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Why I’m not a fan of Kendrick Lamar

OPINION: Kendrick Lamar

I LOVE Rap music. Always have. Always will. I could talk about the art form for centuries. I could discuss whether I agree or disagree with your top 5, who won out of Jay-Z and Nas or the contrasts between the old and new Kanye. There aren’t many subjects concerning rap I don’t relish the opportunity to stamp my opinion all over.

However, I’ve always winced with awkwardness and hesitance when one name enters the conversation. And that name, as you probably guessed, is Kendrick Lamar.

As an avid Hip-Hop enthusiast and a rapper myself who values lyricism and subject matter above all else, people always expect me to worship the ground Kendrick walks on. But when his name is mentioned, I have to break the news that I’m not his biggest fan while treading carefully between explaining my stance and going on an anti-Kendrick rant.

With time, my desire to tread carefully decreased pretty rapidly after a series of events that permanently dented my opinion of him. I’ll walk you through this transition.

When Kendrick first established himself as a mainstream artist, following up his Section 80 album with Good Kid Maad City, I liked him. It took me a while to warm to him admittedly as I felt I was oversold his music and it didn’t deliver.

After blocking out the opinions of my peers I started to appreciate him in my own way. Despite me thinking his praises were exaggerated, I still rooted for him because he had talent and seemed a likeable, down to earth person. I was as annoyed as most people when Macklemore wiped him at the Grammy’s - I didn’t think he had the best album but I acknowledged his impact on Hip Hop and felt his victory would accurately depict his status at the time.

I also looked forward to what he had in store for the rap game off the back of his impactful but yet again overhyped control verse and his incredible BET Cypher performance with TDE.

Then it all started going downhill for me…

The turning point was when he was asked in an interview about the murder of Michael Brown at the hands of law enforcement and he responded as follows:

"I wish somebody would look in our neighbourhood 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."

I could write a whole separate article dismantling this statement from its ignorant core but instead I’ll summarise its nonsense as best as I can. Simply put, he’s sided with the oppressor by sympathising with the fact Michael Brown’s killer saw his life as less valuable because he’s black. He’s blamed the alleged lack of self-respect the black community has for itself as a reason to look down on it. As if to say things of this nature wouldn’t happen if all of black America joined together and formed a society radiant in self-esteem and a feel-good factor.

As if the Nation of Islam and Black Panthers didn’t somewhat successfully endeavour to raise the so called “self-respect” of their communities through education and community projects only to meet a violent demise at the hands of US authorities. Or that when the black community in Tulsa built a prospering town with it’s own businesses, schools, transport services etc. in the early 20th century it wasn’t burnt to the ground by racist hate groups.

History lessons aside, with this logic, I should be able to approach someone with mental health problems who practices self-harm and turn them into my punching bag for as long as I feel necessary. I’d be able to justify myself to the courts by reiterating the fact she harms herself, so me harming her shouldn’t be an issue. Gotta respect yourself before I respect you right?

There are a myriad of factors that contribute to underprivileged black Americans being exposed to high levels of violence and other tragic circumstances. Factors that need far more than an article to break down. Kendrick had a golden opportunity to take a polarising stand against an oppressive system causing these factors but opted to point the finger at his own people. There’s no way of escaping the fact he was victim blaming on a community-wide scale.

I also think his wording in this particular statement was quite convenient as it was close to the time he released his single “I”, where the chorus consists of him repeating the words “I love myself”.

He helped create the narrative that the lack of self-belief was the reason for black America’s social downfall, setting the scene for him to fly to the rescue with a mic in his hand, sing his hit song about self love and save the black community from oblivion. To be fair to him, it worked like a treat. Black folks are still dying without consequence but he won himself his first Grammy.

He earned some of my respect back when he released The Blacker The Berry. The brash unapologetic delivery resonated with me deeply. It’s probably my favourite Kendrick song to date.

He captured the anger and frustrations of multiple black generations worldwide which a feat I have to applaud. Even with that said, I was still uneasy with the theme of being a “hypocrite” as I felt it still had the scent of the victim blaming I spoke of earlier in this article. Nevertheless, he had won me over enough for me to keep one eye on To Pimp A Butterfly’s release date again.

Then the 2016 Grammy’s comes along. To Pimp A Butterfly had just taken the music industry by storm and Kendrick gleaned a record 11 Grammy nominations off the back of it. I was in China so I woke up while it was still airing. When I checked twitter I saw pictures of Kendrick on stage in handcuffs as well as a silhouette of the African continent with the word “Compton” in the middle of it. I initially saw nothing but a confusing array of hotep gimmicks but I thought I’d try and find a clip of the whole thing before I jumped to conclusions.

I ended up wishing they were just hotep gimmicks. The chain-gang performance of The Blacker the Berry, was followed by him and his fellow performers in tribal wear dancing around a fire. Now correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure one of the most negative stereotypical portrayals of African culture is of “primitive” tribal people dancing around fires. I don’t look down on those who practice this but it’s a stereotype I could’ve lived without seeing reinforced on the world’s most prestigious music platform.

I fully understand that Kendrick was attempting to reconnect back to the motherland as a child of diaspora but it was terribly delivered. If you’re going to try and represent Africa on such a huge platform, the least you could do is a little research.

2017 arrives and Kendrick drops DAMN, which intrigued me after he dropped the catchy hit record Humble. In recent times, I’ve almost felt like listening to Kendrick is like homework - I listen because I want to try and understand what the fuss is about and keep in sync with contemporary rap, but I still go into every listen with an open mind and the hope of enjoying the experience.

The first red flag I had was in the track “YAH” when I heard the line:

“I’m an Israelite, don’t call me black no mo’, that word is just a colour, it ain’t facts no mo”.

If he identifies with Israelites then he can if he wants. But he can do so without trying to distance himself from blackness or renouncing the concept of it. As much as “blackness” or “whiteness” is social constructs, they are here to stay.

Those constructs aren’t a problem themselves, the way they are interpreted by racists are. With that said, distancing yourself from the term black only reinforces what the bigots and the self hating already feel; that blackness is something to be ashamed of. That’s one of the reasons I loathed the viral Prince EA video where he said he isn’t black, but I’ll save him for another article.

Whether you agree or disagree with Kendrick’s perspective or my interpretation, this has not been discussed anywhere near enough. As one of the biggest rappers on the planet he has made some very heavy statements here that need to be scrutinised further. Months have passed since the release of “Damn” and everyone has brushed over these sentiments only to laud the musicality of his project and how good the video releases were.

The worrying thing is most Kendrick fans label him as a symbol for music with a ‘deeper meaning’ and ‘substance’. The lack of attention these statements have received suggests how little some of these fans care about the content of his music. They just love Kendrick because he’s Kendrick and it’s cool to love Kendrick.

I’m not asking everyone reading this to agree with me, but I do urge you to stop being so passive about your opinions on rap music’s lyrical subject matter. It’s extremely easy to point the finger at “mumble rappers” and berate their attempts of creative innovation. In all honesty I would much rather get turnt to Young Thug than have this guy in my ear telling me we deserve to be punished.

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