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By virtue of being a defiant rallying cry of Millenial protestors from Ferguson to Yale University, Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” is the most powerful song of this era. Classic Hip-Hop hooks are marked by universally relatable sentiment ripe for mass recitation, and “Alright” undeniably delivers. Seemingly every week, new footage of Black youth chanting the song’s hook at harassing police goes viral.
Every time I see the videos, I think to myself, “so this is what elders mean by Hip-Hop impacting change.” Critics and fans alike have been calling for music that caters to the Black conscious community, and “Alright” provides that. That said, there is significant irony in Lamar and “New Black” Pharrell delivering the anthem for a movement they’re in fundamental disagreement with. Pharrell and Lamar both have made controversial comments that drew the ire of the Black conscious community. Irregardless, the youth are chanting their song at the very rallies Lamar marginalized. What are we to make of it?
While Pharrell’s presence on “Alright” seems like a right place, right time moment that won’t change his public perception, Lamar needed a record like this. He, unlike Pharrell, is still carving his legacy. “Alright’s” status as the anthem for nonviolent resistance is the crowning achievement of a topsy-turvy 2015 for Lamar, and brings one question to mind: has he redeemed himself from his problematic statements?
In March, Lamar released To Pimp A Butterfly, a versatile, unapologetically pro-Black offering. The album’s producers masterfully fused elements of Funk, Jazz, and Soul with Hip-Hop, and Lamar penned a 360 degree commentary on Blackness. Even with the misfire on “Blacker The Berry,” TPAB delivered food for thought on every track.
Lamar also put on for Hip-Hop with several excellent performances. From his show stealing rendition of “Alright” at the BET Awards, to his stirring set with the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center, he’s made an admirable evolution as a performer.
From instant classic performances to crafting what Vann Newkirk described as “the defacto Negro spiritual of the Black Lives Matter movement,” Lamar has done a lot to potentially re-ingratiate himself to an audience he appeared to throw under the bus. So has he redeemed himself? Not yet, to me. He hasn’t backed off his respectability politics, and he’s apparently one of the two people “here for” Iggy Azalea’s culture vulturing sideshow–including Iggy. Additionally, the misogynoir displayed within TPAB is disappointing.
In his own words, Lamar is “conflicted.” He chases the legacy of Tupac Shakur, who was also a divergent figure, but to this point those shoes aren’t his size. Whereas Tupac had plans for a political party, Lamar is on a “no politics” policy at the outset of a potential revolution. Tupac was conflicted because he was being pulled in a million different directions by people with questionable intentions. Lamar is conflicted because he simply hasn’t done the studying necessary to streamline his worldview.
The Compton MC has solidified his genius when it comes to intricate composition, but those layers are wrapped around problematic pathology he has yet to rectify. For instance, Lamar’s insular content has long intimated that ending the Black struggle in America starts with self-reflection, which is diametrically opposed to the majority of Black activists who believe abolishing white supremacy is of chief importance.
It’s of course his right to grow, but when people are calling him the voice of a generation, like California Senator Dr. Isadore Hall did, he has to be held to a higher standard. Until Lamar decides to takes a real stand on white supremacy, his music won’t have the revolutionary flair he’s so ardently chasing. Activists may sing “Alright” in unison, but once the protest is over, Kendrick is still someone who we’re not even sure is in solidarity with us.
We’ll definitely be alright, but if Kendrick used his platform to be more of an advocate for the people who co-opted his opus as a freedom song, we would be a lot better off.