HUMBLE. by Kendrick Lamar
HUMBLE. by Kendrick Lamar is a braggadocio rap wherein the Kendrick Lamar boasts about wealth, women and murder, and establishes his dominance by putting others down. Within the narrative of the album ‘DAMN.’, however, HUMBLE. is much more complex. This track is a regression on the progress made by the song ‘PRIDE.’ (the previous track). In ‘PRIDE.’, Kung Fu Kenny wrestled with God’s commandments, but eventually, he acknowledges his imperfections and declares that God is perfect. Therefore, one expects the next track to be an acceptance of humility, where Kenny chooses love over pride, weakness over wickedness. However, Kendrick Lamar uses ‘HUMBLE.’ to voice that even if he has reconciled with God, he has yet to reconcile with other people in the world. In the dynamic of the album, this song is most ironic. The tracks ‘HUMBLE.’ and ‘PRIDE.’ are counterparts and they sit on opposing ends of the scale. They are the centermost (7th and 8th) tracks of the album, which shows how important these two traits are in life and in the running biblical narrative that Kendrick Lamar creates in the album. Interestingly and ironically, Kendrick Lamar displays Kenny’s humility in ‘PRIDE.’ and Kenny’s pride in ‘HUMBLE.’, thus creating a deeper layer of reversal – that we have seen with the collector’s album and the original album itself.
As mentioned, Kendrick Lamar’s purpose is to assert that the men and women he is subjugating should accept their place at the bottom of the dominance hierarchy and respect his position at the top. Kendrick Lamar does this through biblical references, allusions and metaphors. The hook or chorus of the song is a biblical reference to Jeremiah’s prophecy against the Israelites and their King. He warned them to “humble yourselves and sit down,” otherwise they will meet their destruction. The contrast between Kung Fu Kenny and Jeremiah is that the former will rejoice at the misfortunes of his enemies and will not forgive them for not listening to him. The repetition and refrain in the chorus mean to reinforce this idea – as if he is commanding them to stand and bow down to him and his boundless wealth, fame and access to women.
He makes several allusions towards items that wealthy people lavish themselves with and famous people who are the greatest of all time in their field. Earlier in his life, he could only afford to have bread with maple syrup, now he has parmesan which is the King of all cheeses. Similarly, Grey Poupon, Evian and Ted Talks are examples of goods and events that were exclusive to only the wealthy. In the song, KFK associates himself with Muhammad Ali, in that he is the greatest and his “left stroke just went viral” and “right stroke put Lil baby in a spiral,” meaning his songs are like punches that knock-out his opponents. He also mentions that he has met Obama. Therefore he affiliates himself with influential people and in turn, is himself important.
The song revisits the unholy trinity of sex, money and murder which continue to undermine KFK’s journey of trying to make peace with the rest of humanity. The verses of the song that pertain to violence and sex in Verse 1 are all metaphors for how to use these two methods to ‘knock out’ his opponent and demean him through violence or her through sex. He refers to himself as “Sandman” which is a fictional creature who puts people to sleep – this fits the boxer narrative as he knocks out his opponents. In the line, “If I quit your BM, I still ride Mercedes, funk,” he is exclaiming that in both women and wealth, he has an abundance as BM and Mercedes can refer to either women or cars.
Ultimately, the song portrays Kenny as a walking contradiction and a hypocrite as he expects others to be humble but exempts himself. Kendrick Lamar stated that this song is meant to speak to his rivals but also himself and his ego. A global issue that this song could explore would be Superiority Complexes or The Need for Self-Acceptance. It would be interesting to examine if Kendrick Lamar develops this attitude because of a defensive need to overcome inferiority or constant overwhelming feelings instead of genuinely believing he is above all others. Another idea could be how destructive the path to fame is, or more globally, the road to success. As Kendrick Lamar came from humble beginnings and went through rags to riches storyline, an analysis of what happened to his character throughout that journey is present in these lyrics.