It’s not that often a song comes along and actually makes my jaw drop. Every once in awhile, I come across a great song, but it’s rare one is so powerful to shake me to my core. And that’s why I feel so compelled to talk about the new Kendrick Lamar single, “The Blacker The Berry”, because it is that kind of song.
A discordant guitar plays over what sounds like repetitious chanting as the track begins, immediately creating an intense hellish atmosphere reminiscent of the production of Kanye’s recent Yeezus album, all before dropping a beat that wouldn’t be out of place on an old Wu-Tang record. Then Kendrick’s voice arrives, full of righteous anger and vitriol.
Over the course of three verses Kendrick takes up the role of a young black man who has watched violence rip apart his culture, violence that ceaselessly plagues the black and poor community, violence birthed out of systemic racism. Kendrick’s verses are reactionary, responding out of hurt and fury to the world he sees around him with lyrics like “You hate me don’t you/ You hate my people, your plan is to terminate my culture/ You’re fucking evil I want you to recognize that I’m a proud monkey.” Kendrick’s narrator, verse after verse, owns racist stereotypes out of spite, knowing how he’s perceived by those acting out of hatred against his community.
And yet every verse begins with the same line, “I’m the biggest hypocrite of 2015/ Once I finish this, witnesses will convey just what I mean,” leading listeners to wonder what Kendrick means. And then in just two bars, he shifts the song’s entire subject, “So why did I weep when Trayvon Martin was in the street?/ When gangbanging made me kill a nigga blacker than me?/ Hypocrite.”
And thus, Lamar holds the mirror back, and the topic of self-hatred and hypocracy enter the discussion. Some of the same voices that speak out in anger over a culture of racism and police brutality that leads to the loss of black lives seem to ignore or even glamorize a gang culture that leads to the loss of black lives. Yet Kendrick doesn’t seek to lecture the black community or even argue hypocrisy isn’t justified. It’s clear the anger his narrator feels for the violent racism that’s filled recent headlines isn’t far removed from his own feelings. Rather, he seeks to craft something much bigger than just a response to current events. By playing with the duality of racism and self-hatred, Kendrick creates a nuanced portrait of how hatred and violence can only breed an endless culture of violence and hatred.
Kendrick Lamar’s “The Blacker The Berry” is nothing short of a masterpiece. Not just an early contender for Song of the Year, but perhaps one of the most powerful hip-hop songs I’ve ever heard.