Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Guest Post: Kendrick Lamar to America - "We Gon' Be Alright"

Opinions and love for Kendrick run in the family. My awesome brother, Sam, decided to hop on the ITR mic today to talk about the state of the US and hip-hop's response to it - Kendrick Lamar.

It’s been a tumultuous month in the United States, beginning with the atrocity in Charleston and capped with the landmark ruling on same-sex marriage. It’s a country exhausted and divided, which is made evident when you consider the three major appearances the United States president made in the past two weeks: one deflated address after lives lost, one elated speech after love won and one urging his citizens to find grace in their current circumstance.

Needless to say, Americans have desperately been needing reassurance that things will get better.

Enter Kendrick Lamar. During his astonishing performance of his new single "Alright" at Tuesday’s BET Awards, Lamar - one of the most important artists of our generation - drove that point home every time he chanted "We gon' be alright." As a known hip-hop messiah from Compton, always giving voice to the voiceless, Kendrick’s song undoubtedly means a lot to many people already. But it took on another manifestation when performed that night, this year, during an era of seemingly constant chaos in the United States.

As much as he is being dubbed the voice of a generation by supporters, Kendrick is also labelled dangerous by detractors. Most recently, by Geraldo Rivera and the ever-enraging FOX News panel. I came across this "discussion" of Lamar’s “Alright” while looking for the accompanying (and widely celebrated) music video. Urging the masses to "wake up," Geraldo claims that "hip-hop has done more damage to young African-Americans than racism in recent years." FOX highlights the song’s lyrics "we hate po-po" and "my gun might blow" in bold letters across the screen, and then state that these are "Lamar's views on police brutality" - punctuating the diatribe with a smug, smiling mockery of his slang pronunciation of the words "for sure." Here is the full verse from “Alright”:

Wouldn't you know/ We been hurt, been down before/ N*gga, when our pride was low/ Lookin' at the world like, "Where do we go?"/ N*gga, and we hate po-po/ Wanna kill us dead in the street fo sho/ N*gga, I'm at the preacher's door/ My knees gettin' weak, and my gun might blow/ But we gon' be alright.

It’s near useless to pit Kendrick Lamar against someone who thought a hoodie was as much to blame for a teenager's death as the man who pulled the trigger. I find it difficult to believe the two are of the same species. Geraldo and his team missed the point. In a two minute segment riddled with hypocrisy, mockery and faux-anger they manage to both belittle a person and a movement, while at the same time instilling fear and misinformation in their audience.

“Alright” is far from a hateful rant against police brutality, as stated by the panel - it’s a declaration of strength by someone who’s attempting to forge forward amid the confusion. Should they have examined the lines in full, a different picture would have been painted for the viewers. "My knees getting weak, and my gun might blow, but we gon' be alright" lyrically embodies both the literal weak-kneed, gun-toting criminal and a person exhausted by years of degradation, who endures.

This FOX segment is less about Kendrick Lamar's rapping on top of a vandalized police car (a metaphor in itself for rising above violence, which he’s condemned and been lambasted for previously) and more about waving shiny objects to misdirect attention from the larger discussion of race relations in the US. Geraldo emphatically states that it is "the wrong message" to associate the actions of Dylann Roof with the incidents of police brutality of late when they are, quite clearly, the same issue manifesting in different ways.

Now, while the comments on FOX News are disturbing and beyond infuriating, the shining light in the entire debacle remains Kendrick Lamar. We put a lot of pressure on celebrities to provide us with answers in times of worry. As much as some people look to a Kendrick Lamar, Tupac or Bob Dylan for comfort, others turn to Geraldo Rivera and his friends. The glaring difference between these two groups of celebrity soothsayers is that one believes they have the answers while the other asks the questions. I am not looking for answers when I listen to Dylan or Kendrick; they put me at ease because I hear them asking the same questions I am. So, while it aggravates me that Geraldo has pegged Kendrick Lamar and hip-hop as the downfall for the youth, I am put at ease by the fact that Kendrick Lamar and his art make me question 'why?' The old adage that the loudest in the room is the weakest rings true in situations like these, so I am quite content to let Geraldo and his ilk have their convictions while the rest of us keep asking questions.

- Sam Huddleston

The evils of Lucy was all around me
So I went running' for answers.

-Kendrick Lamar

If I wasn't Bob Dylan, I'd probably think Bob Dylan had a lot of answers myself.
-Bob Dylan

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