Author Archives: tlewisisdope

About tlewisisdope

I write. I live in DC.

With ‘The Blacker The Berry,’ Kendrick Lamar Issues a Challenge to Black America

I wonder if people’s reaction to “The Blacker The Berry” will change once the song’s meaning sinks in.

Because Kendrick Lamar hasn’t created an anthem, at least not a traditional one. He isn’t merely reflecting the moment or the burgeoning #blacklivesmatter movement. He’s asking questions that lie at the root of Blackness in the United States. Questions we often ignore, find too painful, or don’t quite know how to address.

The ways white supremacy gets in our head…

Church me with your fake prophesyzing that I’mma be another slave in my head

…The war between self-determination and self-hatred that every single Black person in America faces…

You fuckin’ evil, I want you to recognize that I’m a proud monkey.

You vandalize my perception but can’t take style from me

…So that when you get to that final verse, you realize that the song is not merely a war cry. It’s actually a direct challenge to all of us – those who are becoming radicalized in the wake of the killings of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Michael Brown and those of us who think we’re already radicals – to understand the ways in which our efforts to fight racism are incomplete.

So don’t matter how much I say I like to preach with the Panthers
Or tell Georgia State “Marcus Garvey got all the answers”
Or try to celebrate February like it’s my B-Day
Or eat watermelon, chicken, and Kool-Aid on weekdays
Or jump high enough to get Michael Jordan endorsements
Or watch BET cause urban support is important
So why did I weep when Trayvon Martin was in the street?
When gang banging make me kill a nigga blacker than me?

That last couplet lands hard because of everything that comes before it. We don’t respond to it as “blame the victim” because the song so effectively explores the ways in which we’ve internalized oppression, which in turn compromises any effort to address white supremacy despite our best efforts. As a result, Kendrick reminds us that before we can truly be free, we must divest of the ways we – daily – hate ourselves.

In this way, “The Blacker The Berry” takes “Self-Destruction” one step further to the root of where that self-destruction comes from. It’s an empathetic challenge to do very difficult work where the earlier song was merely a lecture, if a beautiful one.

On the Devolution of Music Journalism

This piece on the devolution of music journalism by Ted Gioia on The Daily Beast is really great. And I think it’s right.

But the lede…

Imagine, for a moment, football commentators who refuse to explain formations and plays. Or a TV cooking show that never mentions the ingredients. Or an expert on cars who refuses to look under the hood of an automobile.

These examples may sound implausible, perhaps ridiculous. But something comparable is happening in the field of music journalism. One can read through a stack of music magazines and never find any in-depth discussion of music.  Technical knowledge of the art form has disappeared from its discourse. In short, music criticism has turned into lifestyle reporting.

…actually raises two issues that the piece doesn’t really consider: 1) the audience for music and 2) the fact that music journalism has always been largely a niche endeavor.

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Fixing ‘The Boondocks” Huey Freeman Problem

I, like a lot of people of my generation, am excited that The Boondocks is returning because it remains one of the sharpest examples of satire in modern pop culture. And I’m excited to see what cultural moments from the last four years (since Season Three aired) Aaron McGruder will work into the show.

UPDATE 3/28/14: Apparently, McGruder is no longer involved with the show and was not involved in the creation of the upcoming 4th season. I wrote this before that information was available. I hope he still owns the rights. Read his explanation here.

But the one thing I really want him to do is recognize that there’s a problem at the center of the show: Huey Freeman.

Huey, by virtue of being the show’s most passive, reactive character, has all but receded into the background in favor of the more flamboyant active characters like Riley and Uncle Ruckus. This, despite the fact that he’s ostensibly the lead character (e.g. the trailer above).

In the strips, that was sort of the point since the satire in the strips was always deeply rooted in Huey’s observations about the world around him (particularly his brother and the people in Woodcrest). But The Boondocks TV show is different, as Aaron McGruder has found by building out the world around Riley (with the addition of Ed Wuncler III, Gin Rummy, Gangstalicious, and Thugnificent) and Granddad (Uncle Ruckus and the DuBois family).

But Huey is frequently adrift in episodes where he’s not the protagonist (especially Riley-centric stories) and damn near silent in ones where he’s the driving force (i.e. “It’s a Black President, Huey Freeman”).

If Huey is to regain the power he had in the strips and truly move to the forefront of the show, McGruder has to build out the world around Huey as well.

And there’s a way to do this:

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My 13 Favorite Pop Culture Moments of 2013

I don’t have a long preamble for this. This list is just my way of trying to pull together a lot of disparate pop culture moments that struck me in some profound way during the year. I think the more you engage with pop culture the more it can feel like you’re always having the same conversations, with the same people, in the same way. So when something disrupts that monotony, frustrates the dominant ways we think and talk about our relationship to one another, I think it’s important.

Here are the 13 moments this year that made me sit up and look at the world just a little bit differently.

 

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Best Songs of 2013

For the third year in a row, I felt like this was a better year for individual songs and singles than it was for albums. I suppose it makes a certain kind of sense in a digital era that the industry has returned its focus to singles, rather than albums. But it continues to make for a very frustrating listening experience.

This is not to diminish the great work that I’m about to highlight. It is incredibly difficult to make a great song. Can’t forget that just because most artists today are unconcerned with making complete album experiences.

So without further ado, hit that jump for the 15 songs that I consider the very best songs that I heard in 2013

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