Yesterday, Kendrick Lamar dropped "The Blacker The Berry" — one of the most beautifully angry rap songs we've ever heard. He's furious, and it's fantastic, and we needed to talk about it.
1. This song is an exercise in compelling writing. Not just song writing. Writing period. I wanted to READ the lyrics while listening so that I could fully understand what was happening. Opening up with "I'm the biggest hypocrite of 2015…" That is how you hook people. I needed to understand. This, my friends, is good writing. Kendrick Lamar is a very good writer.
2. I'll stay away from hyperbole as it is just one song, though Kendrick has already showed us that he's trying to be remembered forever, but this is the perfect threesome of beats, rhymes, and life. That beat matches the lyrics matches the tone matches the writing matches the theme matches the ethos. Perfectly.
3. I really want to see this song performed. I feel like that's one of those things that separates Kendrick from many other rappers. He's like Kanye in that you want to see the live visual he'd present for this song. That is what makes an artist. These niggas are painting the air and I want to see the end result.
4. Speaking of Kanye, this is what Kanye was trying to do with "New Slaves" but isn't a good enough rapper to pull off.
5. If you're J. Cole, or Wale, or hell any other rapper who fancies themselves rapping about Blackness and the community, how do you not hear this and just yell, "FUCK" loudly and immediately go to your notebook and write your heart out. Drake doesn't care because he'd never attempt something like this.
6. This is one of the Blackest songs I've heard in a long time. It misses nothing about Blackness. Nothing. This is both hilarious and exactly the point of the song.
7. This completely redeems whatever points he lost from "i" which isn't a big loss considering it won him a Grammy.
8. You know how sometimes niggas talk about a song with so much hype it cant possibly live up to it. That is not the case with "The Blacker The Berry". Thus far I've listened to it at least 10 times this morning. And not just heard it, but LISTENED. I'm trying to catch it all.
9. I've been riding with Kendrick since 2009 off the initial strength of the song "Wanna Be Heard" which I haphazardly listened to on nahright.com. I was immediately curious, downloaded the mislabeled Kendrick Lamar EP and was all in and tellling anybody who would listen that they needed to check him out. I'm glad that I was right about Kendrick. I even exchanged brief emails with him way back in 2010 before the rest of the world knew who he was inquiring about submitting beats, which I did. I never heard back after I sent the beats. But hey, I took my shot. Point of that unnecessary story is that I'm glad he has turned into everything I thought he would be.
10. Songs like this make it easy to root for him. If you're a fan of hip-hop or hate hip-hop, how can you not root for a rapper who is speaking on something, super creatively, and actively performing it while doing it. This is a great record.
Oh, I love this shit if it's not apparent.
My first thought after listening was, "Kendrick really doesn't want White people rapping along to his songs."
I'm sure Public Enemy felt the same way and we see how that went.
I'm going to mirror PJ's feelings with the exception of 2 and 9, only because I'm not a committed K. Dot fan (J. Cole has been my go-to for semi-conscious storytellers). I listened to GKMC reluctantly because of the hype it garnered, but once I finally got around to it I definitely understood. I've not agreed with everything Kendrick has said, specifically in interviews or random commentary, but he always seems to get it right in the music, which I can appreciate.
I didn't at all know what I was in for with The Blacker the Berry and I'm more than satisfied with what he came with. I'm proud of Kendrick, I love that Cole is stepping up, Wale and Ye have kinda always been doing their thing and I hope that this level of artistry and emotion not only send the usuals to the booth, but that we get some new voices in the process as well.
Yeah, to clear up my earlier statement, this song isn't controversial at all and I hope no one tags it as such. It's just extremely blunt. He's angry, fed up, tired. Whatever it is, I think for someone so early in his career, this sort of raw honesty is what kids of K. Dt's generation need. Every generation needs our Chuck D's, our Tupac, our Mos Def's (remember "Black on Both Sides" is militant as fuck?), and Kendrick is giving it to them.
I appreciate Ryan speaking up for his guy J. Cole. I think that's the beauty of what is happening right now. Conscious rapping is not only a thing again, it's what the most popular artists of the genre are into representing. Except for, as Panama noted, Drake and I do have something to say to that.
For one, Drake has discussed why he doesn't speak to the same kind of subject matter that someone like Kendrick does. Mostly, he says, it's because of how he grew up in Canada. He didn't have that experience. So I'm not saying I give him a pass, so much as I understood what he was saying. All that being said, I continue to maintain that my Drake is my favorite MC of this generation, but I can't deny who will ultimately be more important. That's Kendrick Lamar and songs like "The Blacker The Berry" prove it.
All things considered, "Drunk In Love" was probably 2014's most important song. Actually, let me remove that qualifier. It was the year's most important song. But, the 2014 song that resonated most with me — the song that still gives me chills when I hear it — was "Never Catch Me" by Flying Lotus and Kendrick Lamar. The video — which is easily one of the best I've ever seen — has already been discussed ad nauseum. But the song itself is beautiful. And part of what makes it beautiful is Kendrick Lamar's rapid-fire stream-of-consciousness, which speeds and heats up as the song continues, effectively making his voice an instrument. You don't just hear what he's saying. You see it. You feel it.
He does this again with "The Blacker The Berry." It is…well, let me just say this: It's Feb. 10th, which means we've only lived through roughly 1/9th of 2015, but I have no doubt there will not be a better rap song released this year. Bigger? Maybe. But not better. This is his "Control" verse, but for an entire song, and with Ferguson and Staten Island painting the backdrop. It's the best, most resonate articulation of racial anger — of Black rage — on a rap record since Ice Cube was being Ice Cube and not the cuddly nigga in Tim Story movies.
As P stated, Kanye attempted this with "New Slaves." And I think he succeeded in creating the song he wanted to create. But Kanye's limitations as a rapper make a track like that a bit too esoteric for it to be felt the same way Kendrick's was. Kanye's anger is authentic, but even while he's saying threatening shit, it doesn't really inspire any type of fear. Angry Kendrick makes you believe he's going to kill someone.
I went down a Google rabbit hole the other day (somewhat related to the release of the red band trailer for "Straight Outta Compton" which looked AMAZING, better than I ever could image, BTW. Hooray for F. Gary Gray) that wound up with me listening to vintage 90s Ice Cube where everything was delightfully angry and full of rage and political in one form or another. And as I was listening I was thinking, could a commercially viable rap artist even do this now? Like, could they make what constitutes the contents of "Death Certificate" now, complete with a dead Uncle Sam on the cover of the LP? Everyone actually cares about the feelings of the White consumers who actually buy these albums now unlike in the 90s where folks simply did "whatever" and if White people bought it, awesome. White people rapped along to Public Enemy and NWA back then too (in the privacy of their own homes). So it's not like this is impossible to do. Certain people (Kanye, Wale, whatever) still do it. But not many as quite a few rappers who are not poor anymore have no interest in the controversy potentially affecting their bottom line. It's safer to not do it and make money.
So, in the context of that, Kendrick's track was rather impressive to me.
I'll start off with saying I really like the song. I do. The beat knocks, and I love when Kendrick adds grit to his delivery. I'm also a pretty big dancehall fan and I damn near jumped out my seat when I heard Assassin in the hook. (shout out to Major Lazer and Kanye for bringing dancehall features back en vogue, by the way).
That said…his third verse made my heart drop. Kendrick still doesn't get it. He's still acting like gang violence and intraracial violence should inherently invalidate any fury we have about racism and the systemic erasure of Blacks. Ignoring the fact that a lot of gangs were born directly out of an internal reaction to White supremacy. (This also goes for the Zulu and Xhosa conflicts by the way).Ignoring that saying that we have to respect ourselves before demanding humanity from others others implies that we ever had respect in the first place.
So this track is on repeat - but there's a strong twinge of disappointment on how thoroughly I'm enjoying a well-rapped argument for respectability politics.
My nigga, did you just call Raymond Washington and Stanley "Tookie" Williams freedom fighters?
I peeped that too Shamira, but I interpreted it differently. I think he's speaking more so to white critics of black rage rather than telling his people we need to stop killing each other.
One of the early lines in that specific verse is
The plot is bigger than
It's generational hatred, it's genocism, it's grimy, little justification
I'm African-American, I'm African
I'm black as the heart of a fuckin' Aryan
I'm black as the name of Tyrone and Darius
Excuse my French but fuck you - no, fuck y'all.
That Aryan line especially stood out to me because it speaks to what he thinks of White America. This is about people who will call him a hypocrite, not about him calling himself one.
LMAO. Not the argument that I'm trying to make. I'm just saying that a lot of dark marks in Black American history came from a real place. Not just n**as killing each other for no reason. Now did it devolve into the latter? Sure. Lol.
No one's saying that Tookie read the works of MLK and developed an action plan. At least not me.
I actually agree with Jozen on that part. His comments do lend themselves to possibly being interpreted as respectability politics in rap form, but I do think its entirely possible that he's speaking from the White American point of view of us as hypocrites.
I can see how that argument can be made. I think that in the context of Kendricks recent comments however, it's hard for me to give him that benefit. I'll gladly cop to being strong and wrong on this however - this would be something that I would be happy to be corrected on.
I don't know if the benefit of the doubt is necessary here. I don't think there's anything wrong with being a very talented, socially conscious, and intellectually curious artist who also might not have the most nuanced things to say about culture and politics. I think the fact that he's very obviously giving some very serious thought to this stuff — to Ferguson, to protests, to police brutality, to what it means to be Black — matters a bit more than what he actually said. The effort matters more right now to me — especially since this dude is still in his mid-20s — than the execution.
I love it. Kendrick gorgeously articulated the beautiful and painful sides to being Black in 2015. Unlike with Kanye, I didn't have to step over Kendrick while he sucks his own dick in the corner in order to get to the message.
Considering the deluge of Musical Fuckshit released into the world on the daily, this right on time. Kendrick loves the fuck out of Black people. Unlike Kanye, his Blackness isn't dependent on White validation. He doesn't need Mr. Mayo to say, "Yes, Kendrick, your hair IS nappy, your dick IS big, and your nose is rounder and wider than Beck's. You're right. Nobody's Berry is Blacker than yours."
And, I feel like he wrote "You hate me don't you?" just for me.