Kendrick Lamar just won two Grammy Awards for his positivity-pact “i.” Then he decided to release the audio equivalent of a million man march this afternoon with the song “The Blacker The Berry.” He told us to view his track as “statements,” and we shrugged, I think. With this new one, though, we don’t think anyone will be shrugging for much longer.
It was teased that the album sounded very “black” as stated by Pharrell and others. Well, and of course, we absolutely had to weigh in on this new offering. Doing so will be our Sr. Features Writer Ural Garrett, and myself, Features Editor Andre Grant.
Is This The Beginning Of A Very Pro-Black Kendrick Lamar Album?
Ural: My face after listening of Kendrick Lamar’s neo-black nationalist anthem for the first time:
One can only imagine K.Dot’s mindset following the now historic loss at last year’s Grammy and the racial politics behind it. Outside of a few features, he remained silent for a nice amount of time before dropping the polarizing “i” later that September. The track was criticized for its lack of aggression, especially following the “Control” verse that shook Hip Hop. However, there was a level of positivity and blackness that didn’t come off as corny at all. Though it wasn’t the track that many wanted, it was something that was needed for the time. Then a day after winning two golden gramophones for the safe single, he drops a nuclear bomb in “The Blacker The Berry.”
From what it looks like, “i” was the safe mainstream perspective on black life more in line with Martin Luther King’s passive attempt at acceptance. Taking a complete 180 turn, “The Blacker The Berry” has King Kendrick channelling his inner Malcolm X through aggressive social commentary that would make a young Chuck D and Ice Cube proud. This comes months after the controversial Billboard cover feature where he seemingly brushed off the controversial deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown through respectability politics. There was a hint of truth about self-respect within the black community but the lack of context to those particular systemic symptoms made the comments sound hollow. Then he drops this gem, “You sabotaged my community, makin’ a killin’, You made me a killer emancipation of a real nigga” before comparing the Zulu and Xhosas to the bloods and crips. Ladies and gentlemen, this is that context everyone was asking for.
Then there’s a level of pro-blackness that lovingly veers into racial nihilism when he says, “You never liked us anyway, fuck your friendship, I meant it.” This begs the question: Who is this really directed to? An individual or a system? Doesn’t matter because this “proud monkey” can give two fucks about anyone’s preconceived notions or prejudices. The TDE soldier is thrilled for every stereotype from his nappy hair and big phallus to his round and wide nose. There are a lot of conflicting emotions that reflect the realities of every single black man and women in America regardless of socio-economic standing. Kendrick embraces them in spades.
Driving all of this is one ten-ton boulder of a beat from Boi1da himself. Last year’s production assistance with “0 to 100/ The Catch Up” allowed Drake to lay some of the grimmest rhymes of his career and he does the exact same thing for Kendrick on “The Blacker The Berry.” This time, elevated to unprecedented levels. It’s going to be tough for emcees to avoid comparisons for the rest of the year. Those who can keep up, great. The rest are going to deal with the aftermath.
Andre: Listen y’all, there is no way to put infinite flame emojis on this thing so this is how I happened to be feeling on first listen:
And I had to look and around ask myself, “is this Kendrick?” The same guy who made “i” and had everyone feeling some kind of way about where he was going and like what was he even doing, right? Then in the middle of a sunny California day in Black History Month Kendrick hits you with an anthem that feels more like drugs. More like being apart of a million march in New York or in Ferguson or in Hong Kong or Sao Paolo. A thing, a “statement” manifesting itself in your neurons firing like an engine overheating. Excuse the corny metaphor, but I have to take a moment to breathe.
The thing about it is that his verses run down like every insecurity you’ve ever had as a black kid in America. That your nose was too big, that your lips were too full, that people thought you were dangerous, a hazard, not worth it. And your outsiderness or otherness became a shroud you had to throw arms around and work your way through. So you may have believed. Instead Kendrick Lamar tears down that fallacy, that feeling and gruffly exclaims that he’s a “Proud Monkey.” So you can’t help but perk up a little bit. You might even stick your chest out a little bit. That’s what music can do for you sometimes. It can make you see things differently. Make you want for a separate reality. And is that dance hall artist Assassin on the hook? Lord have mercy.
He celebrates Black History Month like it’s his “birthday” and it takes you to the feelings you had down through his catalog on “Swimming Pools/ Drank” when he conjured a PSA on the dangers of alcohol into a mainstream hit. Or when he turned “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe” into something radio could play. But those were obtuse, right? This one is so straight forward its like he’s walking through a crowd in a straight line brushing shoulders with whoever and whatever.
The Boi-1da production is a feature that we didn’t expect, as well. The unabashed boom-bap is not usually a high priority on his OVO works, but the man responsible for Nicki Minaj’s “All Things Go” seems to have been inspired to dust off his drum machine. Here, the entire tracks meshes into something greater than the sum of its parts. Call it Rap. Call it whatever you want, but my expectations for this album have just gone through the roof. You know what, I’m just going to leave you guys with this.
“I’m African-American, I’m African / I’m black as the moon, heritage of a small village / Pardon my residence / Came from the bottom of mankind / My hair is nappy, my dick is big, my nose is round and wide / You hate me don’t you.”
Andre Grant is an NYC native turned L.A. transplant that has contributed to a few different properties on the web and is now the Features Editor for HipHopDX. He’s also trying to live it to the limit and love it a lot. Follow him on Twitter @drejones.
Ural Garrett is an Los Angeles-based journalist and HipHopDX’s Senior Features Writer. When not covering music, video games, films and the community at large, he’s in the kitchen baking like Anita. Follow him on Twitter @Uralg.