One Memorable Look: Decoding The Fighting Style Of Mr Kendrick Lamar

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One Memorable Look: Decoding The Fighting Style Of Mr Kendrick Lamar

Words by Mr Jim Merrett

13 May 2022

Mr Kendrick Lamar on his “Damn” tour performing at the Barclays Centre, Brooklyn, New York, 20 July 2017. Photograph by P Squared

After turning Mr Pharrell Williams’ beat for “Alright” into what became the anthem of the Black Lives Matter movement, Williams said that Lamar was the Mr Bob Dylan of our time. The comparison stands. Where Dylan’s lyrics have inspired university syllabuses and wormed their way into medical studies, Lamar has the 21st-century equivalent – entire podcast series dedicated to analysing his bars. (It is all too easy to get lost down this K-hole.) Two years after Dylan collected his Nobel Prize, Lamar became the first recipient outside jazz and classical music to be awarded a Pulitzer.

“Alls my life I had to fight,” as “Alright” put it, but when it comes to fighting, why is kung fu, in particular, so entwined with rap? The story goes that, in early 1970s, when the foundations of hip-hop culture were being laid, kung fu movies were a mainstay of New York cinemas. The films were cheap to get into and featured non-white characters standing up to oppressors, which made them an obvious draw in the fallout of the civil rights movement. Martial arts weren’t one of the original five pillars of hip-hop, but the signature low spinning sweep kicks were mirrored in breakdancing.

The most obvious place where this connection surfaced is in the output of Wu-Tang Clan, who took their name from the 1983 martial arts film Shaolin And Wu Tang and borrowed heavily from the genre. Kung Fu Kenny’s arrival a generation later could be seen through this prism, building on the masters who went before.

“As any student in the way of Lamar can tell you, there is always more to learn”

Lamar’s film also touches on The Last Dragon, a cult 1985 movie produced by Mr Berry Gordy, founder of the Motown record label. Set in New York, it follows the spiritual journey of a kid who dreams of mastering the skills of his idol, Bruce Lee. In unlocking the final level of his training, he attains a luminescent aura called “the glow”.

Is Cheadle a red herring? He appears in the video for DNA, the single Lamar released in the lead up to Damn, and was invited to Coachella at Lamar’s request. Kenny, his character in Rush Hour 2, is the owner of a Chinese restaurant who matches Mr Jackie Chan in battle. Cheadle reveals that Lamar himself acknowledged this tribute after his 2017 show.

Will we ever discover “the glow”? “Where the black is darkest, the glow will shine brightest,” we’re told in Lamar’s film. Its ultimate location is perhaps best left to the imagination (you can find out for yourself here), but in the search for clues, we could break down what we’ve been given.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “legend” as “a traditional story sometimes popularly regarded as historical but not authenticated”, which sums up Kenny’s tale pretty well. There is, of course, another definition: someone who is at the top of their game. It’s a double meaning that Lamar, the Shaolin master of wordplay, would surely appreciate.

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