Promise That You Will Sing About Me

PROMISE

I was recently listening to a podcast called “Dissect,” which does deep dives on songs and albums, and this season’s subject is DAMN by the genius rapper, Kendrick Lamar. As a sort of preface, the host was talking about some of Kendrick’s older material, and he focused on one song in particular called “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst.” It’s a masterpiece, and one of my all-time faves, especially the first part, which takes up seven of its 12 minutes.

I never really knew the story behind the song, other than it was based on real people from Kendrick’s life, but it moves me as much as any song I’ve ever heard (and big h/t to Zach who turned me on to it in the first place). Before Kendrick sings one word, there’s a catchy yet plaintive instrumental melody that instantly found its way into my heart. And the opening lyrics, which turn out to be the chorus, just about ruined me:

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

The song is obviously about death and being remembered, and really so much more than that (you can listen to it here). But from the moment I first heard the opening drumbeat and guitar riff back in 2012, I’ve always associated it—for reasons that were then unknown—with Rob and me.

I’d play it whenever he came over to my apartment in Brooklyn, and later on in Venice. I don’t think he liked it as much as I did, but I didn’t care. There was just something that made me play it for him, and it was more than just sharing something I loved with someone I love.

At least that’s what I like to believe now. It’s one of those things that, in retrospect, seems like it could’ve been some type of cosmic sign, but who the hell knows? Back then, I thought Promise that you will sing about me meant me. How could I have possibly known that Kendrick really was a prophet and this song was a warning from the stupid universe, telling me that a kid who grew up in Long Island could end up in the same dark place as a kid from Compton?

I keep playing the first 30 seconds of “Sing About Me” until I have to pause it because it always makes me cry. And then I rewind to the beginning and listen to it again. And again. How could Rob have been the one to settle down when the lights shut off? How could it have possibly been his turn?

In the first verse, Kendrick is telling the story of his friend’s death through the eyes of the friend’s older brother, and there are a few lines almost two minutes into the song that have become even more haunting since Rob died:

And I love you because you loved my brother like you did
Just promise me that you’ll tell this story when you make it big
And if I die before your album drops I hope…

…and then, out of nowhere, we hear BANG! BANG! BANG!—three chilling gunshots that lead back to the chorus.

So when Rob’s lights shut off and it was his turn to settle down, this became my main concern: to keep my promise that I’d sing about him.

And that’s what I’ve been doing here for the past eight months. This is my album. DAMN.

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