Yeshua: Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, and the power of prophecy

Friends bipolar, grab you by your pockets
No option if you froze up, always play the offense

‘The Heart Part 5’ by Kendrick Lamar — in the music video the face of Kanye West is shown when these lyrics are spoken.

I would like to comment on the Abrahamic tradition of prophecy inherited by rappers Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West, who have traditionally been assimilated into the canon of Christianity. I think Islam and Judaism, as well as Buddhism and Hinduism, are equally significant in these rappers’ approach to the world, as shown in particular by two songs: Untitled 03 by Kendrick Lamar and Lost In The World by Kanye West. Let me explain.


‘Untitled 03’ echoes historical sociologist Max Weber’s Economic Ethic of World Religions by comparing regional and religious attitudes to capitalism. But it is the ending of the song that strikes me as Torahnic in nature:

I holler, “What you do? What you say?”
I shall enjoy the fruits of my labor if I get freed today
I holler, “What you do? What you say?”
I shall enjoy the fruits of my labor if I get freed today

untitled 03 by Kendrick Lamar.

Kendrick Lamar poses himself as a Mosaic saviour of the people from Babylonian captivity. He shall enjoy the fruits of his labour — if he gets freed today.

‘Lost In The World’ takes a more pessimistic outlook on prophecy from a philosophical perspective, sampling ‘Woods’ by Bon Iver. Kanye West is never ‘Out Of The Woods’, to quote Taylor Swift, but rather finds the world unforgiving and unfreeing. Romance does not give way to reason; rather, romance breaks the power of reason and keeps us lost in a daze. The lyrics are startling and arresting:

You’re my devil, you’re my angel
You’re my heaven, you’re my hell
You’re my now, you’re my forever
You’re my freedom, you’re my jail

You’re my lies, you’re my truth
You’re my war, you’re my truce
You’re my questions, you’re my proof
You’re my stress and you’re my masseuse

Mama say, mama say, mama Maku-san
Lost in this plastic life
Let’s break out of this fake-ass party
Turn this into a classic night

If we die in each other’s arms
Still get laid in that afterlife
If we die in each other’s arms
Still get laid, yeah

‘Lost In The World’ by Kanye West.

Lyrics include ‘Who Will Survive In America’, the title of the outro to the album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and the climactic chorus of ‘Lost In The World’: ‘I’m lost in the world / I’m down my whole life / I’m new in the city / But I’m down for the night.’

I could endlessly dissect the allusions to the African Savannah and the woods, mountains, and desert which form its borders — or I could consider the analogies to the Qu’ran and life after death. The Biblical messages of Mr. West and Mr. Lamar have been exhausted by analysts, but the Torahnic theme of prophecy — of being found only when one is truly lost — has been downplayed.

I am reminded of J. G. A. Pocock’s analysis of time in the prophetic political writing of Thomas Hobbes. But it was Hobbes’ successor James Harrington who helped develop what Eric Nelson terms the Hebrew Republic in early-modern political thought. The Harrington family, as I have found from my manuscript research, itself has a complicated history of masking its Abrahamic heritage in Christian Europe and America. It is widely accepted in the rabbinical tradition that those who are lost from the community are destined to return, or at least not barred from that hope. Spinoza was expelled for his heretical writings against orthodoxy in Abrahamic religions — being censured by his synagogue and the Holy See alike — but his writings remain adjacent to the canon which Nelson identifies, in conversation with Hobbes, Hume, and Harrington.

Recently it has been argued that lost souls are offensive to tradition and the mainstream. But if we do not listen to the alternative voices which critique the cult of woke liberalism and its so-called ‘antiracism’, we will remain entrapped in the very evils we wish to overcome. To quote Mr. West once more, from a lyric penned in his twenties, ‘racism still alive — they just be concealing it’. Sometimes the concealment is done in the name of fighting evil — but such is this, all too often, the pretence of evil itself, and its sister banality — to echo the signal theorist of antisemitism and imperialism in the last era of capitalist collapse, Hannah Arendt.

For better or for worse, to echo Hindu mythology, God continues to place hide and seek with the world. We, as mere mortals, must play our part. For all the world’s a stage.

Disclaimer: Any similarity between names mentioned and actual individuals is purely accidental and largely theoretical. These are fun ideas to entertain but, as always, I may be mistaken. After all, what do I know?

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