One night removed from winning two Grammy Awards for his single “i,” Kendrick Lamar released a new track, which is a complete turnaround from the happy-go-lucky award winner. The new song, “The Blacker the Berry” is a hard-hitting song, in which the Compton rapper fires off on multiple topics relating to racial injustice while placing the entire hip-hop community on notice that he indeed has returned. However, Lamar’s diabolical nature on “The Blacker the Berry” isn’t him simply spitting hot fire on a track for people to enjoy, it’s him sending out a message for people of all races to adhere to.
The song is an interesting topic of discussion, especially being released during Black History Month. “The Blacker the Berry” isn’t a rap song as much as it is an unorthodox public service announcement. As a native of Compton, a city in southern Los Angeles notorious for its crime, Lamar’s accounts of gang wars, racial injustice and same-race crimes are nothing short of credible.
This was demonstrated in his 2012 sophomore album “good kid, m.A.A.d city,” in which Lamar retold some of his misadventures growing up on the rough streets of Compton. His vivid stories and honest lyricism allowed listeners to not only hear the voice of Lamar, but the voices of conflicted youths living in the inner cities and troubled neighborhoods across the U.S. In “The Blacker the Berry,” that same voice re-emerges, but with a different agenda.
“The Blacker the Berry” bares a strong resemblance to the 1989 hip hop classic “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy, where both songs promote unity, urging people to open their eyes to the harsh reality of injustice. However in Kendrick’s case, his track comes out after the high-profile killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, where the tensions between white and black America have risen. As a result, his song celebrates his race, embracing his culture while tackling society’s perception of Black America. However, the topic of discussion with “The Blacker the Berry” is Lamar explaining why he’s the “biggest hypocrite in 2015” in his final stanza: “So why did I weep when Trayvon Martin was in the street?/When gang banging make me kill a [explicit] blacker than me?/Hypocrite!”
The stanza goes back to some comments Lamar made in an interview with Billboard Magazine back in January where he weighed in on the events that took place in both Ferguson, Mo. and Staten Island, N.Y., in 2014: “I wish somebody would look in our neighborhood knowing that it’s already a situation, mentally, where it’s [explicit] 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 immediate response to these comments from various members of the black community, particularly Azealia Banks, wasn’t positive and as a result Lamar was the recipient of some unnecessary heat. In response, Lamar uses the “The Blacker the Berry” to make it known that he loves his culture and he understands the injustice and negative perception against black America. However, he reiterates that he isn’t blind to the faults within black America, such as gang war and black-on-black crime to name a few. Patricia Allen, head chair of the University of Washington’s Hip Hop Student Association Community Outreach, views “The Blacker the Berry” as a song about “establishing self-love.”
“Black lives do matter but emphasizing having your own black love and loving yourself as black is part of that, too,” Allen said.
This idea of self-love goes back to Lamar’s Grammy Award winning song “i,” where he promotes unity, in addition to self-love, and advising others to love one another as they would themselves. Whereas “The Blacker the Berry” takes after some of the earliest hip-hop songs that were released to bring awareness to certain issues within the black community. In an essence (seeing as it is Black History Month) “i” is like Martin Luther King Jr. promoting peace and unity, not only between black America, but all stages of the U.S. “The Blacker the Berry” is like Malcolm X lashing out at the injustice and society’s negative perception of blacks, but ultimately coming back to the concept of unity by any means necessary.