A Savior’s Resignation Letter

“Kendrick made you think about it, but he is not your savior.”

Blake Nail / 5.23.22

For the hip hop community it’s been as quiet as the silence between the Old Testament and the New. Surely, others were speaking, but the culture has been waiting to hear from one voice. The voice from on high, the one they themselves have placed on the throne of rap. Kendrick Lamar. He’s been fairly silent since his last album DAMN., with only a couple appearances since, including his production of the Black Panther soundtrack. But as for a personal statement from Kendrick on the state of the world? Nothing. 

Now, five years later, he’s spoken via his latest two disc album, Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers. Much like the Jewish community of the New Testament time who were awaiting a warrior messiah, one who would come and bring them to glory and trotting down their enemies, the community was awaiting a warrior wordsmith. One who would come and deliver the oppressed people from the troubles of the past five years. We’ve had a pandemic, chaotic presidencies and elections, police brutality and murder, protests on protests and civil rights issues repeatedly challenged and fought for. So, the culture waited with bated breath for the album to drop. 

In the single he released just a week before his album came out, The Heart Part 5, Kendrick talks about this anticipation, that he would help change and shape the culture and how it sometimes feels to no affect. The music video is jarring and capturing as his face transforms into the faces of other black men who’ve risen to fame and stardom out of the culture only to fall either to criticism, flaws of their own, or in some cases a tragic death: O.J. Simpson, Kanye West, Jussie Smollet, Will Smith, Kobe Bryant and Nipsey Hussle. It’s quite poignant that just days after it was released, two young rappers were indicted on RICO charges — a bittersweet cherry on top of the new song. But in the track, Kendrick notes how he still wants the culture even though it would appear foolish to continue preaching to it.

Then the album releases and one immediately realizes that, while salvation hangs in the balance, Kendrick has other things in mind than being the savior of the culture. The album is full of vulnerability and honesty about a multitude of topics. He discusses his own father issues, cheating on his fiancé, being a father himself, his transgender aunt, his use of a now unspoken word, and much more. But there’s one theme that stands out powerfully. 

The crown of thorns has been donned by numerous rappers, artists and whosoevers but there’s something unique about the way Kendrick wears his crown on the cover of his album. Unlike Kanye, who wore it bloodied on the infamous rolling stone cover and claims to have saved hip hop (one could argue he did), Kendrick instead wears a crown that appears to be a sort of cloth material, unstained and free of any damage to his head. Not only that, but his back is to the viewer while he’s turned toward his fiancé holding his new daughter while he carries his son in his arms. 

After years of silence and back-to-back successful albums, one winning a Pulitzer Prize, Kendrick feels the pressure from the apex he has ironically achieved, but also one he’s been involuntarily placed upon by the culture. In the song, “Crown,” he breaks down this feeling by echoing Shakespeare and scripture:

“Heavy is the head that chose to wear the crown
to whom is given much is required now,
heavy is the head that chose to wear the crown,
to whom is given much is required now.”

This album could be seen as Kendrick’s “take this cup from me” moment in the Garden of Gethsemane. While he’s been crowned a savior, he doesn’t want to be it. In fact, there’s an entire song about it entitled “Savior” which starts out with this:

“Kendrick made you think about it, but he is not your savior
Cole made you feel empowered, but he is not your savior
Future said, ‘get a money counter,’ but he is not your savior
‘Bron made you give his flowers, but he is not your savior
he is not your savior.”

and continues later with this:

“the cat is out the bag, I am not your savior
I find it just as difficult to love thy neighbors”

It’s not that Kendrick has lost a passion for his culture, rather he’s gained a new view of himself. He’s human. After therapy, writer’s block, and dealing with the trauma of his troubling childhood and adolescence, he’s realized that he is not the one to save anything. And ironically, through this admission and realization, his words become more potent than ever — possibly even producing tremendous healing for a culture which is hungry for it. But not in the way they thought he would. He brings salvation through his weakness, his brokenness. 

There’s something valuable in this album and message, not only for the hip-hop culture and culture writ large, but the church and the pastor. Perhaps we could even adopt the philosophy for ourselves.

In a culture hyper-focused on celebrity, with scandal after scandal, and projects like The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill, Hillsong: A Megachurch Exposed and The Eyes of Tammy Faye, it’s important for not only congregations to remember as Kendrick says “faith in one man is a sinking ship” but also for pastors to realize they are not the savior of anything. Perhaps you need to step away for some years to figure yourself out or get your house in order. Maybe that podium should be for revealing your weakness and frailty rather than a moment to lift yourself up. And for some, the gig might be altogether over. That’s okay. You are not the savior. The human heart has a proclivity toward raising leaders up higher than they should be and one should take note of Kendrick’s resistance of such a placement.   

We would all do well if we took a moment to not only appreciate the beautiful soundscape of this album but take heed to this tendency we have to make saviors out of normal people. Whether it be your favorite artist, the preacher who truly brings the Word alive for you, your spouse, your children’s academic or athletic performance; there’s a multitude of ways we create and shape our own saviors and all the while one’s been offered to us already. There’s no need to craft one, applying pressure on someone who can’t bear the weight of such a title. Instead, we have one who’s cup wasn’t taken from them. Who doesn’t run from the position but rather endures and gladly offers salvation. One who frees us from this persistent habit of ours and lets us find some rest from the savior making game. And after a long day of savior making, rest sounds like music to my ears.

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2 responses to “A Savior’s Resignation Letter”

  1. Melissa Dodson says:

    Great reflection. I’m all too ready to place humans on pedestals. Thank you, Blake, for the reminder that that’s not healthy for them or for me!

  2. […] Lamar gets off the cross we built for […]

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