Kendrick Lamar's most recent single "i" was a jubilant, Isley Brothers-sampling (and Grammy-winning) ode to self-respect. But his follow-up, "The Blacker the Berry," is a darker, more complicated self-assessment.
The single, which Lamar's label, TDE, posted to YouTube on Monday afternoon, is almost the inverse of "i" — it's built on sinister synth pads and gained-up, martial drum samples. The sonic mood, from producer Boi-1da, owes a bit to the more evil sides of '90s New York rap. But the relentlessly tense, self-aware lyricism is all Lamar's.
"I'm the biggest hypocrite of 2015" is his opening line, and the self-interrogation only escalates from there. More than an overt protest song, "Berry" attempts to understand how a white-dominated society sees him and the toll that takes on his mind and heart.
"I'm African-American, I'm African, I'm black as the moon," he raps. "Heritage of a small village, pardon my residence / Came from the bottom of mankind, my hair is nappy, my ... nose is round and wide." And because of that, he says, "You hate me, don't you, you hate my people / your plan is to terminate my culture."
It's righteous and cutting and gets at something even more basic than a overtly politically minded song might. With his hoarse, fiery mike presence, Lamar is giving flesh and blood to the range of emotions that come with being a young black man in America in 2015. It's an endlessly compicated mix of ideas, angst and ultimately affirmations of his own power.
Anyone who heard "i" and thought that Lamar's follow-up to "good kid, m.A.A.d. city" would be more easygoing just had their assumptions corrected. Language forbids us from posting the song, but you can listen to it here.
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