Praise the unapologetic blackness of Kendrick Lamar and Beyonce
THE SANTA CLARA
February 18, 2016
With “Compton” written across a silhouette of Africa behind him, Kendrick Lamar brought his six minute Grammy performance to a close. In his few minutes onstage, Kendrick taught us a lesson in racism and the black experience.
His mission came through crystal clear the minute he and his backup dancers appeared on stage, shackled, chained and surrounded by cages. He opened with “Blacker than Berry,” then moved onto a rendition of “Alright,” a blazing bonfire serving as a backdrop for frustrated, forceful dancing. On stage alone under frantic, flashing lights, Kendrick finished off with a rap about the killing of Trayvon Martin nearly four years ago. He did not mess around.
The Grammys boast that they don’t have the Oscar’s diversity problem, but they aren’t nearly as great at rewarding minority artists as they think they are. Sure, they made room for Kendrick’s performance and have nominated minority artists, but that’s a low standard of progress they’re achieving. Historically black-influenced categories like R&B and Hip-Hop are underrepresented at the live ceremony and minority artists rarely grab big wins.
So it’s unsurprising that Kendrick’s “To Pimp a Butterfly” lost Album of the Year to Taylor Swift’s “1989,” her self-proclaimed attempt at making a “pure pop record” (i.e. dispassionate and inoffensive—the most cuttings of lyrics proclaiming “Band-aids don’t fix bullet holes”). It’s not the first time this has happened to Kendrick either. In 2014, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis took home the Best Rap Album award over Kendrick’s similarly acclaimed “Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City.” At least he snagged that award this year.
Beyoncé, like Kendrick, did not win Album of the Year at last year’s Grammys, losing in a shocking upset to Beck’s “Morning Phases.” While people were quick to defend Beck’s win for his totally self-made album, remember that his last great contribution to mainstream music was 1994’s “Loser” and his better-than-average album doesn’t change that. On the other hand, Beyoncé’s self-titled album executed a critically praised production with a substantive exploration of sexuality, motherhood, marriage and feminism—not even mentioning its game-changing surprise release and accompanying short films.
Beyoncé likewise toted a message of black empowerment at her controversial Super Bowl performance. She and an array of black dancers came out to the field dressed in outfits modeled after the Black Panther Party, a misunderstood group committed to supporting the black community through service work but slandered for speaking boldly against racial injustice. Beyoncé performed her new song “Formation,” an unapologetic anthem to the singer’s black womanhood that nodded to the Black Lives Matter movement as well as the aftermath for black victims affected by Hurricane Katrina.
Artists like Kendrick and Beyoncé should already have major Grammy awards like Album of the Year on their mantles. But they don’t. This won’t likely change at next year’s Grammys, but their performances transcend the confines of their mediums.
The songs, performances and the spotlight they’re putting on their subject matter signal a change in black storytelling. It’s not about the award—though they deserve it—it’s about the message. It’s about the arrival of artists not afraid to express their heritage and stand up for their culture.
We are in a new age. The country’s first black president is closing in on his eighth year of leading the nation, activism from black leaders has reached a high not seen since the heyday of the Civil Rights. America is waking up to the discrimination minorities face everyday.
This is change, and artists like Kendrick Lamar and Beyonce are lending the cause their star-power and bold, innovative voices. Award or not, give them recognition so those they represent can be heard too.
Contact Perla Luna at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.