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This Explanation Of Kendrick Lamar’s “The Blacker The Berry” Is Enlightening

Pulitzer Prize author Michael Chabon hones in on the devastating final bars.

February 10, 2015

Michael Chabon, celebrated author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and many more, has joined the ranks of Genius' verified commenters. He's marked up a couple of Mark Ronson songs, and now he's zoned in on the final few bars of Kendrick Lamar's chilling new song "The Blacker The Berry." Those lines—So why did I weep when Trayvon Martin was in the street?/ When gang banging make me kill a nigga blacker than me?/ Hypocrite!—are powerful, he writes, because they flip the script back unto who but Kendrick himself. And the effect is "devastating," he says:

"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."

Photo credit: Christopher Polk/Getty Images

This Explanation Of Kendrick Lamar’s “The Blacker The Berry” Is Enlightening