February 10, 2015


Hear Kendrick Lamar's Racism-Skewering Song "The Blacker the Berry"

Paras Griffin/Getty Images
Paras Griffin/Getty Images

Last fall, Kendrick Lamar surprised the world by dropping a new single from his still-secretive follow-up to good kid, m.A.A.d city, the Isley Brothers–sampling "i." The "I love myself!" chorus and the funky vibe propelled the track into the culture and got everyone equally parts excited and curious about Kendrick's new album. (It also won him GRAMMYs for Best Rap Song and Best Rap Performance on Sunday night.)

In Kendrick's new song "The Blacker the Berry," the sound and content of the still-untitled new album gets a whole new side. Everything from the verses to the vibe to the hook is pushing K.Dot's artistry to a new limit. Even the cover art is distinctive, featuring (NSFW warning? Maybe?) two brown babies breastfeeding from their gold-bracelet-wearing mother:

"I'm the biggest hypocrite of 2015," is Kendrick's entrance into "The Blacker the Berry." "Once I finish this, witnesses will convey just what I mean." From there it goes like this:

Been feeling this way since I was 16, came to my senses
You never liked us anyway, f*ck 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 d*ck 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 f*ckin' evil—I want you to recognize that I'm a proud monkey
You vandalize my perception but can't take style from me

None of Kendrick's heartbreaking, pulse-pounding lyrics should come as a surprise. "i" dealt with suicide and depression; good kid, m.A.A.d city was rife with tales of young black Compton kids mired in—and sometimes celebrating—violence, gangs, girls, drugs and cops. In December, on one of the Colbert Report's final episodes, Kendrick debuted an untitled song that acrobatically waded through all these dense themes. Slavery, systemic racism and imprisonment, violence and hatred against black communities and individuals—they're all here in "The Blacker the Berry." One more sample:

Curse me till I'm dead
Church me with your fake prophesizing that I'mma be just another slave in my head
Institutionalize manipulation and lies
Reciprocation of freedom only live in your eyes
You hate me, don't you?
I know you hate me just as much as you hate yourself
Jealous of my wisdom and cards I dealt

There're also lines about "generational hatred," being "black as the heart of a f*ckin' Aryan," the death of Trayvon Martin, stereotypes about watermelon and fried chicken. Like many Lamar cuts, "The Blacker the Berry" glides through like five disparate styles—Kendrick's sleepy-eyed, OutKast-y talk-flow; his battle-stance shouts; the gruff voice of Jamaican dancehall artist Assassin, who lent his vocals to Kanye West's racy "I'm In It," a Yeezus cut; a soulful, retro outro. It'll take a while to digest—but consider anticipation for Kendrick Lamar's second album cranked up to 11.

And while we wait for "The Blacker the Berry" to get a music video, let's just rewatch the feel-good "i" vid, featuring K.Dot dancing all over town.