Random Midday Hotness: The Blacker The Berry.

So Kendrick came through and melted everybody’s face off when he dropped this track a couple of days ago. “The Blacker The Berry” is a reminder of several things:

  1. He is an absolute BEAST in the booth.
  2. His politics are a bit…unsettling. Evoking the myth of black-on-black crime while regarding the death of black men at the hands of white cops is a little too familiar.
  3. Kendrick is young, and his underdeveloped politics highlight that.
  4. Kendrick is a lyrical god, and his youth highlights that.

He at least seems to be aware of his incongruences, and that makes it easier to get into how sick this track is.*

*For maximum enjoyment, try to ignore all the bullshit he said about Ferguson awhile ago.

Brokey McPoverty

Brokey McPoverty, aka Tracy Clayton, is a writer and humorist from Louisville, KY. She currently writes for BuzzFeed and lives in Brooklyn. Follow her on Twitter.

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  • Gene Demby

    A follower on Twitter wondered if it doesn’t matter that Kendrick is, you know, actually a dude from Compton kvetching about black-on-black crime and not, say, some cable news blowhard doing so.

    I mean, yeah, I agree that it matters, because I don’t think Kendrick and black folk are bringing it up as a way to concern-troll and derail a conversation about race and policing. I have a bunch of thoughts about how violence carried out by state agents (the police) or with the imprimatur of the state is of a different stripe and has different consequences than violence carried out by the dude on your block. But I’m curious about what y’all think.

    • Deen Freelon

      TNC has been going off about this on Twitter and probably put it better than me, but: yes. There’s a long history of conservative concern-trolling about black issues they give zero shits about. And I hate it because crime is a big problem in black communities, and most crime is committed intra-racially. But to hear folks who haven’t done jack on the issue use it to bash blacks is beyond infuriating.

      It’s different coming from Kendrick because he’s a potential victim. He has a personal stake in the issue that the talking heads (and Cosby) simply don’t have. I get the sense that he genuinely wants the violence to stop–and would personally benefit if it did–whereas many of these pundits are just jockeying for political advantage. It’s just a game to them, but lives are at stake.

      The messenger matters. My reaction to “but what about black-on-black crime” depends entirely on who’s talking.

  • What irks me about this song, and Kendrick’s other new ones, is how direct they are, how didactic. Part of what made “Good Kid…” so compelling was that KL was just telling stories — stories that also happened to reveal his ideas about the world. He seems to have cut out that middle man recently. He sounds more like a preacher than a chronicler. Even if I totally agreed with him (and I don’t), I’d miss the vaguer, more ambiguous approach.

    (But yeah: total beast.)

    • Rob Michelin

      Sometimes a griot tells stories that allude to a moral or represent a greater truth, like Anansi the spider. And sometimes a griot is charged with delivering an actual account of the family for whom said griot has been charged to maintain annals. Kendrick fulfills both roles and, in doing so, honors the history of our ‘oral’ tradition.

      • Gene Demby

        uh. sure.

        • Rob Michelin

          Glad we had that talk.

    • That’s a really good observation, and it’s true in this song and the one he did on Colbert. (In both, it’s I as first-person, pan-Negro.)

      Now I’m curious about how the rest of this album sounds on this score.

      Did you see this from Rembert at Grantland?

      Nina was fed up. Tupac was fed up. And if you were black, they both seemed to think you should be, too.

      This is all contextually relevant considering the direction Kendrick has taken. The message in “The Blacker the Berry” is targeted: It’s well beyond a rap song about race. Or even a rap song about being black. It’s the rare reality of an entire song, by a major artist, that is wholly targeted toward one audience — one racial audience — and at certain points against another.

      Been feeling this way since I was 16, came to my senses
      You never liked us anyway, fuck your friendship, I meant it
      I’m African American, I’m African
      I’m black as the moon, heritage of a small village
      Pardon my residence
      Came from the bottom of mankind
      My hair is nappy, my dick is big, my nose is round and wide
      You hate me don’t you?
      You hate my people, your plan is to terminate my culture
      You’re fuckin’ evil I want you to recognize that I’m a proud monkey
      You vandalize my perception but can’t take style from me
      And this is more than confession
      I mean I might press the button just so you know my discretion
      I’m guardin’ my feelins, I know that you feel it
      You sabotage my community, makin’ a killin’
      You made me a killer, emancipation of a real nigga

      The “fuck you, you did this to us, you want to be us, fuck you”–ness of the song is very clearly Black versus White (or even Black versus Everyone Else), and it stays true throughout the majority of the song. It only gets more specific and pointed as it progresses.

      I’m African American, I’m African
      I’m black as the heart of a fuckin’ Aryan

      The twist to the song is that there’s a reveal. In each verse, he begins by referring to himself as “the biggest hypocrite of 2015.” In his final verse, he goes through a list of stereotypes — often related to being black — and then follows them by questioning the so-called positivity in his own blackness.

      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 gangbanging make me kill a n-​-​-​-​ blacker than me?

      Kendrick is attempting a lot in one song. It’s an internal monologue, made public, in which he’s working out his own issues, acknowledging his own demons. Is it conservative? Is he coming down hard on black people? Is he coming down surprisingly hard on white people? Does he fully understand race and power and inequality as much as one perhaps should before jumping in this sea of generalizations? There are days and weeks and months and infinities left to parse out these ideas. But what is true from even the first listen is that Kendrick is talking directly to black people.

      Kendrick’s fed up. And if you’re black, he seems to think you should be, too.

    • Gene Demby

      That’s a really good observation, and it’s true in this song and the one he did on Colbert. (In both, it’s I as first-person, pan-Negro.)

      Now I’m curious about how the rest of this album sounds on this score.

      Did you see this from Rembert at Grantland?

  • Rob Michelin

    Ms. McPoverty,

    When you’re able, can you speak to Kendrick’s underdeveloped politics a bit? I’m not sure what you mean in this context.