Approaching any great music from the academic perspective does give you a greater understanding, but sometimes it also kills your original personal and subjective connection - which, I'd argue, is just as important. There is no doubt that though my confused mother may have been better informed afterwards, her daily singing and post-divorce connection with Lou Reed’s “I’m Waiting For My Man” was definitely hurt when I took it upon myself to tell her it was about him meeting up with a smack dealer as opposed to a singletons anthem.
Sometimes though, the academic light can give stuff a special new meaning, like The Cultural Impact of Kanye West by Julius Bailey which distilled Yeezy's entire artistic rollercoaster so far into a series of abstract essays, or the University of Missouri's English syllabus which assesses how hip-hop has remoulded the American Dream. This appears to be the aim and result of annotations website Genius (formerly Rap Genius) decision to get Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon analysing the multi-faceted and politically-electrified nature of Kendrick’s latest cut “Blacker The Berry”.
Chabon - known for stitching literary narratives with American history, mysticism and identity - focuses on the final couplet of the rap track; the big reveal which sets you off on a frantic bout of reassessing everything you’ve just heard.
Kendrick's final lyrics were:
So why did I weep when Trayvon Martin was in the street?
When gang banging make me kill a nigga blacker than me?
Read Chabon’s take below:
"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."
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