Chabon likens Lamar’s last line in “The Blacker The Berry” to Common’s “I Used to Love H.E.R.”
Kendrick Lamar unleashed his new single “The Blacker the Berry” two days ago, and the song has already been dissected by a Pulitzer-prize winning author.
Michael Chabon, the writer behind The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and Wonder Boys, annotated a portion of Lamar’s racially charged lyrics for the site Rap Genius yesterday (February 10).
Chabon chose to decode the last lines of the song, in which K. Dot raps “So why did I weep when Trayvon Martin was in the street?/ When gang banging make me kill a nigga blacker than me?/ Hypocrite!”
Throughout the song, Kendrick begins each verse by referring to himself as the “biggest hypocrite of 2015.” He waits until the last line, to let listeners find out why, a rhetorical move that Chabon likens to Common’s “I Used to Love H.E.R.” Chabon writes:
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.
Chabon has annotated 11 songs for Genius, including a variety of his own lyrics from tracks off Mark Ronson’s Uptown Special album.
Check out “The Blacker The Berry” lyrics via Genius. Listen to the audio below:
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