Rapper Kendrick Lamar released a new track this week from his hotly anticipated followup to 2012's Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City. The song, titled "The Blacker the Berry," was dropped the day after the Compton native took home two Grammy wins for Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song for his song "i," also expected to appear on the forthcoming album.
Whereas "i" is a deeply introspective, life-affirming song, "The Blacker the Berry" is a racially charged call to arms. And in many ways, it appears to confront the criticism he faced for his remarks on the shooting of Mike Brown in Ferguson.
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Lamar drew widespread ire from activists and fellow hip-hop artists owing to an interview he did with Billboard in early January. Specifically:
Lamar spent much of his childhood on the streets, and he's cagey about the trouble he might've gotten into. "Oh, man, I won't be able to say that on record. I got into some things, but God willing, he had favoritism over me and my spirit." He also has been treated unfairly by the cops -- "plenty of times. All the time." Asked about the high-profile killings of African-Americans by police in 2014, from Ferguson, Mo., to Staten Island, he says, "I wish somebody would look in our neighborhood knowing that it's already a situation, mentally, where it's f---ked 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 backlash was immediate, with fellow hip-hop artists Azealia Banks and Kid Cudi leading the charge.
"When we don't respect ourselves how can we expect them to respect us" dumbest shit I've ever heard a black man say.— AZEALIA BANKS (@AZEALIABANKS) January 9, 2015
HOW DARE YOU open ur face to a white publication and tell them that we don't respect ourselves.... Speak for your fucking self.— AZEALIA BANKS (@AZEALIABANKS) January 9, 2015
Dear black artists, dont talk down on the black community like you are Gods gift to niggaz everywhere.— Scott Mescudi (@KidCudi) January 10, 2015
Re: Kendrick. Sometimes your favorite artist's genius can be hyper focused into one particular avenue and be a fool in another.— B.J. Steiner (@DocZeus) January 9, 2015
Give Kendrick an oscar, made everybody think he's a future pro black leader but he's really the black misinformed version of ned flanders— Ahmed/Lupe's Sensei (@big_business_) January 9, 2015
Lamar's sentiment wasn't a new one. The entirety of Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City -- a concept album whose tracks tell an unbroken narrative when taken as a whole -- essentially offered the same message. But critics of his remarks felt Lamar was playing respectability politics -- ground tread more often by the likes of Bill Cosby and Steve Harvey than that of Kendrick's hero and supposed musical ancestor, Tupac.
The opening lines of "The Blacker the Berry" seem to address the unrest in Ferguson directly:
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