I’m not too prideful to admit that I late bloomed on the magnificence that is Kendrick Duckworth. Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe was cool, but the real admiration began when I finally got over his penchant for voice adjustments long enough to listen to GKMC in its entirety.
The year is 2013 and we begin with two inner city kids leaving home in search of more–in hopes of more. Sharifa, a wide-eyed 21yr old with $600 made greeting tourists in the storefront of a now defunct British brand and Kendrick, a 25 yr old rap prodigy embarking on a historical emergence straight outta Compton. Where our aspirations differed, we made up in parallels discovered on a 4 hour long bus ride to D.C. Though he was 4 years my senior, I completely identified with being the friend who everybody expected to make it. The little cousin who wasn’t directly involved with gang activity, but was close enough to know when it was time to exit the function. The flower growing in the dark room. From watching our friends die in cold blood, to traveling to rivals hoods for teenage love; I, often tragically, related to every bit of his accounts. What began as a simple “let me give this a listen” quickly morphed into a “this is all I can listen to” and the over-consumption of Kendrick’s truth became the soundtrack to those 2 hour bus-train-bus commutes from Dumfries, VA to D.C.
Fast forward to March 2015 and arrival of TPAB. Kendrick is rising to superstardom and Sharifa is *still* struggling to recover from the ashes of 2014’s failed attempt at everything. My time spent in D.C. had crippled me mentally more than physically and forced a reconsideration of every ideology I’d ever subscribed to. I remember hearing the first single and grimacing at how much I could not relate to the idea of loving one’s self. Hating“i” because I was living “u” and K.Dot was right; attempting to love me did not fall short of its complications. I found myself stripped by the gift & curse that is self deprecation masked as awareness. It was no easy feat, however, it marked the beginning of reconstruction…or an involuntary acceptance of what was, what is no longer, and what will never be again. Even when I failed to see it, the plights of both Kendrick and myself very much mirrored each other. I was fucked up then, but I would be alright.
We zoom past untitled unmastered with the same speed Kendrick should have, bringing us to April 2017. The release of DAMN., much like its predecessors, marking the beginning of yet another transformative time in our lives. Kendrick and Sharifa, again, growing and developing new vulnerabilities to be shared. With the former detailing his worry of loss in every capacity on a testimony titled “FEAR.” and the latter growing tired of pretending. I was no longer wide-eyed and time had completely absolved me of innocence. Like Kung Fu Kenny at 25, I was beginning to get my first taste of success and with it came mo’ unfamiliar problems. Tears no longer fell as a result of strategizing how to make $20 stretch for a week and a half, they came in plush conference rooms with handsome biweekly deposits. We meet again, this time much older and wiser. Becoming giants in our own right and simultaneously faced with a poignant set of questions: is it wickedness, is it weakness?
bravery. (n.) the quality or state of having or showing mental or moral strength to face danger, fear, or difficulty.
Being referred to as brave or any variation of the term has always made me uncomfortable. “Strong” being another one. With each serving as labels that, ironically, represent the most glaring of fallacies in my being. Exalting the details deemed safe enough to share and completely ignoring what may lie beneath when in reality, the underlying demons are very real and very much too heavy to reveal to the masses. Kendrick and I cross paths again, this time as accomplished adults listing the insecurities that threaten sanity as much as they fuel excellence.
“I’m talking fear.”
Fear of an inability to sustain beyond the novelty.
Fear of being confined to a lane that may not support one’s growth.
“Fear of losing creativity.”
Fear of succumbing.
Fear of settling in hopes of escaping it all.
Not even I, a girl crazy enough to openly discuss her ongoing issues with mental illness, possess enough strength to overcome the daymare that is fear. A truth that no amount of newfound success could protect me from. From the walls quiet of my Harlem apartment I am now faced with a new question, “how many accolades do I need to block denial?”
The last few weeks in particular have revealed how often my existence represents the actualization of another’s fears. A conclusion that has left me equally flustered and frustrated. My refusal to be docile and accepting of whatever is offered somehow prompted the usage of “ghetto/edgy” in an unsolicited list of insulting adjectives dubbed as “pros.” The decision to reject settling for safe confused for a delight in “being a hoe” to be marveled and revered as a feminist icon. My preference of African American Vernacular English over Standard American English, making my work much like Beyonce’s LEMONADE. Though impactful, it would never garner the endorsement of the Academy.
To be fair, all of the above referenced instances were delivered as compliments; compliments from people who have no idea that my worst fear is being typecast in a world governed by false dichotomies.
Heavy is the head that can wear both crowns.