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.

Redman – “Defjammable”

This is pretty much the way you do current, but stay (essentially) you.


02 Defjammable (Dirty)


This song's charms – a very basic beat hidden in slightly cacophonous production, the vocal distortions – reveal themselves pretty quickly, but deepen on subsequent listens. With the right video treatment, this could really be a big single for Redman I think. 

But then, Reggie probably wouldn't give a damn. Though I've always felt that Lil Wayne owed Redman royalties for stealing his whole persona and career, in truth, Redman is not unhinged and insane the way Wayne is. He's not an outsized persona that cleverly masks average mic skills. He's just a gleefully simple dude who likes his weed, his women and having a good time. 

Of course, one shouldn't see the word "simple" and think that Redman isn't a beast on the mic.  Because he is a beast on the mic. But for all the boasts in his material – and there's plenty here ("i'll blow ya mind out/with a dynamite/Louis Vuitton belt") – Redman is the quintessential hip-hop journeyman. He diligently, consistently churns out very strong material to a small, dedicated fanbase that enjoys him for being Redman, nothing more. He is uninterested in doing anything other than making the music he wants to make for the audience that rides and dies for him. 

There really is something to be said for that. At this point in the life of hip hop, journeymen are the ones we look to to make sure hip hop is still there, alive and kicking.  And artists like Redman will never get the attention and the accolades, even though many of us would be quick to cite Reggie as one of the best currently working. And I'm sure he'd be fine with that.

The hip-hop journeymen do it for the love of it. In ways that are far less cliche and sentimental than that statement intimates.

Respect Your Elders: Ice Cube and Rev. Run

I haven't watched a music awards show in ages.  And errybody knows I think BET is largely responsible for all the ills in the black community and that I think everyone involved with it will go to that level of hell with the lawyers and Judas. 

But it looks like BET stepped its game up in one major way on the BET Hip Hop Awards this year by having 5 cyphers with an array of emcees, all of whom acquitted themselves quite nicely (even Kanye who, with this performance and his Monster verse, seems poised to be the emcee that people foolishly think he already is).

But this one was my favorite:



Wait…wait…run that back again.  Watch Cube and Run closely:



The word "insouciant" jumped into my head when I watched Ice Cube and Rev. Run in this video cause real heads use that word all the time lol.  Cube and Run perform like they don't even know that they are (ostensibly) too old for this form. There is not a single moment of doubt in either of them.  The confidence is not even confidence, man.  They are beyond all that.  

This is what it is to watch masters do what masters do.

I'm reminded watching this that the emcees around the way that always struck me the deepest as a kid were the unassuming cats who stepped into the cypher and ran the shit almost like it was second nature. Offhandedly. It wasn't boastful.  Not really.  It wasn't showy – with lots of moving around and arms punctuating the line. 

Naw son, it was death by a thousand shallow cuts. And you ain't even know you was cut and bleedin and dying until a few seconds after dude dropped the mic.

Or as Run says here:

"stunning, cunning and funny
'cause Run be running this art"

*places fist over mouth* *jumps up and down* *gives Run dap* OOOOOOHHHHHHHH!!!

Hip-Hop Dopeness: LL Cool J on Keith Murray’s Incredible

Before Tupac and Lord Jamar, LL Cool J was the emcee I wanted to be like.  I went through a stupid number of cassette tapes of Bigger and Deffer before I finally got a CD and treated it like the Holy damn Grail.

As we all know, over time LL’s attention was split and he fell off hard, releasing shitty album after shitty album.  But there was a brief period in the late 90s — you know, around the time he was beefin wit Canibus — when I thought LL was going to reassert his dominance and become the longest running great rapper alive.

This verse is one of the main reasons why:

I’m incredible I mix up shit like cake mix
Keep it blazin hot, rhymes burn to keep you frost bit
MC’s is assed out cause they lost it
Peep my foundation, the way I reinforce it
I monitor movements precisely
Makin niggas hit high notes like the Isleys
Finally some asses I can touch up
Tie em to the grill of my Six pop the clutch up
Hush up I rush up, inside your cut
Make you puss up, then bust up, cause my shit bumps
This Don’s Trumps, kill straight cats and all chumps
Cause “Life is like a box of chocolate,” Mr. Gump
Uh, the ultimatum, lets abbreviate em
LL platinum again, don’t you hate ‘im?
A thin line between darkness and sunshine
Five Percenters that was raised on swine
Known to be wise, and you wise to understand
Bringin me drama’s a handstand in quicksand
I’ve been hot so long, I’m immune
Your rap career get cut short like Poom-Pooms

Simply – economy of phrasing.  There are no extra words in this verse.  Every word hits hard.

I miss LL….*sigh*

Enjoy the crazy-ass video: