Join us as we dissect the multiple layers of genius on Kendrick Lamar's "These Walls"

By: T-Rod

A lot of discussion has been revolving around Kendrick, huh? With his latest verse/diss on Future’s song “Like That”, discourse has been unavoidable. Memes, bad faith takes, over/under-analysis, and excessive stanning has been all over my social media feed.

So I did what I normally do in times like these: return to the music. With Kendrick Lamar’s magnum opus To Pimp a Butterfly turning nine years old recently (DAMN), I gave a few tracks a spin, and recently rekindled a love for a song that I feel beats the allegations that Kendrick doesn’t have the versatility of those he dissed. Let’s discuss “These Walls”. 

One thing I want to kick this discussion off with is how “These Walls” is reminiscent of another much more popular Kendrick song: “Swimming Pools”. While being worlds apart sonically, I think these tracks have a similar ethos: degenerate bliss hiding dark darkness. If “Swimming Pools” is a liquor filled anti-drinking song, then “These Walls” is a sexy warning against lust. The beat itself lures you into that headspace, a nocturnal melody, soft drums and funk licks creating a feeling of intimacy. I’d say this is the most inviting beat on the album it belongs on, reading as an otherwise romantic track at first.

Once you read the lyrics, however, it becomes a double serving of excellence. Kendrick’s concept on TPAB is multilayered, but one part of it is him overcoming his vices and inner demons. A lot of bad takes on Kendrick revolve around him only being “conscious”, a crap take when songs like these exist: there’s a clear sense of melody, catchiness, and even accessibility here. Kendrick’s flow is tight, weaving in quick verses that are simple and concise as jabs, while letting Thundercat, Bilal, and Anna Wise play support. It’s an ensemble song, but Kendrick still manages to be the star and get you moving. Just because it wasn’t made for a club doesn’t mean you can’t dance to it or hum the sticky verses and hook.

Obviously, when you talk about Kendrick’s lyrics they’re the highlight. Many MCs use the tool of personification to get across a message and tell the stories they want to tell, and here Kendrick’s use of “walls” has many meanings. It references intimacy and literal walls that have seen him indulge in brazen behavior. This track is arguably Kendrick’s peak right before the valleys he experiences on TPAB; the track describes his relationships as nothing but being a “tenant”, his lust working like a religion, his destiny to be empty intimacy covering his pain. It’s a genius way of portraying this otherwise sad message from another point of view, making the whole track a rewarding deep dive into someone’s troubled psyche. It sounds nice at first, but as you peel back the layers the walls speak only of shame.

And somehow, it’s still a bop. Very few artists can bring both the conceptual lyricism and the excellent song crafting quite like Kendrick can…so next time someone says he can’t keep up with his contemporaries, listen to the facts and not the agendas.