Kendrick Lamar & U2's "XXX" Lyrics Are About Speaking Truth To Power

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There's a whole lot to absorb in the embarrassment of riches that is Kendrick Lamar's new album DAMN., so I'm here to direct your attention to some of my favorite areas. Like, for example, can we talk about the the lyrics to Kendrick Lamar and U2's song "XXX"? The collaboration might seem surprising at first glance, but the rapper and the rock band actually overlap quite a bit when it comes to activism and speaking truth to power. That comes out clearly in the lyrics, so don't feel like you need to reevaluate your idea of either of these musical acts just yet.

The overarching themes of "XXX" are of violence, revenge, and the way those first two themes bump up against the political system. Over the course of the song, the son of Lamar's friend is killed, a casualty of our country's systemic racism, and he has to grapple with what advice to give the grieving father. He elects to advocate for pure revenge, instead of directing his friend through the proper channels to find justice.

The juxtaposition of U2's interludes with Kendrick Lamar's verses show how understandable the rapper's loss of faith in the system is. Bono introduces the track with:

At which point, he's interrupted mid-line by Kendrick Lamar, whose voice on the track is the one we should really be listening to. He comes in hard and fast, and the fire in his voice points out how the American experience differs wildly from individual to individual, while his words highlight that the difference is often arbitrary, based solely on your skin color or income level.

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This surely isn't the same America that Bono is experiencing; their realities occupy the same physical space, but they couldn't be more different. However, the one thing that connects them is that passion and love are the driving forces behind their actions, even when situations devolve into violence.

Lamar seems to be longing for a simple life surrounded by the people he loves, removed from the chaos that swirls around him.

It's clear that Lamar just wants to be left alone, and for his family to be left alone, but as Bono's next verse indicates, that's not the case unfortunately.

With the violence that's described elsewhere in the song, "drum and bass" seem to be a metaphor for the sounds of gunfire. What he's describing isn't a safe place, unless you're a very specific type of person.

With each artist interrupting the other, and being interrupted every time he's trying to make a greater statement about his experience, is it any wonder that Bono and Lamar are singing about losing faith in the system? At times, it can feel like corruption runs down to the country's very core, so ending the song like this feels like a fitting — albeit tragic — nod to the way things are. Or at least, the way Lamar and Bono feel things to be.

He's cut off mid-sentence, just like the lives of so many young black men who are often guilty of nothing more significant than being at the wrong place at the wrong time and coming face-to-face with a country's fear. There's no solution yet, but songs like "XXX" shine a much-needed spotlight on the issue.