Race and rapping in Kendrick Lamar’s ‘The Blacker the Berry’
Adam Ramos | Thursday, February 26, 2015
Kendrick Lamar is not the face of rap or rap culture, but he may be its voice of reason.
The Compton-based rapper has been impressively garnering both fame and praise from critics and the public with his compelling lyrics and enticing beats. Yet the self-proclaimed recluse spends more time winning Grammys than attempting to steal them from alternative rockstars like fellow big-name rappers. Lamar’s evasion of the limelight has only made his persona that much more mysterious and intriguing. Without a release date, name or even a cover, Lamar’s highly anticipated upcoming record has surrounded the 27-year-old rapper with even more mystery.
Kendrick has, however, recently released three new songs. “i,” which won the Grammy for Best Rap Song, is an exuberant track proclaiming the necessity of self-love within Lamar’s urban community. Then came an untitled track Kendrick dropped on the final episode of “The Colbert Report,” a low-key, jazz-infused take on different race roles in the United States. The provoking song was accentuated with sharp lyrics and a stirring sax performance via Terrace Martin. Most recently, he released “The Blacker the Berry.” TDE (Lamar’s label) co-president Terrence “Punch” Henderson described the track as the Malcolm X to “i”s Martin Luther King Jr. Saturated with pure frustration, the venomous track is a mighty reflection on race relations and the black American’s role in U.S. society.
If Kendrick Lamar’s hauntingly impressive “good kid, m.A.A.d city” made him the voice of today’s rap, he is now prepared to make a statement. While “good kid, m.A.A.d city” delved into a myriad of topics and themes surrounding the young rapper and his urban upbringing, it’s clear what Kendrick will now be focusing on. Racial transcendence, change and hypocrisy will undoubtedly be at the core of Lamar’s coming album. Though racial transcendence is an almost commonplace theme today within hip-hop and rap, Lamar has already adopted a much more analytical outlook than most.
All three of Lamar’s new tracks assert different messages about race, culture and inequality. Yet it’s clear Lamar is calling for change in all of them, change from both inside and outside of the black urban community.
“What happened to [Michael Brown] should’ve never happened,” Lamar said in a recent high-profile cover article with Billboard. “Never. But when we don’t have respect for ourselves, how do we expect them to respect us? It starts from within.”
It is certainly a bold move from Lamar to call out the black community, especially at a time when race relations in this country are such a sensitive topic, yet he hasn’t backed down.
Many of Lamar’s contemporaries were quick to criticize the young rapper’s controversial comments, including the likes of Kid Cudi, Azelia Banks and Lupe Fiasco. Whether Lamar is justified in making such controversial comments is a matter of personal opinion, but “The Blacker The Berry” creates a strong case for such thoughts.
If there is one thing Lamar has taught us over the years, it’s to never expect or assume what’s to come. Part of Lamar’s genius is his ability to continually improve his art. The tremendous range already apparent among the three new singles only indicates more mystery and that much more excitement. Now all we can hope is for Lamar to channel his inner Drake and drop his album unexpectedly, though deep inside, I live off the anticipation.