“To be, or not to be, that is the question” – William Shakespeare
“I Want You – The Right Way” – Marvin Gaye
My mother used to tell me, when I was young, that she didn’t know if I would, if I were to live long. Because I was black. Because I was male. Because I wondered, talked, and did so much. Because my feelings were unpredictably wild: sometimes unbelievable joy, sometimes unbearable depression, both rooted in childhood trauma and generations of abuse and neglect.
Moreover, my mother knew, stored in the depths of her history, that I–we–live in a land that does not seem to want us or want us the right way, except for entertainment, except for sports, play and jokes, except for our own culture. Because I could be killed, crucified, and crushed, for real, by the ugly and oppressive racism of whites, and the ugly and internalized racism of blacks. Many of us feel this way, whether we say it out loud, as Kendrick Lamar has done so brilliantly and unapologetically on albums like the Pulitzer Prize-winning Curse., or pretty much keep it to ourselves for years, as Kendrick has similarly done since he was a shy and socially awkward boy just like me. As black in America – and especially an urban poor Kendrick focuses so much of his art – it means being a trapped and pimped butterfly with blood-strewn wings as you struggle to fly inside a concrete box.
This is why Kendrick Lamar is so important. His very spirit gives voice to who we are, especially the experience of the black man, in the way his fellow black male writers Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Amiri Baraka, Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder, August Wilson, and Kanye West are called before him. But, likewise, his art compresses and draws you closer to all people, all identities, because who hasn’t felt brutally lonely just by Kendrick rhymes? Or the exhilarating hunger for freedom aroused by his verbal gifts? Or those kin, mentioned above, we call the joy and depression he relentlessly searches for in his art, sometimes in the same line or song?
But I would be a liar if I did not say that legions of black men and black boys, in particular, are desperately seeking, consciously and subconsciously, for something, someone who can speak for us, not afraid to be us when we are so fearful of being ourselves. Hip-hop has lacked a psychedelic, self-conscious, and self-critical superhero since, well, Kendrick’s last solo album five years ago. To cut and paste some old school sayings, hip-hop has saved a nation of millions, including my life, but we must also respect the fact that hip-hop has been as obscure and socially unknown as reality TV and the worst aspects of social media, for example, for at least two decades The first two of this century. However, Kendrick isn’t perfect, and he wasn’t claimed to be, which is what makes him so refreshing, his untied scars are there for everyone to download: He’s entered into this game as a crazy young, Charles Dickens-like character with a Forrest Gump lucky streak and he has to grow up fast in The flashing spotlight of celebrities and high expectations; Kendrick has been accused of sexism over joints such as “Be humble”; And he certainly used language that made me very upset, including his intense fondness for the n-word and the b-word.
But then I remember the toxic things I said, wrote, and did when I was younger than today, and didn’t really think about every part of humanity either. My hope, as he continues to grow as a man and artist, including with this new album and beyond, Mr. Morale and Big Steppers, is that Kendrick Lamar understands, or will understand, that saving half of the race (if we are talking about the duo), black or human, means that we do not save the entire race, black or human, and that we need much more than limited thinking in the black boys’ club; We need a steady, heavy dose of equal legacies for Zora Neale Hurston, Gwendolyn Brooks, Lorraine Hansberry, Nina Simone, Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Angela Davis, Alice Walker, Bell Hooks, Audre Lorde, Jessica Care Moore, young Lynn Nottage, and the mother of his two children. , Whitney Alford. Or, remember, there wouldn’t be one of Kendrick’s main idols, Tupac Shakur, without a giant woman, human, thinker and verb whose mother Avene Shakur, a Civil Rights Movement Black Panther party mother, was the mother of Tupac’s “Dear Mama.” Her life is important, too.