When I started cliffordstumme.com, I think the first recommendation I got for a song to explain was anything from To Pimp a Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar. Unfortunately, it’d already been out for a while, so I wasn’t sure that it would be a good idea. So, I’ve been waiting a while to be able to explain one of his songs, and finally I have an opportunity to do so!
[Here’s Part 2 of this explanation.]
Kendrick Lamar debuted his newest song on the Jimmy Fallon show last night, and it’s beautiful. My favorite song by him (I actually haven’t listened to too much by him) is “Alright,” and “Untitled 2 (Blue Faces)” has a lot of the same rap, rhythm, and powerful emotion that “Alright” had. I think you’ll like it.
Also, it’s a monstrously long song, so without further ado, let’s dive in.
Be sure to follow me on Twitter for more song explanation news! If Lamar puts out a new album, you can count on me explaining it!
Feel free to listen to or follow my playlist! “Clifford Stumme’s Pop Prerogative.”
Song Meaning of “Untitled 2 (Blue Faces)” by Kendrick Lamar
“Untitled 2” is about Kendrick’s thoughts and feelings as a rapper who has become famous and made it big. The song covers a lot of different issues and goes a lot of places. For each stanza, I’ll use a title to explain what theme each stanza gets into.
Verse 1: Working Hard for What We Have
In the first verse, Lamar raps about having pushed himself and put in effort so that he could be where he is now. He raps, “Two tears in the bucket; I cry with you / But I could never lie with you.” He understands that life is hard for others, but he’s going to put it straight to those who are listening.
He “could never afford not to afford,” and he “could never put my plans to the side with you.” He didn’t waste opportunities, and he didn’t wait around for other people who wanted to drag him down or wanted to be lazy. He worked hard for what he has and ignored “a red light,” never stopping like “a deer with the headlight.”
He explains that he had to keep moving or he’s afraid he would stop and give up: “I freeze up when I re-up [renew or start again].” If he paused, he’d slow down and maybe not start up again. So he kept going; he “barely had patience.” So it makes it hard for him to understand people “relating / only the moment to complete us.” [It’s confusing to me what this line is specifically saying, but generally this other person seems to be slowing him down.]
He asks his audience, “Why you hate to work for it?” It’s confusing for Lamar who claims that he “[w]ent to work for it.” He recognizes that “a nine to five was so jive turkey.” What he means here is confusing [and a comment with another suggested explanation would be much appreciated!] especially because “jive turkey” (very outdated slang) has several different meanings: “stupid,” “flippant,” “dancing,” and others. I think he’s acknowledging that working 9-5 wasn’t cool–it was outdated like the slang word itself–but he tells his listeners that “when Thanksgiving came, checks didn’t hurt me.” The money was something to be thankful for, and he was able to celebrate having a lot of it to be thankful for.
His audience tries to “plead the fifth,” and Lamar acknowledges that he has “read” it as well. His audience doesn’t want to defend his/her laziness, so Lamar tries another tact by explaining that “[w]e both criminals with bad intentions.” What he means by this is that they both want to get away with stuff, and even though “[t]hey say time heals all,” “if I could shortcut / My success,” Lamar would have “Corvettes by tomorrow.” Kendrick Lamar is saying that people naturally want to do bad things, but that he knows that’s not the way to succeed, so he’s done what he’s had to do to have the success he’s had.
Hook: “I’ve got money, and you don’t.”
In the hook, Lamar asks his unsuccessful listeners, “But why you so sad? / Walking around with the blue faces?” This person is “down on [his] luck” and thinks there’s something he’s “gotta have,” but he can’t have it. Lamar brags that he “hit the bank today and [told] them, ‘Color me bad.'”
“Color me bad” is another outdated phrase with a hard-to-find meaning, but Lamar seems to be saying that he’s telling the down-on-their-luck people to “color him bad” since they’ll think he’s a bad person for having more than them. Whether they do or not, he’s keeping his money and celebrating his success; he won’t let the “haters” get him down; they can call him whatever they like.
The last line of the hook is “Get that new money, and it’s breaking me down.” Lamar made money rapping and working hard. He didn’t inherit it, so it’s “new money”–new to his family. The “breaking me down” part is confusing, but I don’t think he’s saying that the money is bad for him. He could be saying that his success is a part of him and that you can’t separate it from him: it’s breaking him down and becoming an integral part of him.
Verse 2: It’s hard for people to be successful, especially women
In the second verse, Lamar sings, “My home girl got a credit card scam / She got a scholarship to college but she don’t give a damn.” One of his friends is happy stealing money, but she isn’t willing to put in the hard work to actually go to school and to make an honest living; that’s why she won’t be successful.
He knows that “[i]ntuition got a black woman wishin’ / She sayin’ this on the phone with the noodles in the pan.” She’s at home eating noodles from a pan–could be a reference to cheap food like Ramen–when she could be working hard and eventually making better money. Unfortunately, her intuition is leading her in the wrong direction.
But, unlike the listener in verse 1, Lamar is more empathetic to his “home girl.” He sings, “I know you, woman. I console you, woman / You feel like the universe owes you, woman / Oh, the anticipation, hoping you could make it.” He knows her feelings and desire for stability and success.
But being in college isn’t easy or lucrative at first, and she wants quick success. Lamar raps, “Women don’t prosper chasing education.” It’s a pity because she’s “talented,” but unfortunately, she “can’t handle it” and Lamar warns her that “your homegirls can’t be your manager,” suggesting that she wants to be a singer. For her to be successful, she has be willing to think on a different plane and to go somewhere else–to be someone who works harder and makes personal investments in education and improving herself.
But for her to do so, she’d have to realize that “365 times four, plus more”–four or more years of college–is worth the effort. And Lamar questions whether she can make it: “Can’t get it right. Tell me, do you got the stamina?” He knows she’s struggling with the lie that “ain’t no money like fast money.”
This contrasts heavily to how he views himself. He’s an entrepreneur and trailblazer: “My accolades better than all of them.” Others view him as “a crash dummy / A rapper chasing stardom,” while he’s still wondering how he “can . . . fast forward.”
There’s still a Bridge, an Interlude, an Outro, and Two Verses to explain! The rest of Lamar’s song will be my next post, and you’ll be able to find the link here when it’s up. Follow me on Twitter or Facebook if you want a notification of when it goes live!
[Part 2 is live!]
Clifford Stumme has his master’s in English literature and is a blogger and a college instructor/center-director at Liberty University. He likes juggling and reading/writing, and he is married to the wonderful and beautiful Wife April. He thinks pop music is awesome. Seriously awesome.