Kendrick Lamar Reveals Top Dawg Planned To Rob Kendrick’s Father Years Ago (Audio)
In the closing hours of April 13, Kendrick Lamar released his DAMN. album. Less than 24 hours old, the MC’s latest major label title is clearly another example of rich concept, leaving music fans some unpacking as they listen for the days ahead. Fourteen songs, all of which are one-word, capitalized titles with a following period, make up an LP that deals with faith, family, and the fabrics of character.
The closing cut, “DUCKWORTH.” is especially fertile. The song is produced by 9th Wonder, an artist that Kendrick Lamar requested a beat in an online exchange more than five years ago. That was long before the Compton, California native was a Grammy Award-winning MC, and revered as one of the greatest of the ages. 9th would prove to be an early supporter of Dot. For his first contribution on a Kendrick album, the Little Brother co-founder (and Grammy winner in his own right) uses three different beats, which is the perfect canvas for some of DAMN.‘s best storytelling, and an allegorical premise.
This track deals with Kendrick Lamar’s father, Kenny “Ducky” Duckworth. As the MC has done on 2011’s “Poe Mans Dreams (His Vice)” and other places, he takes a long look at the man who appeared in the “Backseat Freestyle” video, and the circumstances that brought him and wife Paula to California in 1984 with $500 to their name. Kendrick spoke in detail about this in a 2015 Rolling Stone interview that also includes commentary from his parents. “They were going to go to San Bernardino. But my Auntie Tina was in Compton. She got ’em a hotel until they got on their feet, and my mom got a job at McDonald’s… eventually, they saved enough money to get their first apartment, and that’s when they had me.”
With the MC born three years after the move, the verse unwinds to find Duckie working at fast food restaurants to help provide for Paula and their young son. Throughout, Kendrick tells a parallel story of Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith. Now Kendrick’s mentor (who he called “a father figure” on “Untitled 02 | 06.23.2014”), Top is a product of the nearby Watts’ Nickerson Gardens housing projects. Nickerson is one of the most notorious residences in the country, known for its gang-controlled common areas and violence. K-Dot explains the circumstances that raised Top, from the sudden slayings of family members, 5.0 Mustangs, and police profiling. Anthony is a product of the ’80s street life, represented in Hollywood in Boyz N’ The Hood and Colors, and lived to tell. By the late ’80s and early ’90s, however, he was still caught up.
One incident led Top Dawg to a KFC, where he happened to encounter “a light-skinned nigga that talked a lot with a curly top and a gap in his teeth.” Kendrick’s verse reveals that Top planned to rob the Kentucky Fried Chicken (as he had before). Ducky knew how to treat the gangstas in the neighborhood with free meals, somebody who was not unfamiliar with street gangs from his days in Chicago’s Robert Taylor Homes. Guys like Top Dawg came to like Ducky and treat him with mutual respect. In turn, Ducky was spared—leading to an odd twist of fate nearly 25 years later.
Today, Top Dawg’s longstanding support of Kendrick changed history, Hip-Hop music, and presumably gave Ducky a better life, and the chance to watch his son achieve greatness. Like on “The Art Of Peer Pressure,” Kendrick Lamar again proves to be a master of suspenseful, intricate storytelling in a hyper-specific world that feels tangible to so many.