Has any other musician in Black culture been more relevant this week than Kendrick Lamar? It’d be hard to argue against. Last Sunday (June 28) the Compton rapper opened the 2015 BET Awards by performing the Pharrell Williams-produced “Alright” from his sophomore album To Pimp a Butterfly.” Standing on top of a police car on stage, Lamar spit his bars about how young Blacks will prosper in spite of brutality against them: “We’ve been hurt / Been down before,” he raps.
“We gon’ be alright.” It was empowering and spread a positive message. But like most cultural things, someone from the outside got it twisted. “This is why I say that Hip Hop has done more damage to young African Americans than racism in recent years,” journalist Geraldo Rivera said of the performance on Fox News’ The Five afterwards.
“This is exactly the wrong message.” The following day Lamar released the video for “Alright,” a stunning black and white piece that featured standout scenes with him and his Black Hippy collective riding in a car being carried by white police officers and him heroically flying through his California streets only to be shot down be a policeman. The music video is as timely as ever, with hashtags like #BlackLivesMatter still being spread often and news of Black churches in the Southern U.S burning down becoming less of a surprise as each day passes.
On Thursday (July 2), Lamar responded to RIvera’s criticism. “How can you take a song about hope and turn it into hatred,” Lamar wondered aloud to TMZ. “You can’t dilute the overall message. Hip Hop is not the problem. Our reality is the problem. This is us expressing ourselves. Rather [than] going out here and doing the murders myself, I want to express myself in a positive light the same way other artists are doing. Not going out in the streets, go in the booth and talking about the situation and hoping these kids can find some type of influence on it in a positive manner.” The response was thoughtful, to say the least.
And now as America eases into its long weekend of celebrating the supposed best ideals of its 50 states over barbecue fixings, Lamar is still working. On Sunday he’ll wrap his 7-day Black superhero art expo of sorts by headlining the closing night of the Essence Festival. The Super Dome will be packed with his extended family—African Americans as loaded on Creole cooking as they will be on Black Pride. Who better to send them off to their hometown and back to the real world, where things can be rough just because you’re brown? Lamar’s sure to make us feel alright.