Black Berry, Bitter Truth: A Look into Kendrick Lamar’s Ineffective Race Theory
Kendrick Lamar is not a “new black.” He is a “hypocrite,” but not for the reasons he thinks. In his latest song “Blacker the Berry”, Kendrick talks black on black violence and labels himself (and everyone else?) a walking paradox. The song wades in Pro-Black waters, but deep in the abyss of its mission statement lays deceptive respectability quicksand. Kendrick addresses white oppressors, but still places the blame on black victims. For the first two minutes, we’re cheering him on, but by the end we’re exhaling a sigh of disappointment. He wants to appeal to the progression of black thought, black creativity, and black life, but just keeps falling short.
Though problematic, we get Kendrick’s initial intentions. In a world where most celebrities don’t even believe in modern day institutional racism, much less acknowledge it on record, Kendrick’s attempts can’t go unnoticed. In 2015, lyrics like “you hate my people, your plan is to terminate my culture” show Kendrick putting more on the table than Raven Symone or Pharell ever would.
“Blacker the Berry” addresses the destructive establishment, whose multi-pronged agenda of oppression has embedded many Blacks with self-hate so insidious they don’t realize it fuels their bloodlust. It’s largely a pro-Black song, but it’s not pro-progress. That is its primary flaw. Kendrick spends two verses planning a drive-by on white supremacy, then veers off course, challenging the integrity of Black consciousness and concluding with “why did I weep when Trayvon Martin was in the street? When gang banging make me kill a nigga blacker than me? Hypocrite.”
His conclusion isn’t “new Black” eye-roll-inducing, but it’s still flawed. The song is steeped in dense lyricism, pro-blackness and patwa, but the “brothers killing brothers” rhetoric, which wrongfully absolves racism of it’s evils, neutralizes its qualities. Bloods, Crips, Zulus and Xhosas fighting are no justification for hate crimes, and as much as Black on Black violence is a problem, it can never be solved without correcting the systemic issues that cause it. Kendrick doesn’t seem to grasp that. He dragged white supremacy to the gallows, bound and gagged, but then he hung himself.
Racial tensions in America are past a boiling point; they’ve evaporated into a fog in which we need leaders to see us through. With J.Cole’s opus Forest Hills Drive and Kendrick Lamar’s “i”, many Hip-Hop fans headed into 2015 thinking we were at the forefront of a neo-revolution in Black music. While acknowledging racism and expressing Black pride are stronger statements than most mainstream vapidity, many expect the HiiiPower-“I got my finger on the mothafuckin’ pistol, aiming it at a pig“-Kendrick to be at the forefront on vital issues, to galvanize and inspire activism.
He recently said he wants every single to be considered “a statement”. When asked by Billboard Magazine about police brutality Lamar recently stated “who’s going to respect us if we don’t respect ourselves?”, the kind of flawed generality that justifies the racism of corrupt police officers. Since his ascension to rap superstardom, compounding his recent statements in print and on wax, it seems like Kendrick is stating that he has no desire to seriously challenge the status quo in America
Even in the midst of calling out the “sabotage” of the inner-city on “Blacker The Berry” he offered no actual challenge to the structure of white supremacy. By calling himself a “proud monkey”, all he did was merely employ the reverse psychology of owning racial stereotypes. That’s not enough.
Kendrick Lamar will kill your favorite rapper for free, but what about systemic oppression that embeds the self hate he acknowledges leads to death? “The plot is bigger than me.” Perhaps he realizes loosening the grips of the system he mentions starts with not supporting large corporations, like the ones that sponsor him and fund his music.
Additionally troubling is after emancipating himself from social agency, he implied that today’s activists who are fanning the flames of revolution are somehow hypocrites because they don’t condemn Black on Black violence. The fact is, most activists are simply uninterested in condemning the already condemned Black youth. The burgeoning new agenda typified by the Black Lives Matter movement is geared towards eliminating the system that leads to the criminalization of Black youth and the prison industry all together, not merely surviving amidst it or blaming those who are victimized by it.
Hypocrisy is largely an accepted flaw, but not when it comes to actual matters of life and death. He crafted a song that deep thinkers may enjoy, but critical thinkers will see through. In the end, there’s only so much an artist can say about the people who sign their checks until they risk compromising them. Once you reach that juncture, you make a firm choice. Kendrick made his.
While Kendrick Lamar and others want to lead us down a rabbit hole of endless self reflection in the hopes that a renewed sense of self can back racism down, others are doing. If modern racism could be characterized as one of the very trees from which Black women and men were lynched on, it seems Kendrick is flailing aimlessly on a huge branch, trying to tear one down at a time. Meanwhile the truly conscious are attempting to uproot the tree altogether.