“N95” by Kendrick Lamar
In the song “N95”, Kendrick Lamar presents himself as the type of social critic who is not compelled to hold his tongue. And it is obvious that he is lashing out against the state of society with, to some degree, an emphasis on African-American culture. However, he does so largely through the utilization of indirect language and metaphors. As such, the listener is tasked with deciphering many of the lyrics himself. And with some parts of the song, such may prove a formidable task.
For instance, this is the earliest track on the playlist of “Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers” in which the term “big stepper” is actually used. However, what exactly it is meant to point to isn’t abundantly clear. But to note, the next song on the playlist is in fact titled “Worldwide Steppers”, will presumably clarify what’s being put forth in that regard. But that said, what it appears Kendrick is alluding to in that regard on this particular song is someone who stays on top of their game, “never losing count”, even when there’s “a drought”, i.e. troubling economic circumstances for the society at large. And he further goes on to give a shoutout to such individuals.
Be Mindful of Constantly Chasing Material Stuff!
The one part of this track which is easiest to understand is the first verse. Therein, Lamar seems to be criticizing those who go simply along with the flow. Or reading deeper into what he’s saying, Kendrick is actually espousing unplugging one’s self, as in taking time out from the hustle and bustle of the mainstream to focus more on the important things in life. Or even beyond that, what he appears to be putting forth is that it’s impossible to know what’s really going on in the world if you’re always focused on material sh*t.
With all of that in mind, it also reads, especially later on in the song, as if K-Dot is criticizing other rappers. It’s kinda common these days to come across a rapper obliquely accusing others of ‘selling their souls’ in the name of making it big. To some degree it does appear that Kendrick is doing so (though it can also be understood that such an assertion is also referring to a more macrocosmic level than the music industry). For instance, he also doesn’t seem to think too fondly of criminal types, those who are “attracting the feds”, while Kendrick is rather building up a firm, prosperous foundation for ‘his pupils’.
In conclusion, K-Dot may well be a poet alright, but music isn’t literature. Music is designed to be listened to more than read directly from a piece of paper or what have you. And accordingly, everything being transmitted in a song like “N95” isn’t easily ascertainable. Also, there’s more being said here than can be fit into a standard article of the same length. But overall, the track has a certain feel to it. And that is one of resistance, i.e. the vocalist being a public figure who is not afraid to go against the mainstream.
So with that in mind, it has been stated that the title of this song is a reference to a certain brand of face masks that the government was backing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile in the lyrics, the vocalist doesn’t say anything directly about that situation but in the intro does apparently allude to his lack of agreement with the official narrative concerning that whole ordeal.
Facts for “N95”
“N95” appears on the album “Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers” (which was released on 13 May 2022). This is the first song on the album’s playlist to get its own music video.
Said music video was directed by Kendrick alongside his pgLang business partner Dave Free. And interesting to note is that they reportedly put the finishing touches on the clips while concurrently visiting Ghana. In fact Kendrick was apparently in the Gateway to Africa when the album itself was dropped.
That said, the video to “N95” was actually filmed in his hometown of Los Angeles, California. It has also been reported that he started filming it at least as early as in late 2020, i.e. circa the era when the COVID-19 pandemic was in full swing.
Featured on the clip is Baby Keem, one of the writers and producers of the song. And other musicians who served both roles on this joint are Sounwave, Jahaan Sweet and Boi-1da, with Kendrick Lamar and Sam Dew also acting as co-writers.
It has been implied that one of the reasons Baby Keem has been so involved in the composition of this song is because certain parts of it were originally intended to be featured on a track he headlined, 2021’s “Vent“.
“N95” was put out by the aforementioned pgLang in conjunction with Top Dawg Entertainment, Aftermath Entertainment and Interscope Records.
To note, “N95” is the second song on the playlist of “Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers”.