Kendrick Lamar has solidified his place at the very top of modern hip-hop, releasing not one but four critically acclaimed albums since 2012. His style has changed almost yearly since the beginning of his career in 2004, switching from the hard, underground style of hip-hop typical for most artists early on to the jazz and soul influenced To Pimp a Butterfly and to the weird mixture between modern and old-school rap found in DAMN., his latest release. But there’s one thing that hasn’t changed about Kendrick throughout the years and that is the manner he carries himself in off-stage. He keeps his personal affairs more or less private and stays out of the spotlight, despite being one of the most popular artists of the decade. He rarely shows up on TV, because he rarely does anything that would merit any public attention, unless of course he announces a new album. For a man of his caliber of fame, Kendrick Lamar remains a surprisingly private person.
A good explanation for this is his stated philosophy around the time Section.80 dropped. HiiiPoWeR, as he describes it, is a movement, a sort of religion. The three ‘i’s stand for heart, honor and respect, virtues that he and his cohort think man should live. As Ab-soul explains in one of his songs, the idea behind it is to inspire the betterment of the current generation within what he sees as a chaotic and destructive society. In an interview for The Come Up Show, Kendrick summed the idea up rather neatly: “Hiiipower, it basically is the simplest form of representing just being above all the madness, all the bullshit. No matter what the world is going through, you’re always going to keep your dignity and carry yourself with this manner that it don’t phase you. Whatever you think negative is in your life. Overcoming that and still having that self-respect.”
Now, with all this in mind, it becomes rather apparent that the HiiiPoWeR movement isn’t actually a new phenomenon. In fact, it resembles the ideas of stoicism, a philosophical school of thought that emerged and grew exponentially during the 3rd century AD in Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire. In a nutshell, stoicism teaches self-control and mental fortitude in the face of the whatever perils one may face in the world. Stoics aimed to cleanse themselves of destructive emotions like envy, fear, anger and hatred, and live in agreement with nature, or the outside world in general , if one were to appropriate the ideas to the modern world directly.
The parallels are all there, though HiiiPoWeR lacks the other aspects of stoicism (ie naturalistic ethics, logic, etc.). What Kendrick, and everyone else involved with the movement, espouses is the belief that a better world can be forged by a generation of people who live in complete harmony with both themselves and the randomness of the world around them, and in that sense he certainly does his best to lead by example, or did, as the current status of the movement remains unclear and neither Kendrick nor close friends of his like Ab-Soul and Schoolboy Q have, to my knowledge, so much as mentioned it in the past few years. Maybe that’s exactly the point; maybe the idea doesn’t need to be stated in order to exist, maybe Kendrick and co. merely planted the seed and left it to grow. Another possibility is that it always has and always will exist in one way or the other – according to Kendrick, HiiiPoWeR was a way of life for many influential figures of the past like Huey Newton, Martin Luther King Jr, Marcus Garvey and Tupac Shakur. The thought of Kendrick, Tupac and Epictetus sharing the same, or a rather similar, philosophical view of life is a rather amusing one.