The spiritual heritage of hip-hop: Andre Mego’s How Kendrick Lamar Redefined Spirituality For Me
André Mego is a published author and musician. The work he has produced, across various disciplines, addresses the perception of precious cultural artifacts within, and outside, the boundaries of their original communities. His previous title, A Wounded Lion, reveals what Mego considers to be Hip Hop’s poetic truths and the culture’s unequivocal ability to convey significant socio-political narratives. While a proud native of South Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, André’s love of Hip Hop stemmed from listening to New York rapper Nas and Soul genius D’Angelo at the age of 10. From that moment, he dedicated his classical training in Piano to music production and plans on releasing musical efforts, featuring an assortment of the genres most beloved talents.
Currently, Mego resides in Durham, North Carolina where he is completing his studies at Duke University and working as the Marketing and Merchandise Coordinator at the esteemed Jamla Records.
This is an interview with him about his new book Reverend Duckworth: How Kendrick Lamar Redefined Spirituality For Me.
What makes Kendrick Lamar unique, lyrically or otherwise, among hip hop artists?
There are several reasons that make Kendrick Lamar unique, however the one that immediately comes to mind is the myriad of stories he has told as well as the manner in which he has held them and delivered them. In his album, DAMN, Kendrick told the story of how Top Dawg, the CEO of the record label he is signed to, almost killed his father years before Kendrick was a rapper. He spoke of how this could’ve led to his demise or to not being who he is today. Usually a story such as that would be told in the first album, yet Kendrick waited multiple years to tell it — giving the story that much more gravity.
I know that Kendrick is a person of faith. How does that come through in his music? (not everyone reading this blog will be familiar with his lyrics).
There are several instances in his music, in which it is explicitly stated. But more so than that, I believe it’s more so in the stories he gives. The one that immediately comes to mind is a song entitled “Duckworth”, in which he may not mention God explicitly in the song, but the story demonstrates the appreciation of a divine source. In summary, it describes the wild circumstances that have occurred in the life of Kendrick between his family and now his label president that may have prohibited him from being who he is now or even worse, alive. It comes without effort because it’s his story.
How has your spiritual journey intersected with Kendrick Lamar? What songs were meaningful to you, and what was going on in your life when you listened to them?
The spiritual journey has intersected in multiple moments in large and small with the discography provided by Kendrick Lamar. The songs, at this moment that I can recall, that have provided the greatest move to me were “How Much a Dollar Cost”, “Momma”, and “These Walls.” The messages in these songs have the air of being timeless, so regardless of what was going on in my life, I was going to absorb something. However, how striking or how much I was going to absorb revolves around the situation.
I grew up in a family that strongly emphasizes the importance of the church. As time went on though, I realized there were many fallacies that were a part of the specific religious institution I grew up in. At many times there were hierarchies within the church and their perception amongst other churches. These realizations just so happened to coincide with the release of these songs as well as my internalization of the messages embedded in them. With them, I realize the wrongdoing of man for doing such hierarchies, and thus it opened up great change within myself through Kendrick’s lyrics.
Are you a musician yourself (even as a hobby?)
I am. I’ve been playing piano for the past eleven years and have been producing by means of sampling as well as recording myself on several different keyboards. I’m actually working on an album right now through the role of a producer collaborating with several artists I respect. I hope to put that out sometime in 2020.
Do you think that Kendrick Lamar, or rap/hip hop in general, speaks to your generation in general, or is it more of a personal connection?
I believe Kendrick and all of rap/hip-hop in general can speak to and already speaks to multiple generations. Of course I feel a personal connection to not only multiple songs of Kendrick and other artists such as Common and Rapsody, however I do not believe that the connection I feel with these artists is not found amongst other people. That would be egotistical of me. I do believe everybody has a different type of connection with each artist, and thus nobody has the same connection as I do, but the same goes that I do not have the same connection as someone else does with another. I believe all these connections are personalized and unique but everybody has a connection or at least the opportunity to have a connection with any of the incredible artists of the Hip-Hop genre.
There’s the stereotype that people from the inner city relate to rap/hip hop more so than others, that it’s urban music. Do you think that’s true? Do you have to be from the city to relate to that sort of music? What aspects of the human experience do you think Lamar speaks to, more so than other musicians?
There needs to be an understanding that there is an abundance of lyrics provided by Hip-Hop that it can reach all walks of life. There are gonna be certain songs that others will relate to more so than others, however that is not brushed upon the whole genre. The greatest artists speak upon all parts of the whole experience — Lauryn Hill, Black Thought, Busta Rhymes. Therefore I believe what distinguishes Kendrick from other musicians is that he is in the realm of these great musicians and the aspect that provides more to the audience is that all aspects of life are written and spoken about.
What would you say to those in the 90s who stereotyped rap/hip hop as full of obscenity and violence, or those then and now who are concerned about misogyny in the genre? (not Kendrick specifically, just rap in general. I remember going to church and hearing comments about ‘that nasty gangsta rap.’)
My response to those who labeled Hip-Hop as such things is that they are blaming the wrong side of the art. Many people who do such things blame the artists and the genre and fail to blame the promoters and the economic institutions behind the art. There are plenty of artists who deliver message and amazing sonics in their music. However, they may not get the highest priority in promotion or other things necessary for a great rollout from labels and other companies associated with their success. Instead of attacking the artists and genre, attack more on who’s promoting and ask them to deliver more of what you would want. Let the artists create what they want, the real money is spent in the delivery of it.