Decoding the Intricate DNA Lyrics by Kendrick Lamar

by Alex Harris

25th April, 2024

Decoding the Intricate DNA Lyrics by Kendrick Lamar

When Kendrick Lamar unleashed the blistering track DNA in 2017, he didn’t just deliver blistering rhymes; he provided a multifaceted exploration of his identity through the lens of rap, heritage, and racial perceptions.

The powerful lyrics masterfully blend vivid storytelling and social commentary over a chaotic, high-energy beat produced by Mike WiLL Made-It.

Kendrick Lamar DAMN Album Cover
Kendrick Lamar DAMN Album Cover

The Origins of “DNA”

Written by Kendrick Lamar and produced by Mike WiLL Made-ItDNA was the second song recorded for DAMN. after “HUMBLE.”

Lamar laid down the first verse over Mike WiLL’s initial beat, then requested the producer craft the chaotic second half around his a cappella rapping to make it sound like “he’s battling the beat.” The song also contains a sample of Rick James’ “Mary Jane.”

The instrumental foundation for DNA is nothing short of intense. The beat fuses the rawness of hip-hop with the urgency of trap and hard-core hip-hop.

A hard-hitting bassline, sharp hi-hats, and aggressive synths create a sense of anxiety and tension that perfectly complements Lamar’s impassioned rhymes.

A Lyrical Dive Into Identity

The lyrics of DNA grapple with the nuances of Lamar’s black identity. From the opening bars, Lamar embraces the dualities that shape his DNA—the positive and negative elements of his heritage and upbringing:

“Loyalty, got royalty inside my DNA
Cocaine quarter piece, got war and peace inside my DNA”

He directly confronts criticism from Fox News’ Geraldo Rivera, who infamously claimed “hip-hop has done more damage to young African Americans than racism in recent years.” Kendrick Lamar hits back defiantly. 

“You motherfuckers can’t tell me nothin’ 
I’d rather die than to listen to you
My DNA not for imitation
Your DNA an abomination”

The lyrics continue exploring different vantage points and perspectives on Lamar’s identity, celebrating parts of black culture while also critiquing the harsh realities of systemic racism, gang life, fatherhood, and more.

“I know murder, conviction
Burners, boosters, burglars, ballers, dead, redemption
Scholars, fathers dead with kids and
I wish I was fed forgiveness”

Don Cheadle and Kendrick Lamar in DNA Music Video
Don Cheadle and Kendrick Lamar in DNA Music Video

A Symbolic Music Video Laden With Layered Meanings

The music video opens with ominous echoes of “YAH,” the track that immediately follows DNA on Lamar’s album DAMN.

As the camera pans down, we’re thrown into an interrogation room where actor Don Cheadle seems to be questioning the defiant “Kung Fu Kenny” persona adopted by Lamar.

The symbolism-laden music video for “DNA” creates a cinematic journey further unpacking these ideas.

We learn that DNA is an acronym for “Dead Nigga Association” in Lamar’s world.

Don Cheadle, who reportedly inadvertently inspired Lamar’s “Kung Fu Kenny” persona with his role as a Chinese-speaking martial artist named Kenny in Rush Hour 2, appears to be interrogating Lamar while he’s hooked up to a lie detector test measuring their “life force.” 

The two seem to switch off performer/interrogator roles, paralleling the contrast of perspectives in the lyrics.

Kendrick raps alone at times, joined by guests like Schoolboy Q, dubbed “the family” in Chinese subtitles.

The video culminates with Schoolboy Q punching the camera in slow motion during an extended outro.

The visual narrative is further layered with audio and visual excerpts spliced in from other DAMN tracks.

At the beginning, “YAH” is heard echoing as the camera pans down, immediately connecting it to its track position right after “DNA.”

A snippet of Geraldo Rivera’s controversial “BLOOD” quote criticising Lamar’s lyrics plays as Cheadle initiates the lie detector. This same “BLOOD” audio sample is also reprised in the second verse.

Kendrick Lamar’s martial arts uniform and the Chinese subtitles labelling him “Kung Fu Kenny” play into the recurring Eastern influence and themes throughout DAMN.

We also hear a snippet of “Hood Politics” from Lamar’s 2015 album To Pimp A Butterfly woven in. In the end, Lamar prevails over Cheadle’s interrogating force.

Undeniable Success and Impact

While DNA was not officially released as a single, it quickly became an inescapable smash. It debuted at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100, eventually peaked at #2, spent 20 weeks on the chart, and achieved 3x Platinum status.

Critics universally praised the technical mastery and complexities of Lamar’s breathless flow and lyricism.

More than just an explosive banger, DNA showcased Kendrick Lamar’s uncompromising artistic vision and his ability to turn inward for trenchant self-examinations that double as profound insights into broader struggles over identity and race.

With his “uncompromising” and “raw” vocal delivery atop Mike WiLL Made-It’s intense instrumental, Kendrick Lamar created a contender for one of the greatest rap recordings of the decade.

The track’s legacy and cultural impact are cemented by its deep-diving lyrical storytelling, the rich symbolism of the music video, and the seamless integration of audio and visual accents, tying it to the rest of DAMN’s narrative universe.

DNA is a landmark in Kendrick Lamar’s unparalleled catalogue and a prime example of his storytelling prowess.

Stream Kendrick Lamar DNA:

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Kendrick Lamar DNA Lyrics

Verse 1
I got, I got, I got, I got—
Loyalty, got royalty inside my DNA
Cocaine quarter piece, got war and peace inside my DNA
I got power, poison, pain, and joy inside my DNA
I got hustle, though, ambition flow inside my DNA
I was born like this, since one like this, immaculate conception
I transform like this, perform like this, was Yeshua new weapon
I don’t contemplate, I meditate, then off your fucking head
This that put-the-kids-to-bed
This that I got, I got, I got, I got—
Realness, I just kill shit ’cause it’s in my DNA
I got millions, I got riches buildin’ in my DNA
I got dark, I got evil that rot inside my DNA
I got off, I got troublesome heart inside my DNA
I just win again, then win again like Wimbledon, I serve
Yeah, that’s him again, the sound that engine in is like a bird
You see fireworks and Corvette tire skrrt the boulevard
I know how you work, I know just who you are
See, you’s a, you’s a, you’s a—
Bitch, your hormones prolly switch inside your DNA
Problem is, all that sucker shit inside your DNA
Daddy prolly snitched, heritage inside your DNA
Backbone don’t exist, born outside a jellyfish, I gauge
See, my pedigree most definitely don’t tolerate the front
Shit I’ve been through prolly offend you, this is Paula’s oldest son
I know murder, conviction
Burners, boosters, burglars, ballers, dead, redemption
Scholars, fathers dead with kids and
I wish I was fed forgiveness
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, soldier’s DNA (I’m a soldier’s DNA)
Born inside the beast, my expertise checked out in second grade
When I was 9, on cell, motel, we didn’t have nowhere to stay
At 29, I’ve done so well, hit cartwheel in my estate
And I’m gon’ shine like I’m supposed to, antisocial extrovert
And excellent mean the extra work
And absentness what the fuck you heard
And pessimists never struck my nerve
And Nazareth gonna plead his case
The reason my power’s here on earth
Salute the truth, when the prophet say

Bridge: Kendrick Lamar & Geraldo Rivera
I-I got loyalty, got royalty inside my DNA
This is why I say that hip hop has done more damage to young African Americans than racism in recent years
I-I got loyalty, got royalty inside my DNA
I live a better life, I’m rollin’ several dice, fuck your life
I-I got loyalty, got royalty inside my DNA
I live a be-, fuck your life
Five, four, three, two, one
This is my heritage, all I’m inheritin’
Money and power, the mecca of marriages

Verse 2
Tell me somethin’
You motherfuckers can’t tell me nothin’
I’d rather die than to listen to you
My DNA not for imitation
Your DNA an abomination
This how it is when you in the Matrix
Dodgin’ bullets, reapin’ what you sow
And stackin’ up the footage, livin’ on the go
And sleepin’ in a villa
Sippin’ from a Grammy, walkin’ in the buildin’
Diamond in the ceilin’, marble on the floors
Beach inside the window, peekin’ out the window
Baby in the pool, godfather goals
Only Lord knows I’ve been goin’ hammer
Dodgin’ paparazzi, freakin’ through the cameras
Eat at Four Daughters, Brock wearin’ sandals
Yoga on a Monday, stretchin’ to Nirvana
Watchin’ all the snakes, curvin’ all the fakes
Phone never on, I don’t conversate
I don’t compromise, I just penetrate
Sex, money, murder—these are the breaks
These are the times, level number nine

Look up in the sky, ten is on the way
Sentence on the way, killings on the way
Motherfucker, I got winners on the way
You ain’t shit without a body on your belt
You ain’t shit without a ticket on your plate
You ain’t sick enough to pull it on yourself
You ain’t rich enough to hit the lot and skate
Tell me when destruction gonna be my fate
Gonna be your fate, gonna be our faith
Peace to the world, let it rotate
Sex, money, murder—our DNA

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