When Art Becomes Political : Kendrick Lamar on Race
After Beyonce’s political message in the Super Bowl performance of her new single “Formation,” hip hop artists have rushed to continue spreading awareness on the subliminal racial war going on in America. The latest being Kendrick Lamar’s epic performance at the 58th Annual Grammy Awards which debuted earlier this week. Speculated to be very controversial by host LL Cool J, Kendrick Lemar delivered a powerful political message through his performance of two selections “Blacker the Berry” and “Alright.” Both tracks off his second album “To Pimp A Butterfly,” illuminated how the social construct of “race” affects the black community mentally and emotionally.
Lamar took the floor, bound by the chains of his ancestor, as he led a mock chain gang to center stage. Surrounded by his band members who were in locked in jail cells, Lamar grabbed the mic with his chained hands and announced explosively, “I’m the biggest hypocrite of 2015.” This line, repeated for emphasis, is the first line of his song, “Blacker the Berry,” which introduces the emotional conflicts of Black America. The controversial narrator in the first verse that Lamar performed is in the midst of self loathing as he criticizes himself for mourning Trayvon Martin while actively engaging in black on black crime. His anguish turned into fury as he realized the true victim is himself and his nation, and he used his newfound power to defiantly confront White America, even going as far to say that he is a proud monkey. He used the term ‘monkey’ as an insulting racial term to compare African Americans during times of slavery and segregation to the animal. As he became proud of his heritage, the dancers were metaphorically released from their chains and allowed to let their inner light shine as their prison uniforms turned to luminescent day-glo attire. Meanwhile, the music changed as bongos and sax play a smooth tune to allow for transition. Lamar in a daze, staggered to the stage right as he rapped, “I’m black as the moon, heritage of a small village,” and consequently was transported there in a dream-like fashion. African performers drummed and danced in their native attire in front of a bonfire as Lamar began “Alright,” a popular anthem of the Black Lives Matter social movement. The fire and display symbolized the culture’s ability to stay strong throughout turmoil while also referencing the destruction and war illusion that the image brings.
For the final stand of the performance, Lamar performed a new song referencing an angry yet shameful demeanor regarding the Trayvon Martin case and stating, “I lost my life too…(it) set us back another 400 years.” As the tempo of music accelerated and the volume increased, Lamar matched its intensity rapping furiously and violently. Painting an image with his words, the audience was able to imagine watching someone through a window as they come home. Suddenly, Lamar transitioned. In conflict with himself he stated, “I’m on a path with my bible.” He lyrically battled with his demons as he struggles with anxiety, sobriety and religion before returning to the imagery of running into the house and killing the figure before driving off. The music crescendos mirroring the chaos that is probably flooding through one’s mind as the camera shows Lamar’s face from different angles. As the music slowed towards the end, an image of the continent Africa with the word Compton inside was visualized. Lamar left us with these words, “Conversation for the nation, this is bigger than us.”
Overall, Lamar delivered a political yet therapeutic message in attempt to address the issues that people do not like to speak upon. His performance transitioned with the culture as he moved from being in bondage to escaping to a utopian dream of racial freedom, before returning to the reality of our society that leads him to insanity. This performance art was meant to spark a flame and lead to conversation on our society’s conflicts.