“When your momma ain't at home cause she got a second job / Delivering pizzas you think she out here getting robbed / Please God watch her I know how niggas do” —J. Cole, “Rich Niggaz”
Panic. It’s all I remember about the day my father got shot. Being no older than four, I don’t have a vivid recollection of what happened that day, but somewhere in the depths of my memory museum, the thought of his shooting brings forth an unwavering sense of dreadful hysteria. Maybe it was a scream of fear from a beloved aunt, the look of dismay on a mother’s face, or the anxious praying from a grandmother; I’m not sure what triggered the feeling but something crossed my eyes that day and dug into the heart of my psyche.
My father isn’t a man who walks with wolves under cherry moons. He doesn’t speak the language of Larry Hoover or Big Meech. He was just an honest man working hard at a job for his family’s sake, managing a Krystal when they came for his money and could’ve taken his life.
The stitched scar running down his left leg has become a normal mark on a body—it's no different than his nose, eyes or lips. We left the shooting behind us, unmentioned like a gruesome nightmare. We lived, we loved, we allowed the wheels of time to heal the wound to the point of obliviousness. Memories that fade into the mind’s crevices are rarely chained to the bottomless depths, though; something small can trigger a reminder, and the same feeling of panic floated to the top while playing Kendrick Lamar’s “DUCKWORTH.”
When Dot articulates what could’ve happened to his father, Ducky, he expresses fear. That fear turned into a reality for my father when a robbery turned violent. Kendrick's fear and loathing of losing his dad wasn’t simple paranoia but honest anxiety. As he mentions in the excellent visual breakdown that is the song's storytelling, the robbery attempt committed by Anthony led to a customer becoming a casualty. Ducky wasn’t safe—no one is safe when a gun is drawn and money is requested.
The story of Ducky has a few loose parallels to my father. Ducky moved from Chicago to Compton, which mirrors my dad's travels from Virginia to Atlanta. Ducky came with a family, while my father came for college but would find my mother in the state of Georgia peaches and red clay. The two worked for their families. Ducky knew the risks of the job he took beforehand, he knew what stood before a KFC manager, but my father didn’t foresee a robbery in his future. If he did, maybe a few extra Krystal burgers would have made their way inside some combo meals, maybe a double dose of fries would be an offering of peace.
Ducky survived unscathed after making peace with the gangsters while my dad bled out in his place of business—good fathers in m.A.A.d circumstances.
Kendrick predicts his world with a fatherless future, a world in which he's a victim of gun violence rather than an immaculate rapper. A cruel reality. My eyes aren’t able to envision a world without the man who raised me; cutting him out of my life is like removing the essence of love from a human soul. I know it would be dark, too dark to explore and too dark to imagine.
“Family, God and honor / From Chicago, my daddy and my momma / Came to Compton to accomplish one thing / Raise a king, reign supreme, named Kendrick / I ain't lying, it stand for king and I am one.” —Kendrick Lamar, "I Am"
Family has always been a huge source of inspiration in Kendrick Lamar’s music. Dating back to his Kendrick Lamar EP, his family has been prevalent in his journey. We know of his uncle Bobby who couldn’t escape the prison system, cousin Carl the religious sage, the young niece musing his latest creations, the mother who begged Kenny to return her van and the domino-playing father who brought comic relief to the madness of his city.
In retrospect, what I remember most about Kendrick’s dad isn’t GKMC but his presence in the music predating that acclaimed debut. On “Wanna Be Heard,” from the Kendrick Lamar EP, Ducky is the frustrated father who believes in his son but is impatient, wanting his child to reach the top of the industry like the lesser talents who were running radio and television. It’s the role of any parent witnessing their child pour blood, sweat, tears and time into their passion and not seeing results; wanting the best for them but also not being naïve—being the encouraging but realistic voice:
"My momma believed in me, she let me use her van to go to the studio / Even though she know her tank is empty, that's who I do it fo' / My pops got a different approach, yeah he believed / But he always questioned when I'mma drop my debut CD / How long this gon' take nigga? You still haven't ate nigga / At twenty-two I had two cars and my own place nigga / It's a sacrifice I try to tell him / That's when he turn to BET and tell me that he jealous / Of all these niggas getting money and their shit don't sound like shit / I ain't tryna kill your confidence or forcing you to quit / I just wanna hear you heard"
"Wanna Be Heard" comes up again two years later on Section.80's “Poe Mans Dreams." Kendrick acknowledges his father was overbearing, but he understands it was out of love and the desire for his son to get all he deserved. “Poe Mans Dreams” paints the picture of Ducky on his lunch break, still working as hard as ever and feeling the aches of age. “Somebody said my name on the radio / He ain't know I was ready for the world that minute” is the lyric of a concerned parent, a dramatic change from finding jealousy on television to having the realization that his son could be a huge star. Ducky had all these things at 22 that Kendrick didn’t—two cars and his place—but two years later, his son was about to experience life outside of the one he lived, and he questioned if the boy he raised was ready.
After graduating from high school, Ducky encouraged Kendrick to get a job—a move most fathers will push their sons to make. If you aren’t in school, you must work. On “m.A.A.d city,” we hear what happens after Kendrick got a job working security; by the third Saturday, he was fired. The Kendrick committing home invasions with his friends on “The Art Of Peer Pressure” is inspired by his friends to stage a heist instead of being an honest worker. He came from a good home, was raised right, but the influence from his surroundings whispered temptation.
On "DUCKWORTH.," Kendrick mentions how Anthony’s family history comprises pimps and gangbangers, and how he's destined to walk down a path of unlawfulness. The life he led was in his DNA. Kendrick was raised in a similar environment, surrounded by wickedness despite his good nature. Ducky may have lived to raise him right, but Kendrick almost walked the path of Anthony. In an interview with Genius, Dot mentions how he should’ve been locked up. The greatest rapper alive almost lost his freedom before he found his voice.
After graduating from high school, my dad encouraged me to get a job. This was during the great recession immortalized by Jeezy, and unemployment at the time was higher than Snoop Dogg on the 20th of April. A Wendy’s around the corner from our home was hiring; I applied and was granted an interview for a cashier position. The interview went well; I got the job, but they wanted me to work at a high-risk location—one highly favored by those trying to come up by taking (with force).
My parents were vehemently against it. I saw their reaction as being overprotective and overreacting. But it never occurred to me how they were trying to keep me from the same lion's den as my father’s Krystal position. They knew what high-risk meant, and a minimum wage job wasn’t worth the pricelessness of a son.
Years later, when I worked the graveyard shift at a gas station, the fear of what could happen was always present. Every other day, around midnight, my father would pay a visit; come in, buy a Coke, check on me and drive back into the night. I didn’t appreciate this gesture at 19, but looking back, it must have been hard for a parent knowing the dark twists this world presents and how quickly life can change just by working a night shift. My normal customers were the sweetest strippers, single condom-requesting men and truck drivers going from one destination to the next. The only person who ever gave me a problem was, ironically, a police officer.
Kendrick loves, respects, and admires Ducky; it’s prevalent in his music. He is his father’s son, the man who came to Compton looking for a better life and to raise a king. Cut from the same cloth are my feelings toward my father; I'm more than thankful for the man who went above and beyond for his wife and children. This is a big reason I can’t imagine a life without the man who taught me strength and empathy, passion and dedication, but someone who told me I could be whatever I want and showed me it was possible.
I thought about asking my father about the shooting—the journalist in me needed every grimy detail for my story—but it felt like asking a war veteran to spill stories from Vietnam for a social studies project. When I saw him, all I could do was give him a hug and tell him I loved him. I allowed the words to roll off my tongue and pondered a life without this embrace, without his unconditional love. I couldn’t, not even for a second. I’ll spend the rest of my days appreciating him and thanking God. His survival didn't just save one man's life, it saved an entire family.
I believe Kendrick and Ducky understand this sentiment.
By Yoh, aka YOHWORTH, aka @Yoh31