“It was always me vs. the world/ Until I found out it’s me vs me,” opens Kendrick Lamar on “Duckworth,” the final track on his 2017 Pulitzer Prize-winning album, DAMN. Kendrick begins the song with introspection, showing his changed perspective on grappling with internal vs. external struggles. Then, in typical Lamar fashion, he launches into a smooth, free-flowing beat. In “Duckworth,” Kendrick tells a story rooted deep in his childhood with brilliant lyrics, and a scintillating storyline.
Kendrick starts his story by examining his childhood in Compton. “See once upon a time in the Nickerson Garden Projects,” he raps, “the object was to process and digest poverty’s dialect.” He goes on to comment on the cycle of violence and drugs in his early childhood, using this to transition to the first character in his story, Anthony. “Laughin’ and jokin’ made life easier/ hard times, mama on crack,” writes Kendrick about Anthony. Forced to take care of his younger siblings, Anthony turns to what many did in Compton: hustling. Lamar continues developing Anthony by talking about his past; how Anthony escaped a murder charge, how Anthony became a target for violence because of his success, and most importantly, how Anthony “stuck up” (robbed) a KFC in 1984.
Kendrick uses the KFC incident to introduce his father Kenny (Ducky), who started working at that very KFC a couple of years after Anthony robbed it. Kendrick spends time talking about his father’s past, expressing his gratitude for his father’s sacrifice. “Drove to California with a woman on him and 500 dollars/ They had a son, hopin’ he’d see college.” At this time, Kendrick finally intersects the storylines of his two characters, Anthony and Ducky.
“Free chicken everytime Anthony posted in line/ Two extra biscuits, Anthony liked him (Ducky), and then let him slide,” professes Lamar. Aware of Anthony’s past, Ducky appeases him with free food. Now, the story gets interesting. As Lamar decrees, “Pay attention, that decision changed both of they lives.” As it turns out, the Anthony in Kendrick’s story—Anthony Tiffitt—goes on to become the founder of Top Dawg Entertainment, one of the most successful and famous hip-hop labels of all time. Moreover, Kendrick’s rise to fame was greatly aided and influenced by Anothony and Top-Dawg Entertainment. If Ducky had not bought peace with Anthony by giving him chicken, who knows where Anthony and Kendrick could be? As Lamar writes: “Because if Anthony killed Ducky, Top Dawg could be servin’ life/ While I grew up without a father and die in a gunfight.”