Kendrick Lamar and the Erasure of Black Women
By Arielle Newton
Kendrick Lamar is my favorite New School rapper. His lyrical prowess alongside his masterful production, is an honorable change to the predictable pop-tainted “bars” that defines mainstream hip hop today. But recently, the man who I thought to be a creative revolutionary, is causing me Black feminist angst.
There was the sidestep to respectability politics when, in an interview with Billboard, he blamed Mike Brown for his own death. The fact that he expressed such views to Billboard — a platform known to explicitly cater to white audiences — was problematic; sidelining the transcendent lyrical technician to the confines of a Good Negro.
People also took issue with his defense of Iggy Azalea, a woman known for her racial insensitivity and cultural appropriation. In the same interview, he remarked:
“Do your thing, continue to rock it, because obviously God wants you here.”
His words sparked an awkward three-way Twitter joust between Lupe Fiasco, Kid Cudi, and Azealia Banks; a feud I paid little attention to because Kendrick wasn’t a part. Instead, I honed in on Kendrick’s words themselves. As a man who’s extremely conscious and intentional in his thoughts and the language he uses to express them, I was both curious and frustrated with his lack of nuance or philosophical depth such loaded words required.
He did not comment on the ways in which Iggy Azalea’s inclusion in rap music is smeared with white privilege, nor how Black male rap moguls like T.I. and Snoop Doggmade extremely profitable careers off misogynoir towards Black women, but cape for Iggy Azalea without a second thought.
Kendrick stayed quiet about how malicious it is to the People and the Culture to see a whack rapper lauded as one of the best female hip hop artists just because she’s white. He should know. He got snubbed in favor of Macklemore at last year’s Grammys after all.
He insulted my race and my gender, but I kept it moving. I still loved him, and impatiently awaited his next album. I embraced “i,” the debut statement which captured the spirit of Black self esteem and authentic Black culture. And the cameo of Ronald Isley, whose “That Lady” was expertly sampled, solidly bridged the generational gap between Black music of then and now.
And then there’s “The Blacker the Berry,” another statement that aroused my pro-Black consciousness. With emotive lyrics, striking imagery, and an excerpt from the famous Malcolm X speech, Kendrick’s statement on Black self-hate was an ingeniously woven tragedy.
Today, Kendrick announced the title and cover art of his fourth album, To Pimp a Butterfly, due to hit shelves March 23rd.
Clearly, the cover is contentious for many reasons. A rough depiction of an American government overthrow; a Black revolution ensconced by the caricatures of thugs and gangstas. Obviously, this provocative artistic portrayal of Black Liberation needs a lyrical backdrop for holistic understanding.
Surrounded by an arguably mongrelized representation of Black males is, what appears, a blonde-haired white female toddler–a subtle nod to the deeply rooted trope of sexually aggressive Black men in relation to white female purity.
And next to that toddler appears a Black woman whose face is hidden by stacks of cash. There’s also a Black woman peeking above the man holding the toddler’s shoulder.
Is Kendrick suggesting that Black women are only visible when there’s a literal proximity to whiteness? Is he suggesting that Black women are literally hidden by profit? Or that Black women are best placed behind a Black man? Who knows.
But through this artwork, it’s strikingly clear that Black Liberation comes when Black men bare it all and sacrifice themselves on the front lines. Black women aren’t leaders, we’re objects whose value is dependent upon where we’re placed.
Maybe I’m being too analytical. But Kendrick Lamar has shown time and time again that he’s extremely intentional in his creative maneuvering; that his craftsmanship is intricately and deliberately designed to tell complex stories stemming from a personal pro-Black ideology.
Kendrick Lamar’s dismissal of Black women is further seen in the latest Rolling Stone cover where a woman who appears either white or racially ambiguous, is braiding his hair.
A white-ish woman. On a white-centered magazine. Braiding the hair of a revolutionary Black man. Sigh.
I still love Kendrick Lamar, and will be one of the first to purchase his album when it drops. But are we — Black women — his Sherane; beings who, in times, of ignorance are sexual temptresses but in times of ascension, antagonists? I do not believe Kendrick Lamar hates Black women. But I do think he’s had experiences that’s sullied his understanding of us, and this miscomprehension plays out in his creative endeavors.
Photo: Rolling Stone