« Dissect

S1E15 – The Blacker the Berry (Part 1) by Kendrick Lamar

2016-12-13

We continue our serialized analysis of Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly by dissecting "The Blacker the Berry."

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Welcome to dissect long for musical analysis broken into short, digestible episodes. I'm your host Cole Kushner today. We continue our serializable nation of to pimp a butterfly by Kendrick Lamar, we're currently in the midst of the album's fourth act, which was titled the butterfly sheds light after an encounter with God in South Africa, on how much a dollar cost Kendrick embrace his leadership role on our law. episode. We explored complexion, a song which Kendrick speaks Dirai delete his community on the complexities of colorism complexion concludes with rhapsodize reference to bloods and crips, followed by a cryptic, Silala Kwei performed by
Kim Self. Please we all on the same team, lose the power rules, no colors anything. The babies were no yeah team owners that don't play fashion. I get out the car. I see some of the more it's worse, the land of the land mines, the hell that so earth. Remember the songs mama how much a dollar cost in complexion, showcase, Kendricks experiences and lessons learned in South Africa The soliloquy at the end of complexion represents his narrative return to the states having gained a broader respective in Africa. He seeing Compton and props all inner cities like Compton. In a new light, he painted grim portrait of barefoot babies in teenage gun, toters that navigate the land of the land mines, the hell,
it's on earth. Kendricks choice of using barefoot babies seems to be a calculator rep in tation of innocence. Trapped in the hellish environment, These babies are set up to become gun, toters that don't play fair or lack certain moral values by the time, they're teenagers, the conditions of Compton, described as the hell on earth seems to be environmental manifestation of Lucy, the devil incarnate, if you recall from the very first episode of dissect. We spoke at length about the systemic racism that caused competent transition from a nearly all white agricultural city to the territorial conflict, ridden inner city described on good kid mad city. This brief politically sets. We set the stage for the album's next track, the blacker, the berry
I said that just like us last summer, block wall is this year by the company blocks seems to be the antithesis of complexion is to in his raspy and seating, while complexion is vibrant and warm, a while their tone may differ drastically both deal with the complexities of black identity in contemporary society. And as we'll see by the end of our analysis, their impact may be best measured Viewed as two sides of the same coin, a large from representation of the contrast in duality theme. We spoke on seven, times throughout the season. There's a lot and pack on this incredibly potent song
so much so that I chose to split this episode in two parts today will explore the blacker, the berry's narrative and diverted. a few areas of historical significance alluded to in its lyrics and our next episode When I discussed the songs, controversial reception places and within the Albs narrative arc, as well as speculate on whether or not Kendrick actually killed someone. So without further ado, let's all take a deep breath and let I sex the blacker. The berry was pre use by cause and boy wonder the latter. Most known for his work with Drake. It also features an ultra produced by Terra smarten, The song's introduction finds Kendrick mumbling to himself a series of collecting ideas about his black identity. If for shadows, one of the song central themes, a concept called double consciousness,
Kendrick begin saying everything black, I don't want black. I want everything black I mean black, some white, some black, I mean black. I want everything black Kendrick is expressing the contradiction he feels about his black identity. On one hand, he takes pride in his blackness, wants everything black on the other. He feels insecurities or perhaps resentment towards it. Doesn't black this contrast in duality of black identity parallels the idea of double consciousness. The term was coined by black scholar, web du Bois and his one thousand nine hundred and three book the souls of black folk.
It describes the internal conflict experience by oppressed groups living in an oppressive society, in other words black people and White America? The boy arg that attempting to reconcile your african heritage being raised in a white european, dominated society post psychological challenges describing double consciousness. The boy writes it is a peculiar sensation. This double consciousness, the sense of always looking at oneself through the eyes of others, a measuring one soul by the tape of the world. That looks on an amused, contempt and pity. One ever feels his Tunis, an American, a negro, two souls, two thoughts: two on reconciled strivings, two warring ideals, and one dark body whose dog strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder. The history of the american negro is the history of this strife. This longing to attain self conscious, manhood to merge his doubles
self into a better and true herself in this merging he which is neither of the old cells to be lossed. He does now wish to africanize America for America's too much to teach the world in Africa. He went bleach his negro blood and a flood of White Americanism. For knows that negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a negro in an American without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of opportunity closed roughly in his face. Kendrick is able to express this somewhat complex idea of double consciousness with extreme brevity and clarity. I want everything black. I need black. His performance of these lines, which are akin to speaking under one's breath, could be interpreted as the internal thoughts and conflicting feelings of black identity. He lives with every day interjected between these,
a four line, poem of sorts sung by Lalah Hathaway. Let's listen again to the introduction, focusing our attention on these lines, Hathaway sings. They want us to bow down to our knees and pray to a god that we don't believe. I believe the perspective here is from Black America. Speaking on the force conformity into white european dominate. Society and implies that White America's historically shown to desire minorities to conform to their cultural assumptions, be it religion, economy, governmental or otherwise. Of. These assumptions were established in the during the country's inception. I which point white supremacy was prevalent and blacks had no say in defining anything. Hence the line, pray to a god that we don't believe
We're going to listen to the introduction one last time on this listening, let's hear from the perspective of not Kendrick nor Black America, but White America, everything black one, all things black, I don't need black, want everything, blacks, don't need. Blacks are rising black. I own black, owned everything black. We can very easily interpret this introduction from the perspective of contemporary White America. One one hand, acceptance celebrate certain ask.
pics of Black America, yet rejected misunderstand others. The last lines I own black on everything black certainly calls to mind the sports and entertainment industries that are dominated by black participants yet play on teams or assigned to labels owned by mostly wealthy white men. The Production is followed by a brief bridge, the bridge to pick the right given the times and subject matter, we're safe to assume
Kendrick could be referencing any number of riots inside cited by the killings of unarmed black men like Trayvon, Martin or Michael Brown. The bridge begins six in the morning fire in the street. It sets the scene but also pays homage to West Coast, rapper ice T and his one thousand nine hundred and eighty six track six in the morning six hundred in the morning police at my door fresh to be this week across my bathroom floor. Even get a chance to grandma, always told tape mad with no music for happy could freeze and the streets to a player is the place to be gotta, not in my pocket way. At least the next line in the bridge burn baby burn. That's all I want to see again paints a vivid picture of a riot.
It also pays Thomas yet another West Coast icon Magnificent Montague. The radio dj who helped popularize soul music, in LOS Angeles in the nineteen sixties. His catch phrase burn baby burn. Inadvertently became the rally cry during the nineteen. Sixty five watts riots in LA want to Q was disheartened by his catch phrase, being appropriated to incite destruction and so began. Saying learn baby learn. Instead, the bridge continues quote, and sometimes I get off watching you die in vain. It's such a shame. They may call me crazy
They may say I suffer from schizophrenia or something but homie you made me. It would seem that part of Kendrick is enjoying or getting off on the carnage she's witnessing as well here throughout the versus Kendrick Harbors, deep rooted resentment towards America, Kendricks double consciousness and conflicting feelings cause some to label him crazy or schizophrenic. When he counters with homie. You made me he then says Black, don't crack, which is a phrase that typically refers to the absence of wrinkles and aging black skin. Here it seems kinda is using it as a term of defiance. Then, in the face of being labeled schizophrenic, he refuses to change it. Just Stingley enough skits in the route of schizophrenic means to split or crack. After this brief,
Bridge first one begins on the biggest hypocrite in twenty fifteen. What the finish this businesses will convey. Just what I mean the feeling this way since our sixteen came to my senses, you never like to send away for your friendship. I meant it. I'm African American, I'm african black, is the moon. Every teacher was smart for this part of my residents came from the bottom of mankind. My hair is nappy. My dick is big. My nose is rounded wise. You hate me, don't you get my people? Your plan is to terminate an interview with rolling stone. Kendrick revealed that the beginning sketches of the blacker, the berry's versus written in two thousand and thirteen. He was on tour flipping through
channels on his tour bus. When he saw a news report about the killing of unarmed sixteen year old, Trayvon Martin Kendrick said quote it just put a whole new anger. Inside of me, it made me remember how I felt being harassed. My partners being killed. Kendrick is alluding to the altercations he and his friends had with police, while a teenager in Compton. In the same interview, Kendrick recalls several occasions. Police had pointed guns at him, as well as when his good friend Dt was shot and killed by police officers. He said quote to be someone with a good heart and to still be harass as a kid. It took a toll on me soon, you're, just saying, fuck everything. First, one of the blacker the berry opens with the line I'm the biggest hypocrite of twenty fifteen. Once I finish, this witnesses will convey just what I mean each of the songs three versus will begin this way, similar to the technique used in how much a dollar cost the line sets up. The dramatic twist reveal
at the end of the song also practicing each verse with hypocrisy. Kasa cast a shadow over the remainder of the verse. It causes the listener to have their guard up. Should we take the name we are seriously? Does he mean when he says Kendrick continue? the verse saying been feeling this way. Since I was sixteen came to my senses,. Kendrick seems to be aligning himself with sixteen year old, Trayvon, Martin wraps. Knowing what happened to Martin could have easily happen to him growing up in Compton. Next comes a line. You never like this anyway. Fuck your friendship, I meant it. Kendrick is addressing America. Perhaps more specifically White America is alluding to the historic struggle of race relations in this country. While the government can declare black history month and make Martin Luther King Day a national holiday, their attempts of
friendship or making nice hasn't resolved the real issues plaguing Black America. Kendrick then says: I'm African American, but then quickly retract. That statement saying I'm african and black is the moon heritage of a small village. Part of my residence again to Debas double consciousness comes find here, Kendrick is attempting to reconcile his fractured identity of an african live in a European dominated society where he feels he's viewed as per LIVE or unevolved. This center is further express at the next lines. Came from the bottom, the mankind, my hair is nappy. My dick is big. My nose is rounded wide, Hendrick elaborate
on these motives is verse. One continued made me. Don't just get my peoples. Your plan is to terminate my coach. You fucking need. Flour, won't it'll, recognize that I'm a crowd. Must you give me laugh my perception for Kate, I stare from it, and this is Lloyd. The confession that mean on my printer button. Just so you know my discretion on garden. Warfare, listen notice, you sell it ever says my community makers and Jim. Are you made me a killer in masturbation number real number it continues his scaling assault on White America with lines like you hate my people. Your plan is to terminate my culture you're fucking, evil. I want you to recognize that I'm a proud monkey, you vandalize my perception but can't take style from me. Kendrick remains prideful in his blackness and calls out the hypocrisy of America for appropriating the creations and cultural innovations of black culture or continually degrading or slandering their perception from slaying to dabbing. Today,
Dance moves, it seems, white cultures, where creations of black cultures go to die. One rather interesting line comes near the end of verse. One Kendrick says I'm guarding my feelings. I know that you feel it after what seems like an unfiltered attack, thus far in verse, one. We might wonder what feeling It could be guarding knowing what we know about Kendrick. We might guess pain and insecurity. Many thus lash out in anger as a defense mechanism, when feeling hurt, as it's an easier, less vulnerable emotion, to convey Hendrick work, stored, the verses and with lines like you sabotaged my community, making a killing, you made me a killer, here we can again cite the war on drugs and the CIA's involvement in supplying LOS Angeles, with crack cocaine and weapons which led to communal degradation and violence. The versus closing line is emancipation of a real Edward. The word emancipation is, of course, embedded with connotations of freeing the slaves in the 1860s
Are Kendrick argues that is true emancipation as a black man. A real word comes from the inevitable expression of his inner frustration. as well as exposing the true motivations of White America. In other words, the gloves are off the mask unveiled. First, one is followed by a precor with the cryptic refrain. one thousand five hundred and twenty nine Wallace Thurman novel of the same name, the blacker, the berry, the sweeter. The juice is typically used as a phrase of black empowerment, as you heard in our last episode, Tupac uses the phrase in the opening lines of keep your head up and anthem. Pendant support supported black women having just heard Kendricks private
sentiments in verse, one we might assume the use of the phrase. The blacker the berry falls in line with its empowering tradition. The twist comes in the pre courses last iteration, which Kendrick says the blacker, the berry figure. I shoot here were forced to reinterpret the phrase now. It means something like the blacker, the berry, the bigger the target sing to the shooting of Trayvon, Martin and others. We can also imagine the sweeter the juice becoming a vivid metaphor for the spilled blood of black men that died by the gonna police officers. Next comes the songs hook.
Performed by jamaican artists. Assassin. Assassin's says they put me in chains because we lack Ragin now big gold chains, full of rocks How you know see the whip left scars on my back, but now we have a big whip parked on the block. He draws parallels to the chains war by slaves, to the chains worn by black men today, as well as the whips, blacks and Jordan slavery to the whips or cars they drive today. It seems to suggest that materialism is the new form of slavery. Calling to mind are numerous discussions about the motives of Uncle SAM
American dream. The season the hook closes with the lines all them them say we doomed from the start. We we black, remember this. Every race starts from the block. Just remember that the clever wordplay of every race start from the block conjures up the beginning of a track meet, but, of course it means race as a human race and block in this case is black. If you go back far enough, we can all be traced back to Africa, as human civilization is thought to have began. Their Kendrick is reminding us that we're all in the sense
black and that's a degraded black person, is to degrade oneself after the songs hook. Verse two begins on the biggest hypocrite in twenty fifteen. What are finished his witnesses will come pages would have made. I mean it's ever. Did that army benefit society. That's what she's telling me penitentiary with only hire me curse me till I'm dead church me with your pic proper size at the Llama features. Another slave in my head, institutional lies with Nick relation and last for super tatian of freedom only living yards. You hate me, don't you! I know you hate me. This much is the verse. once again with the hypocracy line and again we're for so I wonder what Kendrick means biased. He follows the slide with it's evident that are irrelevant to society. That's you're telling me penitentiary, would only hire me curse me till I'm dead church me with your fake sizing that I'm a be just another slave
Head, institutionalized, manipulation and lies. Reciprocation of freedom only live in your eyes. You hate me, don't you Kendrick here is alluding to the US penitentiary system. We're going to take this opportunity to briefly explore that system. The United States has the largest incarceration system in the world, imprisoning about two point: four million people, this accounts for twenty five percent of all in prison people in the entire world, despite the US, only having five percent of the world's population, while people of color make up thirty percent of the US population, they account for sixty percent of those prison incarceration rate for black men is six times higher than white men, and one and three black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime.
the number of prisoners in the. U S has increased four hundred percent since the Reagan era, nearly fifty percent of federal prisoners and eighty percent of state prisoners are locked up for nonviolent drug offense crimes due in part to the war on drugs. Also, during this time, the private prison industry was born. That is privately owned. Prisons contracted by the government to house or inmates it presents I've, seen a dramatic increase in their prisoners. Since the year two thousand, the number of federal inmates in private prisons has risen. A hundred and twenty five percent, the private prison industry, brought in four point eight billion dollars in two thousand fourteen alone. These companies who spend millions each year on Washington lobbyists all Khan
It's with the government that include stipulations like minimum prisoners each year, some which demand ninety percent occupancy at all times. Behind these prison companies are investors like Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, JP, Morgan Chase and others. The majority of politicians in Washington openly accept enormous sums of campaign dollars from the same companies over their careers, Democrats and Republicans alike. The 13th amendment to the constitution abolished slavery and in solitary solitude in the United States accept his punishment for a crime prisoners who are paid for their work, average, zero dollars and ninety three cents to four dollars per day per hour, zero dollars and ninety three cents to four dollars per day. Some states like Texas prisoners, are required to work and do not receive any pay prison systems. Both private and public, are allowed to contract prison labor to private companies,
how many that have, or continue to contract prison labor to increase their bottom line, includes Attx on Mcdonald's, Starbucks, Boeing and many others. There's a lot of money to be made from prison labor with incest, real money flow among politicians, big banks, privately owned prisons in large corporations. One begins to connect the dots. We might begin to draw certain conclusions about the reasons behind our countries in gorged isn't population, the majority of which are people of color. With that fresh in our mind, let's listen again to burst two. The first half will address the discussion we just had about the US penitentiary system in the second half Kendrick will speak on the ambient frustration. Some might feel,
Not a successful black man like himself on the biggest hypocrite in twenty fifteen. What are finished his witnesses will come face is what I've made. I mean it's everyday that army benefits to society is what you're telling me penitentiary with only hire me curse, meter long dead church me with your pic proper size, and then I will teach us another slave. In my head institutionalized with Nick relation in life, precipitation of freedom only living yards. You hate me, don't you! I know you hate me just as much as you hate yourself, gender sell. My wisdom in cards are dealt watching me as I pull up fill up. My tank is Bill ELF muscle cars. They would love to show you. What he's big will sell back. Successful is Batman, Midori special guest scarce on my radar for Shell kinda helps. How can I tell you are making the children you make me a killer? He masturbation over real numbers, despite the odds Kendrick is the successful black man in America are hard pill to swallow for some,
he shows off his wealth with muscle cars in catskin luxury seat covers. He then poses the question. How can I tell you I'm making a killing? It would seem that, because the odds are stacked against him is display of wealth. Is a defiant middle finger to those who work to oppress him? the repetition of the pre chorus and hook. Verse three begins in twenty fifteen. When I finish this, a few listens is sure you will agree with Lattice Piccadilly's generational haitian machina system. His crime is little justification. American american american Black is the heart of a fucking area. Black is the name of their own Antares excuse my French before June. Oh fuck yards discipline is the kids. I know you hate me, don't you break my people? I can tell 'cause his dress. When I see you, I could tell Christian wasted sequel. No, I can tell because she went low with their deaths, equals thinking maliciously he kinda changing you complete them. It's funny how Zulu in Kent
continues. His attack on american society and I lose the historic oppression of black people with the lines DIS plot is bigger than me. This generational hatred later he says I'm black as the heart of a If you remember from our last episode, complexion Pure Aryan was the highest tier of Nazi Germany's racial grading system. Kendrick calls are white hearts black, as they soullessly carried out genocide on six million Jews during world war. Two, the songs narative, takes a turn with the second half of verse. Three up until now, Kendricks held a mirror in front of american society
get large hill now turn that mirror around on himself. It's funny how soon the windows that might go to war to travel, Armistead, wonder, building destroyed remind me any got decrypt kings that live next door before with Pirouz. Only temp settled the score for no matter. How much I say, I'd like to press with the Panthers or tell Georgia state Marcus Garvey got all the answers: a try to celebrate February, like it's my b day or eat, watermelon Chicken and Kool aid on weekdays or jump high enough to give Michael Jordan adjustments on Watch Peteca service support is important. So why did that? We can train from London with Center Street, where Gangbang can make me killer. Nigga blacker than me, Hip Hendrick, begins its anyhow Zulu and exhausted might go to war to tribal.
I want to build and destroy remind me of these Compton Crip gangs that live next door, be fun with pi ruse. Only dust settle the score. Your Kendrick is drawing a parallel between african tribes. Do Lou Ann Exitosa. The two were most recently in conflict in the early nineteen nineties before South Africa democratize in nineteen. Ninety four many feel their political and economic differences which led to violence and killing were fueled, an exaggerated by White apartheid regime. Can you compares the situation to the longstanding feud between comp, the bloods and crips? The creation These gangs was, in part due to the historic oppression of minorities in the United States. Under majority white rule. Kendrick continues the versed questioning his black allegiance with the list of black leaders, black cultural activities and black stereotypes. He
begins with siding two symbols of black pride, saying no matter how much I like to say. I preach with the Panthers or tell Georgia state Marcus Garvey got all the answers. The black panthers influenced by the teachings of Malcolm X, wear a black revolutionary groups,
in the nineteen sixties and known for their aggressive approach to civil rights in the future. The black population in America, Marcus Garvey, made his name in the nineteen twenties as a proponent of black nationalism and PAN Africanism, calling for the separation of races and encouraging the black community to return to Africa. There's a bit of clever wordplay hidden in these lines can check references. Georgia, state university, he performed at two thousand thirteen. The school's mascot is a panther tying into the previous line about the black panthers within cells are influenced by the teachings of Marcus Garvey. The reference is the black culture continue as the first ones to a close talking about black history month. Kendrick says: try to celebrate February. Like it's by B day, you then references watermelon, chicken, Kool aid, Michael Jordan and Bts stereotypical symbols supply.
Culture or Kendricks attempts at blackness seemed genuine. They ultimately leave him unfulfilled. The answer to why is revealed in the verses closing Lines- let's listen one more time, so why did that? We can train from London with city streets where Gangbang can make me killer. Nigga blacker than me himself, what's become a somewhat infamous line. Kendrick So why did I weep when Trayvon Martin was in the street when gangbanging make me kill an Edward blacker than me hypocrite, is a line so explosive that his own song shuts down the beat implodes. Moving into a somber, meditative instrumental, it's thinking, music and allow This is a chance to reflect on what we just experienced. Going to allow you a chance to do just that. I will pick up where we left off next time on dissect.
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