Fresh off of two wins at Sunday night’s Grammy awards, Kendrick Lamar released a new song Monday that tackles his ideas about “blackness” and racial identity.
“The Blacker The Berry” has sparked discussion nationwide about Lamar and the political statements in his music, especially in regards to the Black Lives Matter movement.
Most of the song speaks to Lamar’s own struggles of feeling marginalized by American society, with lines like, “I mean, it’s evident that I’m irrelevant to society. That’s what your telling me, penitentiary would only hire me.”
But what’s fueled a frenzy of responses from both fans on social media sites and the music industry are Lamar’s final words in the single: “So why did I weep when Trayvon Martin was in the street? When gang banging make me kill a ***** blacker than me? Hypocrite.”
Reactions have been mixed: while some have praised Lamar for what they view as a brave stand against gang violence, others are insulted by his argument that black-on-black crime somehow equates to the violence of police brutality.
Stereo Williams of The Daily Beast sees Lamar falling into a familiar trap: “The “what about black-on-black crime” argument is used to deflect and silence conversations about systematic oppression of black people.”
Many on Twitter seem to agree with Williams’ interpretation of the Compton rapper’s final stanza, taking offense at his self-directed accusations of hypocrisy and disregarding the point of #BlackLivesMatter, which is to prevent police brutality.
Blacker the Berry disappointed me. How can you say we don’t have a right to be angry Trayvon was killed because of black on black crime? No
— Lyssa (@Full_of_Ideis) February 11, 2015
So yes, K. Dot new song goes hard – but my ? is when we stopping the false equivalency of “we can’t be mad cause we killing each other??” — Alpha Foxtrot (@Af209) February 10, 2015
The line is reminiscent of comments Lamar made to Billboard regarding the events in Ferguson recently, where he implied that there is a lack of self-respect within black communities and that violence can be prevented by starting from “within.”
However, many fans, colleagues, and writers have come to Lamar’s defense with interpretations of the song that emphasize a message of empowerment and racial consciousness.
Terrace Martin, who worked with Lamar on the song, told Billboard that the “hypocrisy” mentioned in last line is something that they’ve both experienced growing up in L.A. neighborhoods, but that it has more to do with promoting self-love within those neighborhoods. He say that their music is about taking a stand and making a statement – and music is “the fastest way of getting a message to the movement, period.”
For fans like Patricia Allen, UW Hip Hop Student Association Community Outreach Chair, Lamar is using his music to make positive political statements to not only try to improve society, but to bring hip-hop music back to its roots.
“Kendrick is revitalizing why hip-hop was created and sustained in the old days,” Allen said. “I think he wants people to be more conscious of things they are listening to and the subliminal issues he brings up.”
Her interpretation was not that Lamar is somehow undermining the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement, but that his message in “The Blacker The Berry” is about creating a better sense of identity.
“It’s about establishing self-love,” Allen said. “Black lives do matter but emphasizing having your own black love and loving yourself as black is part of that, too.”
Sounds like Lamar’s underlying message in “The Blacker The Berry” is open to interpretation. But if the goal was to get people listening closely to his lyrics and contemplating their meaning, then it’s safe to say he’s succeeded.