Kendrick Lamar’s incendiary new track “The Blacker The Berry” punched a crater into The Internet last night. We’ve been reeling over the lyrics of this one for the last 24 hours, especially that explosive last bar.
It appears that the song has Pulitzer Prize-winning author and screenwriter Michael Chabon shook as well, as he’s offered a lengthy annotation of the ending on lyric site Rap Genius (“So why did I weep when Trayvon Martin was in the street?/ When gang banging make me kill a nigga blacker than me?/ Hypocrite!,”). It reads:
In this final couplet, Kendrick Lamar employs a rhetorical move akin to—and in its way even more devastating than—Common’s move in the last line of “I Used to Love H.E.R.”: snapping an entire lyric into place with a surprise revelation of something hitherto left unspoken. In “H.E.R.”, Common reveals the identity of the song’s “her”—hip hop itself—forcing the listener to re-evaluate the entire meaning and intent of the song. Here, Kendrick Lamar reveals the nature of the enigmatic hypocrisy that the speaker has previously confessed to three times in the song without elaborating: that he grieved over the murder of Trayvon Martin when he himself has been responsible for the death of a young black man. Common’s “her” is not a woman but hip hop itself; Lamar’s “I” is not (or not only) Kendrick Lamar but his community as a whole. This revelation forces the listener to a deeper and broader understanding of the song’s “you”, and to consider the possibility that “hypocrisy” is, in certain situations, a much more complicated moral position than is generally allowed, and perhaps an inevitable one.
Choban’s deep understanding of metaphor shines through in his annotation.
Kendrick’s got a penchant for playing five or six moves ahead with his concepts and sending the world into a panic every time he releases a song, and if the dichotomy between last year’s self-affirming “i” and this truthfully bleak cut is proof, then Kendrick’s next is gonna need more space to punch holes in our minds. Listen to the track above.