Music The Arts

Kendrick Lamar, Hip Hop, and the Truly Praiseworthy

Tony Stone

Kendrick Lamar has single handedly challenged every rapper to get better! At least that’s what I’m supposed to believe after his featured verse on Big Sean’s song, “Control”.

For those who don’t know, Kendrick is a young, up and coming rapper from Los Angeles known for his ability to weave words together in complex ways. He’s a talented artist for sure, and anyone who is into hip hop can tell you that he has notable skill (i.e. he’s dope). But what’s all the fuss about his latest verse?


Kendrick’s verse was debatably average to great, depending on who you ask. The content of his verse was the typical bragging, self exalting stuff that we hear in most musical genres (not just rap), and certain lines in his lyrics have set off a barrage of responses from Lakers coach Phil Jackson to rapper Lupe Fiasco.

The rap world is losing its mind, as everyone is weighing the effects of his verse. I can’t help but feel like this is my old high school where we’re sitting on the bus after school making jokes about someone’s clothes to a roar of “ooohs”, coupled with smirks and grins as everyone awaits a response. So pardon me if I can’t help but feel like there has been a juvenile response to Kendrick Lamar’s verse, sadly even amongst Christians.

[Tweet “The rap world is losing its mind, as everyone is weighing the effects of his verse.”]

Here’s a sampling of just one of a few lines that has sparked discussion:

I’m important like the pope/I’m a muslim on pork/I’m Makaveli’s offspring, I’m the king of New York
King of the Coast, one hand, I juggle them both

Kendrick strikes a chord by saying that he’s the King of New York, which is something even New Yorkers are split about (think Nas and Jay Z). To be from Los Angeles and say that is to insinuate that there isn’t enough talent in New York to even give the title to someone from New York. In hip hop categories those are fighting words.

Now, I hardly think this will launch another east coast/west coast rivalry (think Biggie and Tupac in the 90’s), but that’s not what I take issue with. My issue is how Christians have put off discernment and got caught up in the melee.

[Tweet “My issue is how Christians have put off discernment and got caught up in the melee.”]

Culture Building through Boasting 

Kendrick was simply being boastful. I know, we all want to herald “good art” and acknowledge God’s common grace in skillfulness present all throughout the world, but “good art” is never a cause to be muted on our grief over sinful boasting. Do we mourn over our own sinful boasting? And should we not mourn over sinful boasting in all the world?

Christians are joining the chorus of the world and saying, “Wow, rappers are being challenged to get better in their craft because of Kendrick’s verse!” as if the advance of culture is spearheaded by bragging and boasting. Babel is a tower built on human boastfulness. New Jerusalem is a city built on the suffering of Jesus Christ. Boasting about the greatness of your skills does not represent progress in culture. This world is inevitably moving towards God’s glory, and His kingdom will come and will be done.

[Tweet “Babel is a tower built on boastfulness. New Jerusalem is a city built on the suffering of Jesus Christ.”]

[Tweet “Boasting about the greatness of your skills does not represent progress in culture.”]

Kendrick Lamar’s verse is out of touch with reality.

[Tweet “Kendrick Lamar’s verse is out of touch with reality.”]

Form vs Content

My last words will help put a bow tie on this. I’m not ignorant to the idea that we can love the form but hate the content. I just want Christians to think better and more clearly about the way content can undermine the form.

[Tweet “I just want Christians to think better and more clearly about the way content can undermine the form.”]

Something tells me that Christians would hesitate to congratulate the scientific achievements of lab that created a new toxin and released it into the water supply. Something tells me that believers would mourn louder than they’d applaud if a film producer released a skillfully shot movie that glorified sex slavery. At what point do we, as Christians, say, “Enough!” and mourn that the skillfulness of a form is overshadowed by it’s content? We lose every bit of Gospel effectiveness when we get comfortable with entertaining sin in our private lives and the public culture.

If anything, this blog is a call to hate our sin in such a way that it frees us to love the world the way that Jesus did with tears, grace, and bold calls to abandon fading glory in exchange for everlasting glory in Christ.

10 thoughts on “Kendrick Lamar, Hip Hop, and the Truly Praiseworthy

  1. Hannah

    I am unfamiliar with this particular controversy, but am really interested in what you have to say about form and content. I’m a student studying visual art, and am familiar with the dilemma of Christians admiring something bad for the sake of its craftsmanship, or else dismissing good art because its form doesn’t conform to their standards of morality.

    As a visual artist I try to think through the connection between the visual form and underlying content/meaning. With a painting or sculpture the form and content need to be connected. If the content is disconnected from the form, the piece is weak and unconvincing even if the craftsmanship is good. If the content is well connected to the form but repulsive, than the form, even well made, will create a sense of repulsion within the viewer. This connection is easy to overlook, but I believe it is critical to making good art–the way the connection between our theology and our actions is critical in living a faithful life.

    I think that Christians’ lack of discernment in this area is not simply that we don’t know when to say “enough,” but also that we are confused about what good art is. Good art has 1) good craftsmanship–which we sometimes tend to celebrate even when the content is worthless–2) good content and 3) good form, which is the artifact created when good content meets good craftsmanship. And this is where we get mixed up: We might say a piece has good form just because it has good craftsmanship. However, as a whole piece, it might just suck as art. Because art is about more than craftsmanship. Good art is never going to be about self-exultation. That’s not good content.

    We need to be careful about what we celebrate as good when we are only looking at one aspect and not the whole.
    Thanks for posting.

  2. JBusy

    Great post. First, I believe it was really important to make this an inclusive statement and not just a hip-hop thing. You managed to note that self-glorification exists not only in hip-hop, but most music. We’re humans and, naturally, our nature shines through in the art, regardless of how brilliant, we create.

    Next, from a general standpoint, Kendrick Lamar’s verse was a significant. Not because it impacts Christians, but because it impacts culture. While we do not uphold the values of the dominant culture or the subculture of hip-hop, we live in it and must know and understand the language even though we don’t speak it “at home” or think it in our minds.

    Finally, Kendrick Lamar’s verse was a terrific opportunity for teachable moment: do we exalt something that is legitimate art just because it is exceptional? Do we completely turn ourselves off from this art? Do we realize the sinfulness our the “secular world” while still understanding that it is legitimate art, but not necessarily meant to be praised?

    The idea of not appreciating art is a complete oxymoron, but it goes to show how radical God’s call is in comparison to “what seems right in our own eyes”.

  3. wassup402

    Well…what did ya all expect. After all, Rap and Hip Hop has always been about “burnin’, bleedin’ and pillagin’.”

  4. Lisa Robinson

    Hey Tony, I thought you might be interested in my expanded thoughts from the comment. Thanks for the fodder.

  5. Tony S

    Hey Paul! We gather as a church in Newport News, but I live in Portsmouth. Would love to connect with you. Is it possible for you to link up on Sunday night in Chesapeake? We have a small group gathering. If so, email me at Thanks!

  6. Paul Horne

    Hey Tony,

    great article man. I had not heard about the controversy, because I have stepped away from secular music. I see you live in NN, I live on the other side of the James. Would you like to meet one day and chop it up?

  7. Jeremy Q. Butler

    “…love the form but hate the content…” Very true and Good read.

  8. Tony S

    Great points, Lisa. I haven’t analyzed this in light of the Gospel music industry, but I wouldn’t be surprised!

  9. innermanmusic

    …in the last days, people will be lovers of themselves…

    Haven’t even heard the song, nor do I care to, but like you said, too many believers are caught up in trying to be the next big thing. We already have a big thing…Jesus… and he’s all we need to focus on. We must continue to decrease so that He can increase, not get larger and more full of ourselves so we can gain a larger platform!

  10. Lisa Robinson

    Good thoughts Tony. But this has infiltrated gospel music too, right? Best in Me and Go Get It are two songs that come to mind though there are others.

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