Lyric Analysis #1: Kendrick Lamar – How much a dollar cost

Kendrick Lamar’s How Much a dollar cost. A story about greed, money over all else, and a lack empathy. This song is heavily biblical, and while I don’t believe in god, I think the messages that this song presents aren’t specific to religion and they can be applied in general to the modern 21st century capitalist mindset. Anyway, here’s my analysis:

How much a dollar really cost?

The question is detrimental, paralyzin’ my thoughts

Parasites in my stomach keep me with a gut feeling, y’all

Gotta see how I’m chillin’ once I park this luxury car

Hopping out feeling big as Mutombo

“20 on pump 6” – dirty Marcellus called me Dumbo

20 years ago – can’t forget

Now I can lend all my ear or two how to stack these residuals

Tenfold; the liberal concept of what men’ll do

Kendrick is referring to the liberal economic theory that says humans living in Western first-world countries only seek to derive profit and this makes him more economically intelligent than tbe people of South Africa, where this story is set.

“20 on 6” – he didn’t hear me

Indigenous African only spoke Zulu

My American tongue was slurry

Walked out the gas station

The person at the gas station doesn’t understand him because he only speaks Zulu, so Kendrick walks out of the gas station which leads him to see the homeless man.

A homeless man with a semi-tan complexion

Asked me for ten rand, stressin’ about dry land

A homeless man asks Kendrick for ten South African rand, which is around a dollar in America.

Deep water, powder blue skies that crack open

A piece of crack that he wanted, I knew he was smokin’

He begged and pleaded

Asked me to feed him twice, I didn’t believe it

Told him, “Beat it”

Contributin’ money just for his pipe, I couldn’t see it

The main reason why people defend not giving money to homeless people is that they’ll just spend it on cigarettes and alcohol.

He said, “My son, temptation is one thing that I’ve defeated

Listen to me, I want a single bill from you

Nothin’ less, nothin’ more”

The homeless man is trying to tell Kendrick that he has defeated the temptation of spending all his money on drugs.

I told him I ain’t have it and closed my door

Tell me how much a dollar cost

It’s more to feed your mind

Water, sun and love, the one you love

All you need, the air you breathe

He’s starin’ at me in disbelief

My temper is buildin’, he’s starin’ at me, I grab my key

He’s starin’ at me, I started the car, then I tried to leave

And somethin’ told me to keep it in park until I could see

The reason why he was mad at a stranger

Like I was supposed to save him

Like I’m the reason he’s homeless and askin’ me for a favor

He’s starin’ at me, his eyes followed me with no laser

He’s starin’ at me, I notice that his stare is contagious

Cause now I’m starin’ back at him, feelin’ some type of disrespect

If I could throw a bat at him, it’d be aimin’ at his neck

Kendrick is mirroring another popular argument to why you shouldn’t feel obliged to give money to homeless people because you ate not directly responsible for them being homeless.

I never understood someone beggin’ for goods

Askin’ for handouts, takin’ it if they could

And this particular person just had it down pat

Kendrick is trying to say people with less shouldn’t ask for handouts from those with more in his ignorance.

Starin’ at me for the longest until he finally asked

Have you ever opened up Exodus 14?

A humble man is all that we ever need

The homeless man references the bible and then repeats his plea of charity.

Tell me how much a dollar cost

It’s more to feed your mind

Water, sun and love, the one you love

All you need, the air you breathe

Guilt trippin’ and feelin’ resentment

I never met a transient that demanded attention

They got me frustrated, indecisive and power trippin’

Sour emotions got me lookin’ at the universe different

I should distance myself, I should keep it relentless

My selfishness is what got me here, who the —- I’m kiddin’?

Kendrick is trying to defend his selfishness by saying he wouldn’t have got where he was without his greed, ignoring the fact that he won’t get anywhere after death.

So I’mma tell you like I told the last bum

Crumbs and pennies, I need all of mines

And I recognize this type of panhandlin’ all the time

I got better judgement, I know when ——‘s hustlin’, keep in mind

When I was strugglin’, I did compromise, now I comprehend

I smell grandpa’s old medicine, reekin’ from your skin

Moonshine and gin, —– you’re babblin’, your words ain’t flatterin’

I’m imaginin’ Denzel but lookin’ at O’Neal

Kazaam is sad thrills, your gimmick is mediocre

The jig is up, I seen you from a mile away losin’ focus

And I’m insensitive, and I lack empathy

He looked at me and said, “Your potential is bittersweet”

I looked at him and said, “Every nickel is mines to keep”

He looked at me and said, “Know the truth, it’ll set you free

You’re lookin’ at the Messiah, the son of Jehovah, the higher power

The choir that spoke the word, the Holy Spirit

The nerve of Nazareth, and I’ll tell you just how much a dollar cost

The price of having a spot in Heaven, embrace your loss, I am God

The homeless man reveals that he is god, and that his greed and lack of empathy will cost him his place in heaven despite the fact that he warships god.

I wash my hands, I said my grace

What more do you want from me?

This references to how many Christians think that praying and worshipping god is enough to go to heaven, while contributing nothing to society, supporting the capitalist greed and valuing material possessions over kindness, happiness, being humble and love.

Tears of a clown, guess I’m not all what is meant to be

Shades of grey will never change if I condone

Turn this page, help me change, so right my wrongs

Comment below if you want to see more of this series because I’m more than happy to do them.



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