Rap Rookie Of The Year Every Year Since 1993 Kendrick Lamar
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Meaning of the song ‘Duckworth’ by ‘Kendrick Lamar’

Released: 2017

“DUCKWORTH.” from Kendrick Lamar’s critically acclaimed album DAMN, is an introspective examination of fate, choice, and circumstance. Lamar lays down a narrative that ties together threads from his own life and others around him, demonstrating how seemingly small decisions can ripple into significant consequences.

The initial verses present a grim picture of life in the Nickerson Gardens projects, where survival meant adapting to “poverty’s dialect”, an expressive way to say living and speaking the language of the street life as shaped by economic hardship. Lamar navigates the brutal realities of life, emphasizing the influence of the environment on young people who, like a character named Anthony, turn to crime. As the story unfolds, Anthony ends up “graduated to a brick on him,” an upgrade from small time hustling to drug dealing at a higher level.

Anthony’s hustling pays off, earning him respect, material wealth, and a bit of notoriety. But the life of a hustler ain’t sweet, his success in the game attracting all types of attention, including from crooked cops and, notably, a certain fast food worker named Ducky – the second principal character in the tableau. Ducky, a transplant from Chicago’s infamous Robert Taylor Homes (the “Terror Dome” of Chi-town), had relocated to California, hoping to give his kid – unnamed in the song, but likely symbolizing Kendrick himself – a chance at a better life.


In a world where law and order look a lot like criminal activity, Ducky gives free chicken to Anthony, a small gesture made with the hope of avoiding potential trouble. This seemingly insignificant act of kindness veers the narrative down a different path.

The song’s heavy penultimate lines, “One curse at a time / Reverse the manifest and good karma, and I’ll tell you why” connect back to the album’s overall themes of duality, destiny, and decision. He suggests that decisions based on goodness can reverse the curse of a harsh environment. This is further underlined when he says “You take two strangers and put ’em in random predicaments, Give ’em a soul so they can make their own choices and live with it,” narrating the power of free will despite the circumstances.

The final verse ties it all together. The “greatest rapper” from the “coincidence” is Lamar himself, placing him firmly at the center of the narrative. He reveals the ultimate twist that if Anthony had killed Ducky, it would have changed the course of hip-hop history because Anthony – later known as Top Dawg, the founder of Top Dawg Entertainment and Kendrick’s label boss – would’ve been “servin’ life,” leaving Kendrick without a father figure, possibly resulting in his own death.

“DUCKWORTH.” is a thought-provoking slice of life narrative that delicately weaves together themes of serendipity, fate, and consequence against the background of the harsh realities of project life. Kendrick Lamar shines in his layered storytelling, reminding us of the power of choices and the inherent unpredictability of life. This isn’t just hip-hop, fam, this is sociological commentary on wax.

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