last to survive".


Fast-forward many years later from the occurrences narrated in the song, when Kendrick Lamar was already a famous rapper, a writer named Marcus J. Moore writes a biographical book about his life titled: "The Butterfly Effect: How Kendrick Lamar Ignited the Soul of Black America". In the book, we find out that Kendrick's real name is actually Kendrick Lamar Duckworth, and his father, Kenny Duckworth, worked day shifts at a KFC when he first moved to California to provide for his son. The story of "Ducky" from the song is in fact the story of Kenny Duckworth.


As mentioned, Anthony (Top Dawg) is now a huge music producer, but in his younger days, he had several run-ins with the police, and was involved in gang-related activity. When he robbed the KFC that Kendrick Lamar's dad worked at, he had no idea that sparing Kenny Duckworth's life would lead to a series of coincidences in his future. Before Kendrick Lamar rose to fame and was just a 15-year-old teenager from Compton, his very good friend got a job fixing Top Dawg's computer systems, during which he spent hours in Top Dawg's house blasting music on his phone. Top Dawg took a liking to the music that was being played at his home, and so asked his IT worker to introduce him to the man behind the sound. That music was in fact Kendrick Lamar's mixtapes that he made back when he was simply known as "K Dot", and by then had shared only with his inner circle of friends.


Kendrick Lamar was now in a position where he had one chance to impress a huge music producer and possibly kick-start his career, and of course, that's what he did. Kendrick Lamar became the first artist signed at Top Dawg Entertainment, Tiffith's record label. Listening to the last verses of DUCKWORTH, we realise how much a series of coincidences worked in Lamar's favour: "You take two strangers and put them in random predicaments, give them a soul so they can make their own choices and live with it. 20 years later, them same strangers you make 'em meet again inside recording studios where they reapin' their benefits. Then you start reminding them about that Chicken incident. Whoever thought the greatest rapper would be from coincidence?" "Because if Anthony killed Ducky , Top Dawg could be servin' life, while I grew up without a father and die in a gunfight".


Throughout Kendrick's songs, we learn more and more that Kendrick Lamar becoming Kendrick Lamar is in fact a series of catastrophic coincidences that came full circle to unleash the lyrical genius we all know and love today, and the story of DUCKWORTH only confirms that.


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