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Meaning of the song ‘DNA.’ by ‘Kendrick Lamar’

Released: 2017

At its core, “DNA.” by Kendrick Lamar is a proud affirmation of the rapper’s inherent traits and history, while simultaneously challenging societal stereotypes and narratives linked to his African American heritage. He uses his lyrics to draw a connection between his personal experiences, cultural background, and broader systemic issues, establishing a multi-layered dialogue on identity, race, and resilience against adversity.

The opening lines “I got, I got, I got, I got – Loyalty, got royalty inside my DNA”, set the tone for the song. Kendrick asserts his innate qualities – loyalty, royalty, power, pain, joy and ambition. He’s not just speaking about his biological DNA, but also his cultural DNA – the lineage of struggle, resilience, and black excellence that runs through his veins. He equates this cultural heritage to ‘royalty’, standing tall against racially prejudiced views.

“Cocaine quarter piece, got war and peace inside my DNA” references the difficult realities of growing up in Compton, a notorious neighborhood riddled with drug epidemics and gang violence, while also emphasizing the dichotomy of ‘war and peace’ within him. It’s almost as if he’s embodying the conflict that he’s seen all around him.

Then there are lines like “I just win again, then win again like Wimbledon, I serve”, where Kendrick compares his success in the music industry to winning at Wimbledon, one of the most prestigious events in professional tennis. He’s not only highlighting his accomplishments but also his constant fight to stay at the top.

Lamar gets more personal in the lines like “When I was 9, on cell, motel, we didn’t have nowhere to stay. At 29, I’ve done so well, hit cartwheel in my estate”. He’s explicitly referencing his own journey from poverty to success. But he makes it clear that this success is not just about material wealth – it’s also about personal growth and staying true to oneself. Hence, “I got loyalty, got royalty inside my DNA”.

At another point, he casts aspersions on weak-minded individuals who let societal expectations rule their behavior: “Problem is, all that sucker shit inside your DNA”. He’s calling out individuals who betray their communities or succumb to societal pressures instead of showing strength and resilience in challenging situations.

The chorus repeats the mantra “I got loyalty, got royalty inside my DNA”, reinforcing his innate virtues and powerful cultural heritage. But in the background, we hear excerpts from a controversial statement by Fox News correspondent Geraldo Rivera, who blamed the hip-hop culture for damaging young African Americans more than racism. Kendrick’s response is clear – his lyrics and success serve as a counter-narrative to such generalized and biased assumptions.

In the final verse, Kendrick paints a vivid picture of his current luxurious lifestyle, yet still touches on themes of vigilance and resilience (“Watchin’ all the snakes, curvin’ all the fakes”). Despite his success, he understands that systemic oppression still exists, and he won’t compromise or let his guard down. The closing line, “Sex, money, murder, our DNA”, is a powerful commentary about the harsh realities of his community, while also challenging the stereotype that these elements wholly define it.

Throughout “DNA.”, Kendrick Lamar demonstrates his ability to combine personal narrative with wider sociocultural commentary, offering listeners a profound exploration of identity, heritage, and the lived black experience.

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