One afternoon, while I was working as a hostess in a restaurant, I overheard a song by Kendrick Lamar on the speakers. I only heard about two minutes of this lengthy 12-minute song. But, within those two minutes, I knew it was a song that I had to constantly play. I adored the soothing tone of his voice, and that is what made me fall in love with this song. No, not a song, a story. “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst” is composed of two parts. The interesting fact about Part One, “Sing About Me” is that it is broken down into three points of view. Part Two “I’m Dying of Thirst” includes a skit and ties back into the lyrics of Part One. Kendrick not only raps about today’s social issues; he raps about the social issues he’s personally gone through, as well as his friends, and how he overcomes these trials and tribulations.
I love Kendrick Lamar as lyricist because he is cut from a different cloth than today’s rappers. In my opinion, he is undeniably one of the greatest hip hop artists of his generation. I say this because all of his music is a story. He is not the usual artist that you’ll hear on the radio rapping about having sex with women, smoking weed or drinking “lean”, finding himself in trouble with the law or getting to the money. At least, you’ll probably never hear him rapping about these topics as a means for fun; he’s actually mentioned these topics to tell his story to his listeners to make them aware of the everyday life of a Compton teenager, even though we may just listen for entertainment.
What makes “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst” so fascinating is one: it actually happened, two, this song ties into the whole album, which is a story line, and three, Kendrick wrote this song with three different points of view. In verse one, Kendrick is rapping, in his friend’s [named Dave] brother’s point of view. The brother’s name was never told; however, it is obvious he is speaking to Kendrick.
“Just promise me you’ll tell this story when you make it big…” ~ Verse One, Part I
He is telling Kendrick that he wants him to share his story with the world when he became famous. He tells the story of his brother getting shot right before him and his friends, including Kendrick. He also goes on to say how much he loved Kendrick for being a brother to his brother and for being there for him and his brother during the time of his death, as Kendrick is the one who held Dave in his arms as he was bleeding out. This verse was an example of a heavily common social issue, gun violence. Gun violence also corresponds with gang violence in this case. Kendrick raps:
“This Piru shit been in me forever
So forever I’ma push it, wherever, whenever…” ~Verse One, Part I
This clearly meant that Dave’s brother was gang-affiliated. This was more than common growing up in the 90’s and 2000’s in the wicked streets of Compton. Dave’s brother’s tone is angry and resentful towards the guys that killed his brother. It is also a tone of love admiration. As stated previously, Dave’s brother loved Kendrick as if Kendrick was his own brother. He says:
“I wonder if I’ll ever discover a passion like you and recover
The life that I knew as a youngin’;
In pajamas and dun-ta-duns” ~Verse One, Part I
This conveys that Dave’s brother’s wants to find “a way out” like Kendrick did with his music. Unfortunately, he never did. The verse ends with Kendrick rapping, and being interrupted by the sound of gunshots, indicating that Dave’s brother’s life was also cut short due to gun violence.
Verse two sums up the story of a teenage girl who follows in the footsteps of her older sister, Keisha. Again, the point of view is in that of Keisha’s younger sister but rapped by Kendrick Lamar. Unlike Dave’s brother, Keisha’s sister did not want Kendrick to sing about her. He starts the verse off by saying:
“You wrote a song about my sister on your tape
And called it Section. 80
The message resembled “Brenda’s Got A Baby” ~Verse Two, Part I
In Kendrick Lamar’s 2011 album “Section.80”, he wrote “Keisha’s Song (Her Pain)”, which was a story about a woman he knew, named Keisha. At the time, she was a 17-year-old prostitute. The message of the song was similar to Tupac Shakur’s “Brenda’s Got A Baby”, a story based on 12-year-old Brenda who got pregnant, became a prostitute for money and was slain. “Keisha’s Song” was a story that told the life of Keisha as a prostitute, with the same outcome as Brenda. The lines after this clearly show Keisha’s sister’s tone of disapproval after hearing the song about her very own sister. Keisha and her sister were prostitutes, and Kendrick did not mention that so abruptly; but there were parts of Verse two that hinted the profession of Keisha’s sister, which stood out to me:
“Even if I got to fuck, suck and swallow
In the parking lot, Gonzales Park, I’m followed
By a married man, and father of three
My titties bounce on the cadence of his tinklin’ keys
Matter of fact, he my favorite ’cause he tip me with E’s” ~Verse Two, Part I
This is one instance where a listener would find out that she’s a prostitute. Kendrick’s use of E’s is a homophone because this shows that he tips her easily because she’s a good prostitute and also tips her with ecstasy. Keisha’s sister is a teenager herself, and this is proved when she speaks upon running away from her foster home and not missing it; she believed that she was just another girl whose life was damaged by the system. She also shows a tone of slight regret and felt that if she was brought up by a family that actually loved and supported her, then maybe she would have learned to respect her body and become a woman, a leader.
Keisha’s sister’s tone of loathe is persistent throughout the verse. It became clear that her and Dave’s brother had opposing tones. Dave’s brother wanted Kendrick to tell their story when he made it big. It appeared that Keisha’s sister did not:
“…what point are you tryna gain
If you can’t fit the pumps I walk in?
I’ll wait… Your rebuttal a little too late
And if you have a album date, just make sure I’m not in the song…” ~Verse Two, Part I
Verse three is more centralized on Kendrick on verge of life and death. The tone of this verse is very unhappy, disgusted with himself as he stares into his reflection, and it becomes worse and worse every time he stares. It, more or less, becomes the rebuttal that Keisha’s sister claims (verse 2) was “late”. He reflects on both instances in verses one and two:
“And you’re right, your brother was a brother to me
And your sister’s situation was the one that pulled me
In a direction to speak on somethin’
That’s realer than the TV screen” ~Verse Three, Part I
The first line aimed at Dave’s brother, and corroborates verse one, which mentions that Dave’s brother sees Kendrick as a brother of his own. He is making sure that he’s telling Dave’s story and his because it is something that should be heard. The next three lines, and some after that, explain that Kendrick didn’t sing about Keisha to put her business out there and judging. It was instances like Dave’s and Keisha’s (and ultimately their brother’s and sister’s) that drove Kendrick to focus on his music, and not the sad life of the Compton streets. Kendrick hopes that one day, when he dies or retires, that someone will rap about his legendary days as a rapper, just as people do now with BIG and Tupac:
“…And hope that at least one of you sing about me when I’m gone
Am I worth it? Did I put enough work in?” ~Verse Three, Part I
At this point in the song, Part one’s (Sing About Me) beat is simmering down and the skit is arising. In the skit, Dave had just been killed due to gun violence, and Kendrick and friends are trying to figure out if they want revenge or to run. Dave’s brother concludes the skit by fumingly yelling that he’s tired of running. Kendrick starts off Part two (I’m Dying of Thirst) by stating:
“Tired of runnin’, tired of huntin’
My own kind, but retirin’ nothin’” ~Verse One, Part II
This is a never-ending cycle of violence in the black community; this is black-on-black violence that he partakes in because of the death of his friend. “Retirin’ nothin’” is in reference to not losing anything of value (besides involved loved-ones) after this is all said and done. Essentially, nothing is gained from violence.
Part two more so shows Kendrick’s relationship with God.
“My momma say “See, a pastor give me a promise
What if today was the rapture and you completely tarnished?
The truth will set you free, so to me be completely honest
You dyin’ of thirst, you dyin’ of thirst
So, hop in that water, and pray that it works.”
This is in reference to holy water. Kendrick is seeking salvation; he is talking about being baptized with the spirit of the Lord. The tone of Part two is reflective, and Kendrick just wants forgiveness from God.
I enjoyed listening to this song the first time; and I felt exactly the same way after dozens of listens. What I learned about Kendrick Lamar, and more so on this song, is that it ties into the whole album. Kendrick Lamar is very descriptive, and I believe that is what drew me into this song out of millions I could have chosen from. Not only did he tell a story of four people he deeply cared about, he made people aware of their situation of gun/gang violence and prostitution. I love music; however, I don’t listen to a lot of songs that will tell the story of the person rapping it. I will never have that problem with Kendrick Lamar.