Murder to Excellence by Kanye West and Jay Z (2011) —> Be Free by J Cole (2014) —> DNA by Kendrick Lamar (2017) —> Looking for America by Lana Del Rey (2019)

For my first lineage I chose to find songs that had to do specifically with gun violence in America and its different forms. The first song on this list, “Murder to Excellence”, talks predominantly about the concept of “black on black” crime and how African Americans should be working together towards a common goal instead of killing each other. The most powerful verse in my opinion was the second verse where Kanye talks about how unarmed children are being murdered after school over small things because everyone assumes they ca get shot at any time, so they live as if that is the norm.

We then shift to “Be Free” by J Cole. He sings about similar conditions, but he talks about it as if he in enslaved and no longer wants this to be his life. He wants to finally free himself, and in order to do this he wants to fight. He says “tell me why every time I step outside / I see my n****s down / I’m letting you know / That it ain’t no gun they can make that could kill my soul”. This is similar to DNA in that even though he recognizes the hardships that come with being black in America, he is not going to stand by and let them happen. DNA is next in the lineage because he sees that even though our country has claimed to end racism, we still appointed someone who supports racism to lead our entire nation.

This takes me to the only non hip-hop song in this lineage, “Looking for America” by Lana Del Rey. On the surface, Lana seems to be quite the opposite of these other artists: A younger white woman who sings in a soft and soothing voice. However, her message remains the same. America is not what we make it out to be idealistically in our heads. She sings: “I’m still looking for my own version of America / One without the gun, where the flag can freely fly”. This came as a direct response to all of the mass shootings that were happening during late 2018 and early 2019, as she said in a Rolling Stone Article. Instead of ignoring the issue because of her race, she uses her privilege as a platform to create change.

Say it Loud, I’m Black & I’m Proud! by James Brown (1968)¬† —> Violent by Tupac (1991) —> Formation by Beyonc√© (2016) —> DNA by Kendrick Lamar (2017)

For my second lineage, I chose songs that were not all completely negative. These songs, even though they still address the struggles of being black, also celebrate their heritage. They are all all about how they will choose to stand up for themselves even though protesting may paint them in a “negative light”. The first song is one that we have talked about in class. Unlike the previous songs we have listened to, this one is choosing to take a sense of pride in his race, even though it was around the time of the Civil Rights Movement and they were being treated very poorly.

Next, we have known political hip-hop artist Tupac calling out everyone and everything boldly and unapologetically. He too is proud of who he is as a person, but understands that many people in America don’t like him for prejudiced reasons. In his song “Violent, he sings about how African Americans are treated unfairly and killed in the street, but then called violent and crazy for standing up for themselves and speaking our against their oppressors. But he still refuses to stop, because he knows that he is strong and this is the only way that we will end racism.

“Formation” by Beyonce follows two and a half decades later and became an instant classic with the lyrics “I like my baby hair, with baby hair and afros / I like my n____ nose with Jackson Five nostrils”. Although the song itself is mostly celebratory and not very outright politically, it is linked to various politically charged performances in which she calls out racism, police brutality, and violence, one of these performances being the Super Bowl. DNA then comes in to tie all of these together. It is saying you can be politically and socially aware while still being proud of your heritage. He is critiquing America, but also his own race for sometimes feeding into the systematic racism. He is saying that it is possible to want more for yourself but still be proud of how far you’ve come.

Bonus Lineage:

Determined (2009) —> Average Joe (2010) —> M.a.a.d. City (2012) —> Alright (2015) —> DNA (2017)

All of these songs are by Kendrick Lamar and follow his struggles leading up to his success. “Determined” is from an EP before Kendrick became popular, so he sings about his struggles with growing up in Compton and being poor and seeing crime unfold from a young age. “Average Joe” is similar, but instead of being unknown and just beginning, he now says that even though he is becoming slightly more popular, he still faces the same struggles that all African Americans face. “M.a.a.d. City” came from the album that made him famous, and he is dealing with his newfound fame while still acknowledging his roots. He is saying that his fame does not change his toughness that he gained from the streets of his hometown. “Alright” is more universal, he is using “we” instead of “me” in saying that even though his race has been through a lot historically, they will be ok. This song is the one that Kendrick performed to make Geraldo Rivera criticize him, fueling his response with “DNA”.