Kendrick Lamar gets deep and dark on The Blacker the Berry

Following a Grammy win for the song i, Kendrick has released a second track from his upcoming album, The Blacker the Berry. It’s no surprise that this single directly follows i. They’re two sides to the same coin; both are inextricably concerned with self-love and self-respect. i is incandescent and sweet, The Blacker the Berry is shadowy and rough. Both are excellent.

But where i spends six minutes stargazing, The Blacker the Berry contemplates the suffocating darkness. Each verse begins with the line “I’m the biggest hypocrite of 2015.” On a first listen, I thought this was a clear reference to his release of the song ‘i’, where Kendrick praises self-love. He believes that it’s even more important than love for others. On a first listen, that message of self-love is completely inconsistent with The Blacker the Berry, ostensibly a demand for racists to try and love others. A racist is always concerned with self-love. In fact, they’re incapable of exhibiting love for others. “You hate me don’t you? You hate my people / your plan is to terminate my culture” raps Kendrick.

But the “hypocrite” line can only be properly understood at the songs conclusion. It’s rare for a rap song to contain a twist. But this is the Sixth Sense in mp3 form. This review should probably come with a spoiler warning. “So why did I weep when Trayvon Martin was in the street? When gang banging make me kill a nigga blacker than me? Hypocrite!” Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Chabon has significantly annotated this line for rapgenius.com. Chabon recognises this as a rhetorical device where the “hypocrite” line that is peppered throughout the song only becomes meaningful in retrospect. He likens it the reveal in Common’s classic I Used To Love H.E.R when we are told that the ‘girl’ is hip-hop itself. That’s the hip-hop equivalent of “Luke, I am your father.”

Now we realise that Kendrick is not a hypocrite for releasing i and praising self-love. He’s a hypocrite because he demands an end to violence perpetrated against African-Americans, when his own gang violence has resulted in the death of another African-American. Of course, Kendrick is not just referring to himself specifically. He’s referring to all African-American communities and the problem of black on black violence. Kendrick recently made some controversial comments concerning the Ferguson riots. “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.” Kendrick brings it back to self-love and self-respect.

The message is powerful. It’s polarising. Kendrick raps like a pro. The production is fierce. There’s little doubt that K-Dot’s sophomore will be the finest hip-hop album of the year.