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How Dancehall Star Assassin Ended Up On Kendrick Lamar’s “The Blacker The Berry”

Assassin tells us the backstory to his explosive collab with Kendrick Lamar.

February 17, 2015

Dancehall deejay Assassin became a household song-credit in 2013 when he added jagged, raspy patois to Kanye West's "I'm In It," the twisted center of Yeezus; his name popped up in major rap circles again this month, when he handled the hook on Kendrick Lamar's fiery new single "The Blacker The Berry." Where his Kanye feature mostly embellished an aesthetic, Assassin cut to the core of Kendrick's cultural indictment of oppression on this latest collab: How dem a say we doomed from the start cause we Black?/ But memba dis, every race start from the Black, just memba dat. Read how the cameo came to below.

How'd this new collaboration with Kendrick come together? I got a call from Kardinal Offishall, who I worked with and who understands my work. He has a relationship with ["The Blacker The Berry" producer] Boi-1da, who reached out to him with a vision for the song in terms of wanting, I guess, a Jamaican perspective. Kardinal suggested, "Yo, put Assassin on there." They sent a demo with a sketch of what they had, including a chorus. I ended up doing my different interpretation, which they ended up using. I was just as surprised as the rest of the world that the whole thing came together.

Kendrick is primarily rapping about a Black American experience, but you bring a different perspective as a Jamaican. Yeah, definitely. That adds to the potency of the record, in terms of having a slightly different perspective from Kendrick's perspective—my Jamaican perspective represents the voice outside of America. That's powerful. I'm happy to be a part of something this groundbreaking and impactful. It's been a couple of days and it's already creating waves in a very positive way.

Do you approach writing for hip-hop differently than you do with dancehall? When ["I'm In It"] came out, that was a new platform I was operating on. I developed a new objective outside of that, which was to try to bridge the gap between hip-hop and dancehall in such a way that dancehall is still there, but audiences that might not understand the patois words in there would still be able to appreciate striking the balance without compromising the authenticity of my art, which is the Jamaican perspective. On "The Blacker the Berry," I got closer to what that might sound like. The lyrics are just enough English so you could understand, but there's enough patois to keep it authentic. Melody-wise, you have a texture that people can still understand fully what is happening. I'm excited about opportunities to fine-tune that balance—we've already covered good ground.

How Dancehall Star Assassin Ended Up On Kendrick Lamar’s “The Blacker The Berry”