It is a brave artist indeed who can make people uncomfortable. With his new single The Blacker the Berry Kendrick Lamar has not only definitively proven himself to be one of the most exciting hip hop artists around, he has also peeled back a layer of America’s presentable sheen and revealed the troubling, troubled dark heart that lies below it.
Rather than ever presenting the commonplace or the mundane, Lamar leaps straight for the jugular. “You hate me don’t you?” He asks. “You hate me. Your plan is to terminate my culture.” Its incendiary stuff, and rightly so, given the deaths of souls like Trayvon Martin and the homicide of Eric Garner only last year. It is hard to unhear Garner’s cry of “I can’t breathe” after you have heard it for the first time, and Lamar’s lyrical content directly addresses the racial stereotypes and profiling that continue to run rampant in contemporary America. “You’re fuckin’ evil,” raps Lamar. “I want you to recognize that I’m a proud monkey.”
The way Lamar spits out racial epithet after racial epithet, subverting the casual racism that runs through American Culture like slow acting cancer, is genuinely awe inspiring. Lines such as “don’t matter how much I say I like to preach with the panthers…Or eat watermelon, chicken, and Kool-Aid on weekdays” ring with a power and a pain that is immediately affecting.
But all of this lyrical content, as exceptional as it is, is given an added layer of weight and power when the song’s final ‘twist’ is revealed. Lamar’s repeated phrase, “I’m the biggest hypocrite of 2015” peaks with a sucker punch contained within The Blacker the Berry’s last two lines; a weighty, ingenuous about face that ensures the song’s enduring power. With two simple lines, Lamar has provoked a wide ranging, heated discussion: one need only look as far as youtube comment sections to see the effect The Blacker The Berry’s dénouement has had.
Ultimately, The Blacker The Berry is dense enough to warrant a lot more analysis than I can present here. Indeed, even the song’s Genius annotations only just scratch the surface; this is a pulsing, incredible work; a single of remarkable intelligence. To appropriate a quote from David Foster Wallace, The Blacker The Berry makes “the head throb heartlike”. To call it stunning, powerful stuff is an understatement: this is one that people will be talking about for some time to come.