I don’t really know how I was going to go about this to be honest. I thought about writing a spoken word piece but in order for a spoken word piece to flow, it has to have direction and quite frankly, right now, I’m lost. So instead, I’m just gonna keep it simple and say it clear as day. This is a difficult piece for me to write because my thoughts have been all over the place in regards to establishing how I feel about Kendrick Lamar and some of the controversial statements he’s said in the past couple of months.
Let me give some back ground first.
I’ve been listening to Kendrick’s music since high school. I’m now a junior in college. Like most teenagers, growing up was a tough time. It wasn’t exactly a walk in the park at all. Throughout my early teens and high school age, I battled with depression. A lot was happening within my personal life and I needed an outlet to escape it all. Music was my outlet. TDE’s music was my outlet. Kendrick’s music was my outlet. His music got me through a lot and I will always thank him for that.
Unfortunately, sometimes people get caught up in celebrities. They hang on to everything they say and do and they let it heavily impact their own life. Idolization, essentially. I may not be a bias fan but even I get wrapped up in how other-worldly and super human my favorite artists can appear to be and that’s what I did with Kendrick. I got caught up in stanning for Kendrick that sometimes I forgot he is a person with his own thoughts, feelings, and emotions and sometimes his thoughts do not align with my own. I was reminded of that when I saw Kendrick Lamar’s comments about Ferguson.
Now, some more background…
This is what Kendrick said about Ferguson: “I wish somebody would look in our neighborhood knowing that it’s already a situation, mentally, where it’s fucked 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.”
From there on, he took it a step forward and addressed intra-racial violence (“black on black” crime) in his track “Blacker the Berry.” He said: “So why did I weep when Trayvon Martin was in the street? When gang banging make me kill a nigga blacker than me? Hypocrite!”
These comments caught me so off guard. I never considered that he would feel this way about racial tensions because of his previous commentary about racism in his older music.
I’m not gonna lie. I was disappointed. I didn’t know how to feel. Was I now suppose to detach myself from Kendrick’s music? If I still supported him and his music would I be hypocritical? And honestly, I’m still not sure.
What I am sure of is Kendrick’s comments were misguided.
I think black people are harder on ourselves more than anyone else sometimes. When white racists break their backs to find 100+ reasons why a black person deserved to die, I expect it. But when I see a black person doing the same thing to another black person, it breaks my heart because I realize just how conditioned we are. Sometimes I wonder have black people ever stopped to think why they have to prove they should be able to live. Black people honestly feel like if their life was taken today, their death is justifiable if they didn’t present themselves in some type of way to society: “You guys, we have to respect ourselves so they can respect us. We have to pull up our pants. Put on suits and ties, take out our grills and burn our Jordan’s all for them to take us seriously. If we kill each other, we can’t get mad when they kill us too.”
This logic is an example of “respectability politics” and unfortunately, too many black people, including Kendrick Lamar, feed into it when it comes to racism and state violence.
It’s this idea that if black people presented themselves in a more “respectable” light, society–white people–will take us more seriously.
Here’s the issue with that…
Hm.. Let me give you an example.
The people of the Civil Rights Movement were unified for the most part right? They organized and they marched in their Sunday’s finest, demanding that they be given their basic human rights. And guess what white people did? They hosed them down with water. They released vicious attack dogs onto them and it gets even better though. Police brutalized, assaulted, and even murdered black civil rights protestors.
Let’s go even deeper into this..
Take Selma for example. These group of black people were unified for the most part. They wore their best clothes and together, they linked arms and tried to cross that bridge and what happened? KKK members still assaulted, brutalized, and terrorized them back to the other side of the bridge.
Let’s keep digging deeper.
People use Martin Luther King, Jr. as the poster child for a “respectable” black man. He was articulate, highly intelligent, and driven, but most of all he promoted peaceful, non-violent protesting. Did white people take him seriously? Of course! So serious that they shot him dead… in his suit and tie.
You know why? Because at the end of the day, white racists aren’t fucking with black people but not because they feel that black people have poor self-esteem and lack of unity. No, they hate you because you are black and there’s nothing you can do to change their minds.
Now, let’s fast forward to Kendrick’s comments about Michael Brown and Ferguson.
He is right. What happened to Brown should have never happened but do you know why it happened? Because a power hungry, trigger happy, white cop crossed paths with Brown. It surely wasn’t because Brown lacked this so called “self respect.” Not because he robbed a store. Ferguson chief of police already confirmed that Darren Wilson, the officer who murdered Brown, was not notified about a robbery nor did he approach Brown on the premise of suspecting him to be the individual who robbed the store. Majority of the eyewitnesses, including Brown’s friend who was with him, Dorian Johnson, said that Wilson had reached out his car window and put Brown in a headlock. Here is the eyewitnesses recounts: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/22/michael-brown-autopsy-report_n_6027800.html. In the end, Brown surrendered and he was still executed.
Let’s say hypothetically, Brown had attacked Wilson. Police are to follow specific guidelines to hostile situations like that. It’s called the “use of force continuum.” Police are trained to decrease escalation of force. Brown was unarmed. Witnesses even said he told Wilson he was unarmed. If Brown had been fighting Wilson, Wilson has a Taser or pepper spray that he could have easily used to subdue Brown but instead he used excessive force and shot Brown several times. He didn’t shoot with the intention to injure. He shot him with the intention to kill. He shot him while he was surrendering. That, Kendrick, is not a cop who cared about Mike Brown’s “self-respect.” Brown was on his way to college in a week or so. Wilson didn’t know that nor did he care about that. That was a cop who cared about asserting his power and dominance over an unarmed black civilian.
On top of that, the Department of Justice released a report at the beginning of this month showing how Ferguson Police Department regularly racially profiles black people of that community: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/02/us/justice-department-report-to-fault-police-in-ferguson.html?_r=0 The Ferguson PD didn’t even have the decency to have an ambulance come get Brown’s body. No, they left his body in the street for hours and then ended up putting his body in the back of a cop SUV. What?! In what world would that ever be acceptable? To add onto that, Ferguson PD even took a long time to release Wilson’s police report. If he had honestly was just doing his job and followed procedure, what was the hold up?
Not only that, but there have been plenty of times where white men, who are armed, have walked away with the cops alive. White men who literally pose an actual threat are either hit with the taser or talked into surrendering. Here’s a recent example: http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/mesa-arizona-shooting-six-shot-one-dead-suspect-captured-n325851 Matter fact, half of those white men even had a gun facing the police and police still found a way to take them in alive. They didn’t even brutalize these white civilians.
There are literally no excuses for Wilson’s actions.
Kendrick, you said we have to respect ourselves in order for “them” to respect us right? Well how do you explain cases like Martese Johnson?
Martese Johnson is the epitome of what people deem as “respectable.” He doesn’t sag his pants. He’s an honor student in college. He’s involved on his campus and he’s even in the fraternity Kappa Alpha Psi.
You want to know what happened to Martese Johnson? Well, earlier this month, he and some friends went to a bar but were turned away and were accused of using a fake ID (which later was proved to be his real ID). He was then arrested and beaten brutally by law enforcement officers. He was thrashed into the concrete so bad that he had to get 10 stitches to the head. Was Johnson cussing at the officers? Was he clearly angry? Yup. He was. Was he posing a threat that warranted that type of response? Nope.
So Kendrick… explain that. Johnson fit into societal standards of “respectability” but he was still brutalized by officers.
Kendrick also said, “Don’t start with looting.” Well that’s awkward because the actual protestors were not looting anyone’s stores. In fact, most were stopping people from looting stores: http://www.ibtimes.com/ferguson-during-friday-police-standoff-protesters-try-stop-looters-entering-stores-1660418
Rival gangs actually came together to protect stores from being looted. They listened to your homie Ab-Soul Kendrick: “If all the gangs in the world unified, we’d stand a chance against the military tonight.”
It appears to me, Kendrick, that there are, in fact, starting to “reach within.”
Speaking of gang bangers, Kendrick also said that you couldn’t be sad about what happened to Trayvon Martin if you’re being violent to your own in your own hood. If you do so, you’re a hypocrite.
Now I will say, I understand why Kendrick would say that.
Before you roll your eyes at me, hear me out. Kendrick grew up in a neighborhood where he witnessed violence that scars people for life–violence from people that looked like him. If I’m not mistaken, Kendrick Lamar witnessed his uncle get shot and killed. This is something I thought about after my initial reaction to his comments. He’s seen people in his hood get killed repeatedly and, to him, hardly any outcry came after that. When Kendrick said what he said about Ferguson, who he really was talking about was Compton, whether he realizes that or not. Kendrick took his frustration towards Compton and projected that onto Ferguson.
Here’s what Kendrick doesn’t realize:
This is far more bigger and greater than what’s happening in Compton. Compton’s internal issues do not speak for all of the black community. Compton has nothing to do with what’s happening in Ferguson. Matter fact, intra-racial violence–“black on black” crime–has nothing to do with state violence altogether.
Crazy! I know man!
Let me tell you why…
Police brutality existed way before gang violence.
Like I stated before, the “respectable” black folk of the Civil Rights’ Movement were beaten, brutalized, and murdered by cops. Hell, cops in that time were mostly actual KKK members hiding behind a badge.
Matter of fact, gangs were formed to defend themselves and their block from outsiders–majorly police officers. Police brutality didn’t just spring up once gangs in black low socioeconomic neighborhoods came about. No, police been brutalizing black people, regardless of their background (Hello Martese Johnson). Then there’s also the fact that how gang members and police officers differ is that gang bangers don’t shoot and kill each other simply because they’re black…
Kendrick, what if I also told you “black on black” crime is not a thing? What if I told you intra-racial violence happens within all races just as much and it’s not exclusive to black people? What if I told you 86% of white people are killed by other white people and their homicides are romanticized into Lifetime movies? What if I told you intra-racial violence and crime happens because of proximity? What if I told you that you were subscribing to the white supremacist narrative that black people are inherently violent people?
Would you say that I’m crazy? If so, I guess I’m psychotic.
Civilians–that includes gang members–and police officers are held to different standards. Police are state employees. We pay our tax dollars to keep them in their job. They are sworn and obligated to “protect and serve.” Not gang-members. So when police abuse that power, “protect and serve” fly out the window and lives get attacked or killed. Police go through training and when they don’t use that training they are to be held accountable just like you, Kendrick, hold gang members accountable for their actions. Gang violence does not excuse state violence. It has nothing to do with it. Cool, let’s say we did stop killing each other, then what? Is that suppose to stop cops from killing us? You think that because we’ve fixed our internal issues, that stops cops from seeing us as inferior? That stops cops from abusing their power?
I had a guy come at me on Twitter saying blacks don’t care about “black on black crime” like we do about police brutality. He comes from a neighborhood in New York where crime is rampant. So I asked him this, “So, if one of your homies got shot and killed by a police officer while being unarmed and innocent, would you bring up the violence that happens in your neighborhood?” And of course, he didn’t have the answers. He deflected and avoided my question.
Why did he do that? Because he realized intra-racial violence has nothing to do with a cop’s abuse of power and inflicting state violence onto unarmed civilians.
What if I also told you Kendrick that “black on black” crime–gang violence and crime has decreased sharply in the past decade? Intra-racial violence within the black community has decreased by 67%. About 23 years ago, 7361 blacks were killed by other blacks but in 2011, that number dropped drastically to 2447. Not only that but within the black community, robbery and serious property offenses have been at their lowest rates in 40 years. http://www.demos.org/blog/7/29/13/myth-black-black-crime-epidemic
Kendrick, fam, I need you to give us a little bit more credit.
Lastly, this idea that black people don’t care about black crime when it happens in our community? No. Stop reinforcing that flawed narrative. Why would black people not care about an issue that directly affects them even if the perpetrator is black? Why would black moms not care about their children being killed–regardless if it’s a cop or someone from down the block?
But you know what’s the difference between the consequences of the cop and the person from down the block is?
If a black person kills another black person, what usually happens? That black murderer goes to prison.
What usually happens to cops when they shoot and kill an unarmed black civilian? They hardly even get indicted–even when the evidence of them wrongfully murdering a black man is on tape.
You see more outrage about police brutality because justice is hardly served; besides the fact that intra-racial homicide is at a decrease and is not exclusive to black people. Not only is justice not served but it keeps happening! Repeatedly, black victims of police brutality are put on trial for their murders and not the racist, power-hungry cops.
Gang violence doesn’t spark police brutality nor will putting it to rest stop it.
So no, Kendrick. You are not hypocrite for that reason. If we’re going to say you’re a hypocrite, it would be because you’re reinforcing a white supremacist narrative, ironically enough, without even realizing it.
And not for nothing but to ignore why intra-racial crime may be so concentrated in Compton is ignoring how lack of resources, funding, and compassion affects Compton’s youth. Kendrick, instead of preaching to them, why don’t you provide them with outlets that will keep them off the streets? You have the money now. Am I wrong? Use that money to donate to community centers and shelters in Compton. Open up an after school program where young people can get involved with music or other branches of the performing arts. That’s being a part of the solution.
Do I want to see the black community heal from our internal issues? Of course! Why wouldn’t I? But I’m not interested in fixing our internal issues to appease to white gaze. I”m not sorry. I don’t value how white people see black people over how black people see black people. I want us to fix our internal issues for the betterment of our community, not because we think that’s some sort of solution to police brutality or racism in general. Racists are going to think what they want at the end of the day. Our “self-respect” is the least of their concerns.
So now you’re probably thinking “Ok, so what do you have to say about To Pimp A Butterfly?”
To Pimp a Butterfly is Kendrick’s junior album which he released earlier this month. Kendrick definitely doesn’t sugar coat anything on this album. He stayed true to his feelings and didn’t have an issue sharing them. This album has definitely sparked controversy. It’s even been referred to as “overly black” and has started a conversation within white hip-hop listeners on how to approach this album. It makes me laugh out loud.
It’s pretty evident that black culture heavily influences this album from the funky, jazzy, soul instrumentals to the actual content of each track which involves Kendrick’s commentary on racism and the various dynamics of white supremacy. I wouldn’t be quick to call Kendrick “conscious” though. That word is thrown around so loosely in hip-hop. Any rapper that merely mentions anything substantial is “conscious” or “deep.” Kendrick still has aspects that he doesn’t quite understand like how intra-racial violence doesn’t excuse state violence. So that has to happen before you bout to hear me call him “conscious.”
Do I think this album is substantial for the most part? Yes. Besides his track “Blacker the Berry”, his commentary on race seems to come from a well-meaning place. One of my favorite tracks is “Complexion” which features one of my favorite black femcees Rapsody. “Complexion” is what it sounds like–a track that illustrates the issue of colorism. Kendrick is a field slave who is in love with a house slave (who is of lighter complexion) and basically talks about how their complexion can’t stop his love for her. Rapsody’s verse, of course, was on point. I’m really happy Kendrick gave her the opportunity to get her shine on. She deserves that. Her feature made me love the song even more.
One of my other favorite tracks is “U.” I interpreted “U” as the polar opposite of the track “I.” “U” is probably one of the most experimental tracks I’ve heard from Kendrick. Every thing about this track was daring from the minimal somber jazz instrumental to his tonality and purposeful vocal inflections. Low-key, it was dancing on that fine line between spoken word and rap. This track was emotionally charged most definitely. It reminded me of his track series “The Heart.” “U” could almost be “The Heart Pt. 4” to be honest. I appreciate Kendrick’s raw honesty about his depression on this song. In an anti-black world where hyper-masculinity hits black men the hardest, it’s refreshing to hear a black man be open and sincere about his internal struggles. I feel like mental health is swept to the side too many times in the black community and I think it’s dope Kendrick sparked a conversation about emotional expression within hip-hop.
My other favorite songs include “Alright.” It literally is the “pick me up” song of 2015 for black people. “Nigga, we gon be ALRIGHT!” At a time like now, hooks like that, though may be very simple, are very necessary for black people to hear–or at least for me to hear. It gives me hope in a sense.
And then “Mortal Man” where he frames it to where it sounds like he’s actually interviewing Tupac? That was dope as hell. It makes me really curious to see how him and Pac would’ve been together on a track. The poem Kendrick was building throughout the album was finished in Mortal Man. It was a poem for Tupac to hear. To pimp a butterfly: to commercialize and white wash rappers for profit is what I got from that poem and the album as a whole.
“I” of course, is another favorite. I wasn’t a fan at first but it grew on me but I think the reason it grew on me was because the content was something I needed to hear. Also, side note, Anna Wise’s vocals always give me life. I’m glad Kendrick put me onto her music and they continue to work together. Her vocals added a nice touch as well. Sonnymoon, the band she’s in, is dope and you should most definitely check their music out.
Overall, this album was solid. It was definitely cohesive and flowed. You know how I am though. I’m not quick to call an album a classic. This isn’t my favorite album from Kendrick but it’s definitely not my least. It just makes it even tougher for me to decide how I’d rank them. I do think Kendrick is getting a Grammy nod for this one. We’ll see if he actually takes the Grammy for best rap album though…
I give this album a 4.5 out of 5.
All in all, I’m still a fan of Kendrick’s music. At the end of the day, I do think he means well. He’s misguided and needs someone to sit him down and talk to him. Maybe I might be the one to do it. Maybe he might actually read this article. Who knows. I appreciate Kendrick’s talent. I still consider myself a TDE stan but I’m not a willfully ignorant stan. I go hard for your music but I’mma call you out on your bullshit if need be. That’s what friends do for each other. That’s what fans should do for artists.
I just hope that he gets it one day soon.