#RidingTheVybz: Kendrick Lamar | “The Blacker The Berry”

By Shalom Little


Kendrick Lamar is a phenomenal artist – one of the few mainstream contemporaries who continues to challenge himself and experiment with his craft sonically and consciously. His song “The Blacker The Berry” is the latest testament to his creative development.

The musical production and arrangement of “The Blacker The Berry” is impeccable; Boi-1da and Terrace Martin are credited as the co-producers. I appreciate the switch-up in the arrangement towards the end of the record. The last change is very reminiscent of how the Robert Glasper Experiment switches playing styles towards the end of their records. this is a welcomed relief to the hard-hitting angst that pounds throughout the record. What pounds more, however, are the elements of conflict and oppression that seep through the pores of my speakers when I listen to this song.
Kendrick opens the proverbial door of controversy with the song’s content. He touches on racism, cultural appropriation, White supremacy, and mental instability seamlessly throughout the song. He not only challenges the offenses of systemic racism but also the lack of love and self-accountability of Black people when dealing with one another; he alludes that these factors may influence how our oppressors form their opinions against us.

Some people voice their dissent against “The Blacker The Berry” and Kendrick Lamar as a person because they feel that his stance on Black-on-Black crime and self-hatred circumvents the conversation of systemic racial violence against Black people (throughout the US as well as the African diaspora).

Personally, I feel that “The Blacker The Berry” is a very relevant record and will continue to be over time. It’s definitely a stand-out record in Kendrick Lamar’s catalog. I do agree that introducing the problematic issue of communal Black violence into a conversation about government-ordained, systemic racist oppression is actually counterproductive. Lamar presents Black-on-Black crime in an almost victim-blaming manner. Without bringing in the context of how governments (specifically the US) historically and currently promote, encourage, and benefit from Black people attacking one another it can seen as irresponsible on Kendrick’s part to even attempt to critique these issues.

HOWEVER. I do respect him for bringing up these topics in this manner because it forces the listening audience to use critical thinking when pondering about ideas dealing with social injustice. People can’t receive a full history on race relations by listening to one song. If one wishes to dive deeper into the cesspool of systemic oppression then they will need in-depth research from multiple sources, i.e. READ BOOKS, build with our elders, check in with our youth, building with people of various backgrounds, hold people of power accountable, over-stand political ideologies, etc.

Artists are not solely responsible for changing and/or fixing societal issues; rather these are some individuals we rely on to present the issues in thought-provoking and entertaining ways; Kendrick Lamar has done so with “The Black The Berry”.

Also, shout out to Tupac Shakur’s opening line in “Keep Your Head Up” as well as Joyce Carol Thomas and Wallace Thurman for the literary references to this “Blacker the Berry” concept generations before current time.


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