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

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

null1: 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


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


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


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


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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