Translation by Robert Gahwiler:
Original Text "Sing About Me, I'm Dying Of Thirst" [Sing About Me] [Intro:] When the lights shut off And it's my turn to settle down My main concern Promise that you will sing about me Promise that you will sing about me I said when the lights shut off And it's my turn to settle down My main concern Promise that you will sing about me Promise that you will sing about me [Verse 1:] I woke up this morning and figured I'd call you In case I'm not here tomorrow I'm hoping that I can borrow a piece of mind I'm behind on what's really important My mind is really distorted I find nothing but trouble in my life I'm fortunate you believe in a dream This orphanage we call a ghetto is quite a routine And last night was just another distraction Or a reaction of what we consider madness I know exactly what happened You ran outside when you heard my brother cry for help Held him like a newborn baby and made him feel Like everything was alright And a fight he tried to put up, but the type Of bullet that stuck had went against his will As blood spilled on your hands My plans rather vindictive Everybody's a victim in my eyes When I ride it's a murderous rhythm And outside became pitch black A demon glued to my back whispering, "Get em" I got em, and I ain't give a fuck That same mentality I told my brother not to duck In actuality it's a trip how we trip off of colors I wonder if I'll ever discover A passion like you and recover The life that I knew as a young'n In pajamas and Dun-ta-duns When thunder comes it rains cats and dogs Dumb niggas like me never prosper Prognosis of a problem child I'm proud and well devoted This piru shit been in me forever So forever I'm a push it, wherever whenever And I love you cause you love my brother like you did Just promise me you'll tell this story when you make it big And if I die before your album drop I hope - [Hook:] Promise that you will sing about me Promise that you will sing about me I said when the lights shut off And it's my turn to settle down My main concern Promise that you will sing about me Promise that you will sing about me [Verse 2:] You wrote a song about my sister on your tape And called it section.80, the message resemble Brenda's Got a Baby What's crazy was, I was hearin about it But doubted your ignorance, how could you ever Just put her on blast and shit Judging her past and shit Well it's completely my future A nigga behind me right now asking for ass and shit And I'm a need that 40 dollars even if I gotta Fuck, suck and swallow in the parking lot Gonzales Park, I'm followed by a married man, a father of three My titties bounce on the cadence of his tingling keys Matter of fact he my favorite cause he tip me with E's He got a cousin named David and I seen him last week This is the life of another girl damaged by the system These foster homes, I run away and never do miss em See, my hormones just run away and if I can get em back To where they used to be then I'll probably be in the denim Of a family gene that show women how to be woman, or better yet a leader You need her to learn something, then you probably need to beat her That's how I was taught Three niggas in one room, first time I was tossed And I'm exhausted But fuck that "Sorry for your loss shit" My sister died in vain, but what point are you trying to gain If you can't fit the pumps I walk in? I'll wait Your rebuttal a little too late And if you have a album date, just make sure I'm not in the song Cause I don't need the attention bring enough of that on my own And matter fact did I mention that I physically feel great? A doctor's approval is a waste of time, I know I'm straight I'll probably live longer than you and never fade away I'll never fade away, I'll never fade away I know my fate, and I'm on the grind for this cake I'm a get or die trying, I'm eyeing every male gender with intentions of buying You lying to these motherfuckers, talking about you can help with my story You can help me if you sell this pussy for me, nigga Don't ignore me nigga, fuck your glory nigga, this bullshit... [Hook:] When the lights shut off And it's my turn to settle down My main concern Promise that you will sing about me Promise that you will sing about me I said when the lights shut off And it's my turn to settle down My main concern Promise that you will sing about me Promise that you will sing about me [Verse 3:] Sometimes I look in a mirror and ask myself Am I really scared of passing away If it's today I hope I hear a Cry out from heaven so loud it can water down a demon With the holy ghost till it drown in the blood of Jesus I wrote some raps that make sure that my lifeline Rake in the cent of a reaper, ensuring that my allegiance With the other side may come soon And if I'm doomed, may the wound Help me mother be blessed for many moons I suffer a lot And every day the glass mirror get tougher to watch I tie my stomach in knots And I'm sure not why I'm infatuated with death My imagination is surely an aggravation of threats That can come about Cause the tongue is mighty powerful And I can name a list of your favorites that probably vouch Maybe cause I'm dreamer and sleep is the cousin of death Really stuck in the scheme of, wondering when I'm a rest And you're right, your brother was a brother to me And your sister's situation was the one that put me In a direction to speak of something that's realer than the TV screen By any means, wasn't trying to offend or come between Her personal life, I was like "it need to be told Cursing the life of 20 generations after her soul" Exactly would have happened if I hadn't continued rappin Or steady being distracted by money drugs and four Fives, I count lives all on these songs Look at the weak and cry, pray one day you'll be strong Fighting for your rights, even when you're wrong And hope that at least one of you sing about me when I'm gone Now am I worth it? Did I put enough work in? [Hook:] Promise that you will sing about me Promise that you will sing about me I said when the lights shut off And it's my turn to settle down My main concern Promise that you will sing about me Promise that you will sing about me [Skit] [I'm Dying of Thirst] Tired of running Tired of hunting My own kind But retiring nothing Tires are steady screeching, the driver is rubbing Hands on the wheel, who said we wasn't? Dying of thirst Dying of thirst Dying of thirst Dope on the corner Look at the coroner Daughter is dead Mother is mourning her Strayed bullets, AK bullets Resuscitation was waiting patiently But they couldn't, bring her back Who got the footage? channel 9 Cameras looking, it's hard to channel your energy When you know you're crooked Banana clip split his banana pudding I'm like Tre, that's Cuba Gooding I know I'm good at Dying of thirst Dying of thirst Dying of thirst How many sins? I'm running out How many sins? I lost count Dreams of ballin like Spalding But only shotty bounce The reaper calling I'm cottonmouth Money is power, yours is ours Lay with a snitch, die with a coward Hope we get rich, hope we can tower Over the city with vanity with the music louder The same song A black flower I'll show you how to Dye your thirst Dye your thirst Dye your thirst What are we doing? Who are we fooling? Hell is hot, fire is proven To burn for eternity, return of the student That never learned how to live righteous but how to shoot it Tired of running, choirs is humming Tell us to visit, we lying about coming Now back to business, loading the guns in Back of the Buick, your hood is feuding And the beef is bubbling It's no discussion, hereditary All of my cousins Dying of thirst Dying of thirst Dying of thirst Too many sins I'm running out Somebody send Me a well for the drought See, all I know, is taking notes On taking this life for granted Granted, if he provoke My best days, I stress days (Lord forgive me for all my sins for I not know...) My best days, I stress days Say "Fuck the world, " my sex slave Money, pussy and greed what's my next crave Whatever it is, know it's my next grave Tired of running, tired of running I'm tired of tumbling, tired of running I'm tired of tumbling Backwards my mama say "See a pastor, give me a promise What if today was the rapture, and you completely tarnished The truth will set you free, so to me be completely honest You dying of thirst You dying of thirst So hop in that water, and pray that it works" [Skit/Outro]
Poetry is a significant way to express emotion, but poetry is not limited to traditional means such as Shakespeare’s sonnets or Whitman’s free verse styles. This extends also to music, and when these lyrics are a focus of the artist, excellent work can also be found within it. For my piece to translate, I chose a specific section – the “Dying of Thirst Portion – of Kendrick Lamar’s song “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst”. This stood out to me because I am more interested in the poetic aspects of music than traditional poetry, and the album which contains this song is what helped me listen more closely in music for substantive lyrics; I thought the section I chose to use was most relevant because I felt it felt more poetic than other songs I explored. For the translation, I decided to create a collage-inspired image and focus on the thematic aspect of the work and the narrative it was painting. I found this to be the most important aspect of the song, as the formal aspects serve as a vehicle for the thematic aspects to be conveyed. It is mostly intended to tell a narrative rather than display those formal aspects.
The song fits into an entire story told on the album “Good Kid, M.A.A.D City”, which is the story of K-Dot (Kendrick) falling into and attempting to climb out of the cycle or drugs, alcohol, and violence that has plagued the city he grew up in, Compton. Throughout the album, Kendrick uses skits of tape recordings and voicemails to tell the story as it progresses, and the music complements these skits by either filling in other details or diving into the internal struggles that Kendrick is experiencing throughout. “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst” is the second to last track which is telling this story, and thus has had the preceding tracks to lead to this buildup of internal strife. The “Dying of Thirst” part of the song follows a skit in which K-Dot’s friend is lamenting over the death of his brother, and sick of this cycle; this is the last line of the skit: “Fuck! I’m tired of this shit! I’m tired of fuckin’ runnin’, I’m tired of this shit! My brother, homie!” Ominous background vocals introduce this part of the song, adding to the dark tone set by prior events, and it’s paired with an upbeat bassline that sets up the accumulation and subsequent climax of K-Dot’s internal struggle. The only relevant formal/structural aspect of the song is the triplet of “dying of thirst” at the end of each verse. This aspect, just as the rest of the internal conflict described throughout the album, is representative of the desire to escape his current lifestyle and adopt a new one, the one he really wants. This cycle is broken as the conflict is resolved in the song; in the final verse, instead of a third “dying of thirst”, he adds “so hop in that water, and pray that it works”. This is the last utterance in the song, and is followed by a skit in which K-Dot and his friends – almost as a last-ditch effort – are enticed by an old woman to accept Jesus into their lives and finally leave behind the crime and mischief.
In my translation, I chose to focus on what I felt was the most important aspect to take away from the song without going into a full-depth analysis. This aspect was the struggle of escaping the life he had been leading throughout the album, and that last hope of diving into holy water of the Lord; willing to do anything to get out of the deadly cycle, no matter how little of a chance he had. The collage-style images were my best shot at displaying these many different facets of K-Dot’s troubles in a simple image, because with this I could deliberately choose images and words within the bodies and objects that accurately depicted those facets. For example, to me, the focal point of the image is not Kendrick, it is the person chasing after him. He represents everything Kendrick is trying to escape and is the cause of all of Kendrick’s conflict to this point; each image was chosen to represent a specific characteristic of the struggle. Gang activity, burglary, marijuana, alcohol, and drive-by shootings are all explicitly chosen to be depicted in the person’s image. Other than the bible and cross, Kendrick’s images are less carefully chosen and I only chose the others because they were relevant to him and his future successes. The diving board was chosen to represent the leap of faith he was making, as it is a long shot that he will make it into the small bucket of water, but he goes for it because of everything the (holy) water represents, noted by the words contained in the bucket. Other tracks that were considered when creating this image and would be useful for further context are “The Art of Peer Pressure”, “Swimming Pools (Drank)”, and “Real”. Now some shortcomings of the style of translation I chose. Motion would have been very effective in adding to the feeling of trying to escape and being held back (perhaps an animated version of my abstract art translation plus the themes addressed in this one). Also, due to my artistic ability and struggle of portraying depth in a two-dimensional piece, three dimensions or better detail in the diving board/bucket combination would have provided a better depiction of my vision for this piece. In a similar sense to the animation idea, a digital storytelling/music video would have been able to properly describe the entirety of the story described in the song. Overall though, I am very pleased with this translation and I feel it accurately reflects what I wanted to achieve.
The process of planning and creating this image did open new avenues for me in the ways I think about translation and helped me realize that there are many ways to approach translation in a way that effectively relays aspects of a work. With my translation and seeing others’ translations, I think translation across mediums, when thinking about content, themes, and emotions, is the most effective, interesting, and diverse method to translation. Intralingual, interlingual, and other creative linguistic translation (i.e. Eunoia, Zong!) styles certainly have their place – retroactively writing drafts for instance are interesting – and when used well can create effects just as powerful as translation across mediums.