Rapper Kendrick Lamar released a new track this week from his hotly anticipated followup to 2012's Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City. The song, titled "The Blacker the Berry," was dropped the day after the Compton native took home two Grammy wins for Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song for his song "i," also expected to appear on the forthcoming album.
Whereas "i" is a deeply introspective, life-affirming song, "The Blacker the Berry" is a racially charged call to arms. And in many ways, it appears to confront the criticism he faced for his remarks on the shooting of Mike Brown in Ferguson.
Lamar drew widespread ire from activists and fellow hip-hop artists owing to an interview he did with Billboard in early January. Specifically:
Lamar spent much of his childhood on the streets, and he's cagey about the trouble he might've gotten into. "Oh, man, I won't be able to say that on record. I got into some things, but God willing, he had favoritism over me and my spirit." He also has been treated unfairly by the cops -- "plenty of times. All the time." Asked about the high-profile killings of African-Americans by police in 2014, from Ferguson, Mo., to Staten Island, he says, "I wish somebody would look in our neighborhood knowing that it's already a situation, mentally, where it's f---ked up. What happened to [Michael Brown] should've never happened. Never. But when we don't have respect for ourselves, how do we expect them to respect us? It starts from within. Don't start with just a rally, don't start from looting -- it starts from within."
The backlash was immediate, with fellow hip-hop artists Azealia Banks and Kid Cudi leading the charge.
"When we don't respect ourselves how can we expect them to respect us" dumbest shit I've ever heard a black man say.— AZEALIA BANKS (@AZEALIABANKS) January 9, 2015
HOW DARE YOU open ur face to a white publication and tell them that we don't respect ourselves.... Speak for your fucking self.— AZEALIA BANKS (@AZEALIABANKS) January 9, 2015
Dear black artists, dont talk down on the black community like you are Gods gift to niggaz everywhere.— Scott Mescudi (@KidCudi) January 10, 2015
Re: Kendrick. Sometimes your favorite artist's genius can be hyper focused into one particular avenue and be a fool in another.— B.J. Steiner (@DocZeus) January 9, 2015
Give Kendrick an oscar, made everybody think he's a future pro black leader but he's really the black misinformed version of ned flanders— Ahmed/Lupe's Sensei (@big_business_) January 9, 2015
Lamar's sentiment wasn't a new one. The entirety of Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City -- a concept album whose tracks tell an unbroken narrative when taken as a whole -- essentially offered the same message. But critics of his remarks felt Lamar was playing respectability politics -- ground tread more often by the likes of Bill Cosby and Steve Harvey than that of Kendrick's hero and supposed musical ancestor, Tupac.
The opening lines of "The Blacker the Berry" seem to address the unrest in Ferguson directly:
Continue to page two.
Six in the morn', fire in the street
Burn, baby, burn, that's all I wanna see
nerds Internet scholars over at Rap Genius assert that Lamar is alluding to the Ferguson protests in these bars -- specifically, to the night of August 16, when a midnight to 5 a.m. curfew was put in place by Governor Nixon. If there is fire in the streets at 6 a.m., that would mean the curfew has been ignored. "Burn baby, burn," a catchphrase attributed to LA-based soul DJ Magnificent Montague, alludes to the Watts riots in 1965, where it morphed into a popular rallying cry among protesters and rioters.
From here the song directly addresses African American stereotypes as well as systemic oppression, with lines like these:
You hate me, don't you?
You hate my people, your plan is to terminate my culture
You're fuckin' evil, I want you to recognize that I'm a proud monkey
You vandalize my perception but can't take style from me
This plot is bigger than me, 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
The titular line of the track, just before the chorus, is even more blunt:
The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice
The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice
The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice
The blacker the berry, the bigger I shoot
Throughout the song, though, at the start of each verse, Lamar describes himself as "the biggest hypocrite of 2015," assuring the listener that by the end of the song we will understand why.
The song's final couplet brings it all into focus:
So why did I weep when Trayvon Martin was in the street?
When gang banging make me kill a ni--a blacker than me?
Lamar has admitted to being involved in gang activity in his youth, even losing a close friend to street violence in his teens. He has said that this was a turning point for him, leading him to music and a strong faith in God. The narrative told on Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City plays out the same way.
With the song's final reveal, "The Blacker the Berry" asserts that there is hypocrisy in those condemning the killings of people of color by white people while simultaneously engaging in violent behavior that also takes black lives. Some might even say Lamar is doubling down on his remarks to Billboard, while attempting to offer context.
Will this spark more outrage? Should it? Sound off in the comments.
Continue to page three to read the full lyrics to "The Blacker the Berry."
[Intro x2] Everything black, I don't want black I want everything black, I ain't need black Some white, some black, I ain't mean black I want everything black
[Bridge] Six in the morn', fire in the street Burn, baby, burn, that's all I wanna see And sometimes I get off watchin' you die in vain It's such a shame they may call me crazy They may say I suffer from schizophrenia or somethin' But homie, you made me Black don't crack, my nigga
[Verse 1] I'm the biggest hypocrite of 2015 Once I finish this, witnesses will convey just what I mean Been feeling this way since I was 16, came to my senses You never liked us anyway, fuck your friendship, I meant it 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? You hate my people, your plan is to terminate my culture You're fuckin' evil I want you to recognize that I'm a proud monkey You vandalize my perception but can't take style from me And this is more than confession I mean I might press the button just so you know my discretion I'm guardin' my feelings, I know that you feel it You sabotage my community, makin' a killin' You made me a killer, emancipation of a real nigga
[Pre-Hook] The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice The blacker the berry, the bigger I shoot
[Hook: Assassin] I said they treat me like a slave, cah' me black Woi, we feel a whole heap of pain, cah' we black And man a say they put me in a chain, cah' we black Imagine now, big gold chain full of rocks How you no see the whip, left scars pon' me back But now we have a big whip, parked pon' the block All them say we doomed from the start, cah' we black Remember this, every race start from the Black, just remember that
[Verse 2] I'm the biggest hypocrite of 2015 Once I finish this, witnesses will convey just what I mean I mean, it's evident that I'm irrelevant to society That's what you're telling me, penitentiary would only hire me Curse me till I'm dead Church me with your fake prophesizing that I'mma be just another slave in my head Institutionalize manipulation and lies Reciprocation of freedom only live in your eyes You hate me don't you? I know you hate me just as much as you hate yourself Jealous of my wisdom and cards I dealt Watchin' me as I pull up, fill up my tank, then peel out Muscle cars like pull ups, show you what these big wheels 'bout, ah Black and successful, this black man meant to be special CAT scans on my radar bitch, how can I help you? How can I tell you I'm making a killin'? You made me a killer, emancipation of a real nigga
[Verse 3] I'm the biggest hypocrite of 2015 When I finish this if you listenin' then sure you will agree This plot is bigger than me, 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's as blunt as it gets, I know you hate me, don't you? You hate my people, I can tell cause it's threats when I see you I can tell cause your ways deceitful Know I can tell because you're in love with that Desert Eagle Thinkin' maliciously, he get a chain then you gone bleed him It's funny how Zulu and Xhosa might go to war Two tribal armies that want to build and destroy Remind me of these Compton Crip gangs that live next door Beefin' with Pirus, only death settle the score So don't matter how much I say I like to preach with the Panthers Or tell Georgia State "Marcus Garvey got all the answers" Or try to celebrate February like it's my B-Day Or eat watermelon, chicken, and Kool-Aid on weekdays Or jump high enough to get Michael Jordan endorsements Or watch BET cause urban support is important So why did I weep when Trayvon Martin was in the street? When gang banging make me kill a nigga blacker than me? Hypocrite!
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