Sunday, 13 March 2016

African America

Kendrick Lamar is a 28-year-old hip hop artist from Compton, CA that has risen to the become one of the most prominent figures in the contemporary rap game. His latest full length project, ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’, incorporates many issues that himself and the wider black community face in American society. In the record, ‘The Blacker the Berry’, Lamar speaks of the deep rooted racism that lingers from the eras of slavery and reconstruction and his apparent issues with the notion of assimilation.

The opening of the record says, ‘Some white some black, I aint mean black. I want everything black’. This certainly alludes to Kendrick’s dissatisfaction with the idea of assimilation. It appears that he sees the notion of a diverse society of whites and blacks as problematic. Similar to the ideology of Marcus Garvey (whom he later mentions) and Malcolm X.

The final verse of the record presents similar issues. (It should be noted that Kendrick’s delivery becomes more aggressive and emotive in this verse.)

The lyric, ‘This plot is bigger than me, it's generational hatred. It's genocism, it's grimy, little justification. I'm African-American, I'm African.’ highlights Kendrick’s identification as an ‘African’ and speaks to the notion of separatism that Malcolm X alluded to, especially later in his life. Malcolm X became keen to re align the African heritage of African Americans. He felt that the abandonment of tribal names and languages from the colored (not just black) mans culture should be re-kindled in a land exclusive to colored men and women. Kendrick alludes to this belief in this lyric and suggests that all African Americans are affected by the residual prejudice and racial hatred of slavery and reconstruction via a ‘generational hatred’.

The verse continues to list the binding stereotypes that he believes constrict the growth of black communities in American society:
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
I think its interesting here how Kendrick links his work to aspects of the black power movement of the 60’s and 70’s and then contrasts that with more contemporary perceived avenues of black success, ‘Michael Jordan endorsements’. This emphasizes the notion of the ‘trap’ society that many African American rappers talk about in their work and how assimilation still might only offer success/celebrity to African Americans via the sport and entertainment industries. 

The closing lines, So why did I weep when Trayvon Martin was in the street?
When gang banging make me kill a nigga blacker than me?,
show how Kendrick identifies with a problematic assimilated society. African Americans continue to be directly discriminated against by non-black Americans in the forms of police brutality ect. However, the last line similarly speaks to the prominence of black on black hatred and crime, which I think Kendrick – along with many in black communities – would attribute to the conditions created by the failure of black assimilation and integration into American society.

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