good kid, m.A.A.d. lilies: The French New Wave’s Influence on Hip-Hop – Part 1

good kid, m.A.A.d. lilies: The French New Wave's Influence on Hip-Hop - Part 1

1: Coast to Coast: The Building Blocks

The legitimacy of both film and hip-hop as art forms has been contested over the
years. At the start of their respective life cycles, critics considered both fads of popular
culture and never thought that they would transcend their origins and become the
sturdy artistic medium and genre that they have today. The French New Wave, the film
movement led by film critics turned filmmakers Jean-Luc Godard and Francois
Truffaut from the late 50s to mid 60s, directly challenged conventional filmmaking
techniques with improvisation, radical experimentation, and self-aware touches. Hip-
hop was a cultural movement rooted in many different facets of life from music to dance to
fashion. Hip-hop music has taken on many forms, from the fun and upbeat to the dark and
political in its nearly 40 year history, but has morphed into something equally as experimental
and revolutionary as a movement spearheaded by a panel of film geeks. Throughout the
course of this senior project, I’ll be exploring and attempting to connect two artistic
movements, namely the French New Wave and contemporary hip-hop. While they seem to be
separated by lingual/cultural boundaries and an entire ocean, the point of this project will be
to connect the dots that both of these artistic movements share. This is a connection that no
other scholar has attempted to make in the past, one as sprawling as the one between
French films of the 1950s-60s and hip-hop of the 21st century, but I see a connection between the two not only in content but, surprisingly, in form and revolutionary function as
well. Both New Waves are new takes on already established forms of media that
simultaneously moved their respective mediums forward. Against the juggernauts that were
the Hollywood filmmaking model in the 1940s and the music scene of the 1970s, both the
French New Wave and hip-hop took established techniques and sounds from the older
generation and defied convention by adding new flourishes and ideas, such as jump cuts and
auteur theory for the filmmakers and music sampling and rapping for hip-hop, and created
something new.

What Is The French New Wave?

In the post-World War II climate of France (1945 onward), filmmakers decided to
pursue ideas of their own that not only expressed the love they had for all things cinematic,
but also directly challenged the filmic traditions put forth by Hollywood, which was then
currently setting the rules for cinema the world over. As founded by members of French film
magazine Cahier du Cinema and under the tutelage of legendary film critic Andre Bazin,
filmmakers of the French New Wave (Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut, Claude Chabrol,
etc.) made films in bold defiance of conventional filmmaking techniques of the time. Whether
it be in the technical aspect (editing, shot position) or in terms of overall content steeped in
the plights of youth culture that range from misspent childhoods to socio-political commentary
and even a doomed three-way romance, the nature of the films of Godard and Truffaut in
particular were revolutionary for their time. Civil unrest had hit the country since the outbreak
of the Algerian War for Independence in 1954, which much of the younger French population
supported, and films such as “The 400 Blows,” “Jules and Jim,” and “Le Petit Soldat” reflect not only the changing climate in French culture, but the ultimate subversion of typical filmmaking
conventions.

One technique utilized by many a FNW filmmaker was the long take, the
act of showing a filmed sequence for an extended period of time without a cut. Conventional
films of the time, usually borrowing the Hollywood motif that dominated the majority of global
cinema, tended to not let individual sequences run longer than 7-9 seconds before cutting to a
different angle. These particular cuts were used for a variety of reasons in what some
scholars refer to as ‘classical Hollywood,’ one being the mechanics of shot-reverse-shot,
which involves cutting back and forth between shots of two people’s faces as they’re having a
conversation. Techniques like this were utilized in classical Hollywood so as to establish a
conversational chronology, a linearity that most anyone could easily follow. In contrast,
François Truffaut, a filmmaker many believed to be at the epicenter of the FNW, makes use of
the long take in the closing moments of one of his earliest films “The 400 Blows,” a semi-
autobiographical story of a young boy surviving on the mean streets of Paris. In the closing
moments, protagonist Antoine is running away from the troubled boys home to which his
parents have sent him, and as he makes it under the gates, he begins to run through the
forest. Truffaut holds the shot for an astonishing 80 seconds as Antoine runs through the
forest, then comes to a bridge, and eventually ends his run at the ocean, a place he’d always
wanted to visit since he was young, in one of the most iconic freeze-frame shots in cinematic
history. The freeze-frame shows the audience that Antoine has completed this part of his
journey, but lingers just long enough to force us to consider what comes next in the life of
Antoine, and ultimately, what comes next in our lives.

While cynical stories of youth weren’t new to cinema, the use of the long take,
especially in this context, was uncommon to say the least. Editing in a film, regardless of the length of the shot, at least subconsciously serves to remind you that you’re watching a film
because it adds to the overall style and mood that it creates. The long takes used throughout “400 Blows” reflect the film’s overall tone: melancholic and even dour. Shots linger for 3-4 times
the average length as Antoine meanders around the streets of France. The dissonance that
filmmakers feared would call attention to the fact that the viewer is indeed watching a film is
no where to be found in the ending of “400 Blows.” In fact, it helps to give us insight into exactly
what Antoine wants, possibly for the first time in the film: freedom. With the 80 second sprint
that Antoine takes, Truffaut manages to condense all of the challenges that he has faced
throughout the film, namely the opposition of authority figures and his own aimless existence
on the streets of Paris, and show him symbolically overcoming them in his run to freedom;
there are two signs (i.e. roadblocks) that Antoine encounters, one of which he sidesteps
before ducking under the other, after which he jogs his way to the shoreline. Truffaut
refreshingly conveyed his character’s longing and perseverance in one long sequence that
may have come across as hackneyed in a traditional Hollywood context. The choice to not
use rapid cuts emphasizes the visceral nature of Antoine’s run for freedom, as we’re allowed
to experience it in real time. This rebellious commitment to the newly established FNW form
was part of the foundation from which other FNW filmmakers would come to rely on for almost
a decade. Directors like Truffaut weren’t known solely for their use of long takes within the
FNW. The movement was also one of the earliest to employ the jump cut, an editing
technique used to indicate the passing of time, as well as auteur theory, the theory of the
director as the author of the film, and stories of young love and existential crises.

What Is Contemporary Hip-Hop?

At its core, since its initial birth in 1973, hip-hop music has been pre-occupied with
taking disparate elements of other genres of music, ranging from R&B and Jazz to punk and
even electronic, and mixing them together with spoken word lyrics. As the genre progressed,
added elements like sampling, the process of combining parts of older songs to create new
sounds, and more socially conscious lyricism, pushed hip-hop even further throughout the
1980s. Artists as diverse as Chance The Rapper, Kendrick Lamar, Tyler, The Creator, and
Childish Gambino have advanced their particular sub-sects even further in a way that’s
convinced me that they belong in their own collective.

It can certainly be argued that as a genre of music, mainstream hip-hop had been
aesthetically and artistically stagnant for much of the early 2000s; the gangsta rap aesthetic
started in the mid 1980s and gained significant traction in the 1990s and featured songs
characterized by stories of gang-affiliated activities like drug-dealing, hyper-sexuality, and
murder, a by-product of the hard-nosed drug-riddled streets of many Black communities,
especially on the West Coast of the United States, Many artists, such as N.W.A. and Ice-T,
took this opportunity to make music that called attention to the poor conditions that many
African-Americans were living in and surrounded by on a daily basis. The lyrical importance of
this variant of hip-hop was captured by author Tricia Rose in the fourth chapter of her book
“Black Noise: Rap Music and Rap Culture in Contemporary America:” “Rap music is, in many
ways, a hidden transcript. Among other things, it uses cloaked speech and disguised cultural
codes to comment on and challenge aspects of current power inequalities…a large and
significant element in rap’s discursive territory is engaged in symbolic and ideological warfare
with institutions and groups that symbolically, ideologically, and materially oppress African Americans.” (Rose 101-102) The symbolic and ideological warfare that Rose mentions was
prevalent in much of the genre at the time, and would remain so up until the tough macho
aspect of the music began to dominate and become commercially viable.

This is evidenced in scholar Jesse Smith’s article “Real To Reel: Filmic Constructions of
Hip Hop Culture and Hip Hop Identities.” Smith calls attention to the work of S. Craig Watkins,
who notes that the release of “Boyz n The Hood” in 1991 not only coincided with the rise of
West Coast gangsta rap and popular culture’s overall awareness of the “postindustrial ghetto
in the American popular and political imagination,”, but emphasized “the commercial vitality of
hip-hop in general and popularization of gangsta rap specifically.” (52) Films like “Juice” (1992)
and “Menace II Society” (1993) all revolved around the violence and crime that became
indicative of so-called ‘ghetto life’ in the 1990s, and the American music and film industry took
full advantage of it.

Unfortunately, the music had begun to lose the socio-political edge that artists like Ice-
T and N.W.A originally brought to the proceedings. Much of the music was lively, but caught in
a materialistic grind focusing less on pure musical and lyrical prowess and more on how much
wealth, celebrity, or just general attention you could grab with a few bars and a beat machine.
Not to say that the music wasn’t any good, but mainstream hip-hop/rap had found its niche
and wasn’t moving anywhere, few boundaries were being pushed, few ideals being
innovated. As early as 2009, a younger generation of emcees began shepherding the genre
in a very new and more substantial direction, melding elements of the more socially conscious and independent-based underground hip-hop scene with the hard-hitting sounds and
marketability of the contemporary mainstream to create a head-thumping and
uncharacteristically affective hybrid. Artists the likes of Childish Gambino, Tyler The
Creator, Kendrick Lamar, and Chance The Rapper have stepped up to fill this lofty position
and respectively bring more emotional and intellectual heft back to the world of hip-hop.
Because of the similarities that artists like these and their ilk share with French New Wave
filmmakers and their innovative approach to hip-hop, these four men are at the center of a
decidedly Western parallel to the sensibilities of those filmmakers.

These four contemporary artists have all done very similar things with their
genre of choice, even going outside of the confines of hip-hop to do it.

Chancellor Bennett, also known as Chance The Rapper, occupies the same
microcosm of space that Tyler does, though on a much smaller (focused?) scale.
Chance’s innovation comes solely from his music, which combines elements of various other
genres. The aptly named “Acid Rap,” Chance’s 2013 mix tape that brought him to public
attention, is an alluring mixture of funky jazz-inspired beats and the man’s distinctive raspy
high-pitched voice that channels the life of a young adult in the urban Chicago of 2013, much
the same way Truffaut did with Antoine in “400 Blows.” Bennet’s album features songs that
reach across the vast emotional spectrum of the teenage experience, from feelings of
camaraderie (“Everything’s Good”) to existential introspection (“Pusha Man,”” Everybody’s
Something”), love (“Lost,” “Smoke Again”) or just plain old celebration (“Favorite Song”).

Just as Truffaut communicates the satisfying but ultimately fleeting ecstasy of freedom through long take and freeze-frame, Bennet does the same with his double song “Pusha
Man”/”Paranoia”. The first portion of the song has Chance playing the role of a dealer, though
instead of dealing drugs, he’s dealing “dope” music as evidenced by lyrics such as “I’ll take
you to the land, where the lakes made of sand/and the milk don’t pour and the honey don’t
dance/and the money ain’t yours.” Bennet is using the craft of music as a young man to deal
with the big, scary world that surrounds him. This dealing of music helps to give him and his
customers (listeners) the freedom and peace of mind that they so desperately crave from
their environment, much like Antoine seeks from the ocean in “400 Blows.” Chance comes from
Chicago, IL, a city in the Midwestern United States that is riddled with violence, drugs, and
other compromising situations, and through his music, Chance can make music, keep himself
out of trouble, create a zone of escapism, have something to be proud of, and even make a
little money in the process, and even inspire his listeners to go down the same path. This can
be seen in the chorus of the song: “I got that mm-mm/I got that god damn/I’m your pusha
man/I’m your-I’m your pusha man/Pimp slappin’, toe-taggin’, I’m just tryna fight the man/I’m
your pusha man/I’m your-I’m your pusha man.” Similar to the reason for Antoine’s wanderlust
due to his poor home conditions and Truffaut’s own cinema-inspired drive, Chance is making
music to fight the system and keep his head above water (“I’m just tryna fight the man”).

But as in the world of “400 Blows,” the gravity of Chance’s situation becomes clearer as
the story continues. After this first section of the song, relative to a scene in a film, comes to a
close, there is an abrupt silence that lasts for about 30 seconds before entering into the second song, “Paranoia.” It’s here where we leave the comparatively light-hearted escapism of “Pusha Man” behind and enter the reality that consumes Bennet in his hometown of Chicago.
He talks of his Midwestern home and the things he has to live with: “Trapped in the middle of
the map with a little-bitty rock and a little bit of rap,” the ‘rock’ being a reference to both crack
cocaine, a drug common to the streets of Chicago, and the rock music that Bennet grew up
listening to, showing the varied well of influence that Chance draws from, similar to FNW
filmmakers and the influence of Andre Bazin.

Chance earns his place in contemporary hip-hop not only because like his other three
contemporaries, his music speaks to youth struggles of self-acceptance, love, and the
constant perils and tribulations of growing up in a dangerous part of the country with death
and addiction lurking around every corner and yearning for simpler days. At the tender
age of 20, Chance’s songs have a very worldly feel to them that was earned through a ten-
day suspension from school that led to the release of his first mix tape 10 Day, and he
explicitly uses many of these experiences to sound off about it in an experienced yet
appealing way.

Another progenitor of this style of hip-hop is Childish Gambino, whose music occupies
the indie corner of hip-hop and the sobering stories of the struggles of youth that many films
of the French New Wave share. Gambino, whose real name is Donald Glover, corrals these
two aspects into a hugely ambitious project titled “Because The Internet” at the end of 2013,
an album that pulls doubly duty as a semi-coming of age story and an abstract criticism of

contemporary internet culture through the lens of the HHNW.

Even more thought-provoking than that is the fact that “Because The Internet” is
formatted like a screenplay and that each verse/scene is also its own long take. Most song
titles have roman numerals in front of them, indicating different acts or suites, and each verse
in these songs can be seen as a particular scene. Given that Glover released a companion
screenplay about a character named The Boy’s extended young adult existential crisis to
accompany the album (maybe even the other way around?), this comes as no surprise. For
example, near the end of the album, a track entitled “II. Zealots of Stockholm [Free
Information],” deals with Glover’s own relationship with his Jehovah’s Witness parents in one
verse before jumping to an interaction between The Boy and a Swedish girl named Alyssa
and then jumping back into existentialist mode with Glover realizing that he is the master of
his own destiny. The stark separation of each verse as its own separate scene is evidenced in
the abrupt changes to the music, with the more psychedelic and melodic sounds of the first
and third verses sandwiching the hard-hitting electro-synth sounds of the second verse. The
song’s sonic shifts act as a jump cut of sorts, indicating a passing of time that helps the story
not only shift points of view, but change the tone of the song from introspective to dismissive.
Each verse/scene is also its own long take, each of which lasts between 1-2 minutes, giving
the listener ample time to experience the visceral nature of every part of Glover’s story, similar
to how the long take at the end of 400 Blows allowed us to experience Antoine’s yearning for
freedom. With this kind of innovative mixing of different kinds of music in with the traditional
hip-hop as bookends for particular scenes, Glover manages to convey two stories at once
while maintaining the focus of his cultural deconstruction of the space that we know as the
internet; its permanence and randomness baffles Glover, and he addresses it in a
revolutionary, if abstract, way here.

Tyler Okonma, better known as Tyler, The Creator, in contrast, operates on a
more aggressive and pastel-colored plane as the leader of Los Angeles-based collective Odd
Future. Okonma’s music is punctuated by a tough-guy persona that hides a more
introspective and layered person underneath, seen on his debut album “Bastard” and latest
album “Wolf,” which is reflected in his experimental musical production across both works. He
has also become known for creating absurdist and highly stylized music videos to accompany
most of his songs, regardless of tone. Okonma’s music may be experimental in nature, but
that isn’t what draws him closer to the FNW. Much of the content of his songs. especially on
his latest release “Wolf,” deal with young love and the extreme awkwardness that ensues
during the courting process, much like Francois Truffaut’s 1962 film “Jules et Jim,” which also
deals with a love triangle between three Bohemian European adults.

On the far more technical and serious side of the collective we have
Kendrick Lamar, an artist whose musical sensibilities are much more mainstream than those
of his compatriots, yet no less ambitious or stylistically bold. With the release of his major
label debut “good kid, m.A.A.d. City,” Lamar created a somber, yet uplifting tale of youth on
the streets of Compton, California, which is considered to be the focal point of gangsta rap by
many. Even though this subject is seen very often in hip-hop, Lamar utilizes this to his
advantage; because everyone is so familiar with the conventions of the so-called hood story,
his choice to tell the story out of order, subtitle the album “a short film by Kendrick Lamar,”
and truly inspired lyrical storytelling techniques offer up a new perspective make for a
tenuous dichotomy compared to the stories told by his predecessors which were more preoccupied with in-the-moment directness. While that’s certainly visible in Lamar’s work as well, “good kid, m.A.A.d. city” is just as much about transcending the ‘ghetto’ lifestyle as it is about
the overall experience. Lamar’s unique yet immediately familiar cadence coupled with songs
that serve equally as well as head-banging hype tracks as they do as individual segments of a
story (“Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe,” “Poetic Justice,” “Backstreet Freestyle,” and “good kid” being
standout examples) managed to bridge the divide between mainstream stories of defamation
and grandeur and underground socio-political mindedness when the album was released last
year.

All in all, these four artists attack these themes and more in their music with very
different strategies that challenge basic focuses of hip-hop like the ghetto lifestyle and
frivolous flaunting of wealth that many never even thought to question. This innovative spirit
and great inkwell of music to draw from on any occasion are what place them in the pantheon
of what I will now be calling the Hip-Hop New Wave. Unlike Tricia Rose, whose work had a
tendency to focus on hip-hop in a purely American context in terms of output and inspiration,
I’ll be focusing on the Hip-Hop New Wave’s seeming inspiration from the world of film, in
particular, that of the French New Wave.

2: m.A.A.d. Blows to Childhood: Auteurism (Francois Truffaut/Kendrick Lamar)

When considering two forms of media as revolutionary in design and execution as the
films of the French New Wave and the overall movement of hip-hop, the notion of auteurism
can never be too far from the mind. In this section, I’ll be exploring how the notion of signature
style from one singular artist drove and continue to drive the work of French New Wave
filmmaker Francois Truffaut and hip-hop artist Kendrick Lamar.

What Is An Auteur?

Before we can move forward, however, we need to consider what exactly an auteur is.
Originally coined in the year 1996 by Edward Lange, the term auteur is used to describe a
helmer of some kind who has a distinctive signature style. Lange himself initially affixed the
term to the Cahier du Cinema film group that was composed of key critics turned filmmakers
in the French New Wave; Truffaut, Godard, and others were the first directors of their kind to
be recognized for their signature directorial habits.

But the distinction goes back arguably even further than that. Explained in his article
“No start, no end: Auteurism and the auteur theory, author David Andrews reminds us that
Thomas Schatz argued in 1981 for auteurism as an attitude toward film authorship that has
been used since the silent period (38), as a certain form of filmmaking that had audiences
and scholars alike affixing certain stylistic, aesthetic, and technical flairs to certain filmmakers
since the silent film era. Auteur theory, akin to the style of the camera-pen where directors were urged to wield their cameras like novelists wielded a pen, had been coveted by
Alexandre Astruc in 1948, before being refined by the critics of the Cahier du Cinema, in
particular by their critic and trainer Andre Bazin. Auteur theory was then picked up by
American scholar Andrew Sarris and being relayed as the auteur theory that most American
audiences are aware of today. Western filmmakers as diverse as David Fincher, Quentin
Tarantino, Robert Rodriguez, and David Cronenberg are some of the most recognizable
auteurs of today, each of their respective filmographies encompassing some sort of technical
aesthetic, overarching theme, or combination of the two.

Truffaut as an Auteur/ “The 400 Blows”

Francois Truffaut is a filmmaker who, like his Cahier du Cinema contemporaries, has a
body of work deftly branded with the mark of an auteur. Ranging from the autobiography “The
400 Blows” to the darkly whimsical romance of “Jules et Jim,” Truffaut’s aesthetic and technical
choices reflect the definition of auteurism as it was understood amongst the French New
Wave.

Truffaut is also the man who coined the term ‘la politique des auteurs’ in his essay “A
Certain Tendency in French Cinema,” written in 1954, and brought the theory to the forefront of
FNW theory and filmmaking. He brought the FNW its first filmic exposure with his
aforementioned films,ones that explore the existential trappings of youth in very different
ways. He explores it as he’s seen it in his life in “The 400 Blows,” using FNW techniques to
flesh out his own childhood of trouble through a film lens and addressing the issues of French
young adults in a freewheeling love triangle. As an auteur himself, Truffaut naturally has
stylistic and narrative flourishes that can be found in several of his films. In particular, his films “The 400 Blows” and “Jules et Jim” are both about male protagonists experiencing life re-defining existential crises of some kind, dealing with yearns for freedom and the complicated nature of
a three-way romance, respectively.

Kendrick Lamar As An Auteur

Naturally, flourishes like these can extend outside of film as well. Artists in the
field of hip-hop have left signature styles, trademarks, and imprints on their music and lyrics,
especially in regards to the Hip-Hop New Wave. With an interesting blend of mainstream
aesthetics and underground consciousness that’s marked him as one of the more accessible
artists on the market, Kendrick Lamar emerged from the year 2013 as a legend in the making
in the world of hip hop. His second studio album “good kid, m.A.A.d. city” features many of the
flourishes and hallmarks of 90s/2000s gangsta rap while channeling them into a coming of
age story about a young boy, named K.Dot, coming up on the unforgiving streets of Compton.

The kinds of choices and flourishes that mark Kendrick Lamar as an auteur of the Hip
Hop New Wave all stem from the juxtaposition of the familiar elements with the obscure in the
context of the genre: gangsta rap isn’t normally viewed as an introspective or personal subset
of hip hop, yet Lamar utilizes the delusions of grandeur and ghetto’s eye view stories long
glamorized and unearths their scarier elements through superb lyrical storytelling. This
juxtaposition followed Lamar from his debut studio album “Section80,” which lacked the
cinematic scope that “m.A.A.d. city” possesses but kept the introspective and personal nature
of the songs.

A good example of Lamar’s flair for storytelling mixed with retrospective introspection
can be found near the beginning of the album. Lamar opens the song “The Art of Peer
Pressure,” with a verse describing hanging out with his friends on an average day that’s looking to change very fast. He talks of smoking and drinking with his friends and tells himself
that “one day it’s gon’ burn you out,” but he re-assures himself that “I’m with the homies right
now.” From there, the song descends into a gritty re-telling of a series of robberies committed
around a Compton neighborhood, with the boys loading stolen goods into the back of a
minivan that Lamar’s character had borrowed from his mother. Everything appears to be
going well for the crew until they hear cop sirens on their tail. Luckily for them, the police are
after another perp, and make their turns down different streets. Lamar may be out of trouble
with the law, but he’ll for sure owe an explanation to his mother. Normally, an act like this
would be made to look extremely glamorous in the field of gangsta rap, but Lamar is looking
to relay K.Dot’s story in a different way with the same ingredients as his predecessors, MCs
like Eazy-E, Tupac, and Nas. The emphasis of the song is even right there in the title, “The Art
of Peer Pressure.” K.Dot is forced into this position and is trying to make the best of being with
his so-called homies, who almost gets him arrested. Lamar does an admirable job of
simultaneously communicating how necessary these kinds of activities seem to the livelihood
of a teenager in Compton and his newfound perspective and reluctance toward such activity.

Other examples of this hip hop juxtaposition are sprinkled throughout “m.A.A.d. city,”  from flights of fantasy (Backseat Freestyle) to young love quickly found and lost at the
business end of a pistol (Poetic Justice) and the stories of so many youths in the ghetto retold
(“Sing About Me”). All of these are bookended by quick skits depicting Kendrick’s mother,
father, and various neighbors around, tying the events of all of these songs together as well
as building on the blocks laid by gangsta rappers past, positioning good kid, “m.A.A.d. City” as
a concept album, one with a dark story told out of order and with a hint of autobiography.

Lamar vs. Truffaut

Here we can draw parallels to the rough and tumble life of Antoine in Truffaut’s “400
Blows,” but skewed to a more negative and modern extreme. Lamar’s descriptive storytelling
works the same way Truffaut’s camera does at capturing the innocence of young life being
tainted by the harsh realities that surround both Lamar in “m.A.A.d. City” and Antoine in “400
Blows.” When thinking of the dangers that K.Dot faces in “The Art of Peer Pressure,” Antoine’s
night spent in the prison after being turned in by his father immediately came to mind. Both
this pivotal scene and K.Dot facing the possibility of police interference in their activities at the
end of “Peer Pressure” see their respective directors bend their particular cinematic aesthetics
around the idea of innocence being challenged by the surrounding world, where boys are
forced to grow up and consider the weight of their decisions. Both men also tinge their
respective debuts with hints of autobiography, pulling from past experiences as children to
inform their stories and ideas.

Scholar Allen Thiher argues as such in his article “The Existential Play in Truffaut’s
Early Films.” When examining “The 400 Blows” in particular, he argues that the character of
Antoine is one whose choices lead to consequences [that] ultimately go far beyond that which
a child might foresee, but for which he is entirely responsible (185). He further argues that
Antoine’s insistence on stumbling into crime and compromising situations is grounded both in
an absurdist sense of fortuitous being and an existentialist view of the radical responsibility
that is the converse side of freedom. (185)Both of these viewpoints are granted to us through
the eyes of Truffaut and Lamar, which is a defining signature touch of their respective debut
works.

Throughout the course of good kid, “m.A.A.d. city,” K.Dot finds himself on both sides of
the situation brought up by Thiher, all while Lamar himself uses storytelling and directorial flourishes to bring his story to life, showing the grime and grit that comes with life in Compton,
whether good or bad. Because the story of the album is told out of order and most clearly
through intercut skits in between songs, they vary wildly in tone. The celebratory confidence
with which K.Dot raps about money, cars, and sex during “Backseat Freestyle” as a way to
pass the time, before descending into the aforementioned robberies and close calls of “The Art
of Peer Pressure.” Eventually, Lamar’s character finds love with a girl named Sherane
(Sherane aka Master Splinter’s Daughter, Poetic Justice). After having committed the series of
crimes he had earlier and borrowing his mother’s minivan to go see Sherane, K.Dot is jumped
by two guys, which his friends don’t take very kindly to. They proceed to kill one of the
attackers, Dave, and after this boy’s death, K.Dot makes his transition to Kendrick Lamar
as he takes in the night he’s had and how cruel and unforgiving the city of Compton can be.
He decides he wants out and this self awareness pushes him to become the Kendrick Lamar
that the hip hop world knows and loves today.

In terms of narrative and touches of auteur theory, Lamar and Truffaut, and their
respective works, are very similar. Both men center their stories around young characters
living out their respective autobiographies on the streets of an unforgiving city. Both works
have their protagonists doing illegal activities and facing some kind of trouble, whether it be
parental or the long arm of the law. Both stories end in a moment of introspection and
existentialism, with both Antoine and K.Dot coming to terms with themselves and growing up,
in a sense. Beyond the superficial narrative trappings, both Lamar and Truffaut approach
their subject matter from an arguably subversive angle, Lamar turning the normal gangsta rap
fable on its head, Truffaut showing the hard-living streets of Paris that he grew up on through
the lens of a film movement hell bent on disregarding rule for traditional filmmaking structure.

Both works also emphasize a mixing of old narrative styles with newer modern reworkings. Lamar re-worked the inner trappings of the gangsta rap genre to gaze inward and
see how someone’s surroundings can affect their upbringing, while Truffaut told a very similar
story of young life run amok eventually balanced with introspection while simultaneously
rejecting an arguably, innovating, the technique and medium of film.

Please read Part 2 of this series HERE.

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Comments

Marion green

Very well thought out.I would have never thought to compare the two genres. Great Article.

Solaam

Nice article!

Joe Leydon

As Truffaut said: "Adolescence leaves pleasant memories only for adults who cannot remember."

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