Kendrick Lamar’s Powerful Grammy Performance
Rapper Kendrick Lamar performed an “amazing,” “fiery,” “very controversial,” performance (as some viewers called it) at the Grammys on Feb. 15, 2016. The reason for the many mixed reviews was due to Lamar’s visuals, lyrics, and choice of costume.
Jazz music played as Lamar walked out in shackles and a blue prison uniform, followed by a line of black men in the same costume. A saxophone player played behind prison bars, and the lighting was dark and intense.
As Lamar reached the mic, he wrapped his cuffs around it and sang, “I’m the biggest hypocrite of 2015,” which are lyrics to his song “The Blacker The Berry” on his album To Pimp A Butterfly. “The Blacker The Berry” expresses black internal struggles while living in a white dominated society. It also sparked much controversy to the Black Lives Matter movement. Lyrics state, “I mean, it’s evident that I’m irrelevant to society. That’s what you’re telling me: Penitentiary would only hire me.” Hence, why Lamar walked out leading a line of black “convicted” men, to illustrate how society views black men as gang bangers, violent, and worthless.
Sound effects that illustrated gun shots played throughout the song, and every time the black men heard these sounds, they would flinch. Perhaps, this is to represent how black men constantly feel violently targeted by society.
He proceeds to describe black stereotypes, which unfortunately, have become society’s truth. White society views blacks in a way more suitable to them. And whatever “version” of blacks they come up with, ends up being the “right” one because ultimately, whites have the upper hand and final say.
“My hair is nappy, my dick is big, my nose is round and wide You hate me don’t you? You hate my people, your plan is to terminate my culture You’re fuckin’ evil I want you to recognize that I’m a proud monkey”
He ends the first verse of “The Blacker The Berry” with, “You made me a killer. Emancipation of a real n****.” During a transition period, Lamar raps, “As we proceed to give you what we need. Trapped our bodies but can’t lock our mind.” The black men begin to take off their shackles, which symbolize they are becoming free from the restraints society has put on blacks. The men begin to partake in tribal dancing that illustrates African heritage.
Lamar stumbles towards the next stage in a dazed state. This stage hosts a giant lit fire, surrounded by tribe members and the previous line of men in uniform. Lamar starts to rap “Alright,” which is also featured in To Pimp A Butterfly. “Alright” gives hope to people of color dealing with internal and external racial struggles. “We gon’ be alright,” is a statement providing positivity to people of color. It illustrates how far blacks have come, and how they will continue to grow and prosper.
The brightness of the fire symbolizes positivity, hope, and passion. As the people surrounding the fire dance in-sync, they symbolize unity, support, and family.
He ends with, “I don’t talk about it, but everyday I see.” Meaning, just because it’s not being said, doesn’t mean race-inflicted violence, discrimination, and hatred isn’t happening. It is happening, and it’s up to us to say something about it.
Lamar stumbles back to the other side of the stage. It’s just him and the spotlight. The bruise on his face is more evident now than before. He’s wounded by what is happening in the world today. “It’s been a week, feeling weaker already.”
He raps a tribute to 17-year-old Travon Martin who was shot and killed by a neighborhood watch captain. “On Feb. 26 I lost my life too…That was me yelling for help when he drowned in his blood… And for our community do you know what this does? Add to a trail of hatred… Set us back another 400 years, this is modern-day slavery…”
The fast camera action shows the intensity of the moment, along with his fast paced rapping.
The last image we see is a picture of Africa with the word Compton in the middle, perhaps to symbolize that Lamar “is Africa.”
The performance received a standing ovation. Some knew exactly what they were standing for, while others simply stood because other people did.
You can watch Lamar’s powerful performance here.