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Pulitzer Prize Winning Author Michael Chabon Annotates K.Dot's 'The Blacker The Berry'

By HHL Editors

Kendrick Lamar's 'The Blacker The Berry' is certainly the track of the moment; full of black consciousness at a time race relations are in strange place in America. But the song also employs an interesting rhetorical device which renders its own powerful versus somewhat unreliable.

Before each verse Lamar labels himself a hypocrite. Then, in the song's final lines, he explains why: "So why did I weep when Trayvon Martin was in the street?/ When gang banging make me kill a nigga blacker than me?/ Hypocrite!" he raps. (Full lyrics here.)

Pultizer Prize winning author Michael Chabon annotated the song for Rap Genius, which has been attracting some big time annotators lately. Here is his take.

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.
Lamar kicked up some controversy last month when he said this to Billboard mag about the Michael Brown shooting:

"What happened to [Michael Brown] should’ve never happened. Never. But when we don’t have respect for ourselves, how do we expect them to respect us? It starts from within. Don’t start with just a rally, don’t start from looting — it starts from within."
He seems to be hinting at that same sentiment in 'The Blacker The Berry.' Now that you've had a couple days to digest the song, what do you think of it?

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