New Kendrick, produced by Boi-1da.
After claiming two Grammys for his feel good track ‘i’, Kendrick Lamar did a complete 180 and dropped a bomb. “The Blacker The Berry” keeps the same theme — self love, but rather than looking in, describes the world around him.
Assassin turns up (literally) for the hook, while Boi-1da & Terrace Martin handle the boards. Kendrick meanwhile, channels the late Tupac Shakur — the song has already drawn comparisons to Pac’s “Holler If You Hear Me”. Considering this is only a sample of what’s to come from the Compton MC, trust that 2015 is going to belong to Kendrick Lamar.
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.
Jayson Greene, writing for Pitchfork:
“You hate me don’t you? I know you hate me as much as you hate yourself.” Kendrick Lamar’s first major statement since he released “i” in September is as fierce and discordant as that song was naïve and sweet. But both are flip sides of the same coin—the issue of self-love. It is clearer than ever, as his follow-up to good kid, m.A.A.d city takes shape in public, that Kendrick considers self-love—it’s absence, its persistence even in the face of overwhelming societal discouragement—his great subject, the reason he’s rapping. “i” was the song that gazed at the clouds, that looked deep within for reasons to love oneself. “The Blacker the Berry” balefully surveys world around him.
It’s a performance of abandonment, and part of how it flattens you is with control and discipline: His cadence runs roughshod over the beat, hitting it the way a sprinting foot hits pavement—at angles, irregularly, and with a painful muscle-twisting sense of urgency. His lines cut through everything, abandoning his occasional tendency to fill up lines with melodious filler syllables: “I mean, it’s evident that I’m irrelevant to society/ That’s what you’re telling me, penitentiary would only hire me.” It might be his most focused and upsetting performance, evoking not just the Pac of “Keep Ya Head Up” but the righteous firebreather of “Holler If Ya Hear Me”. We’re listening.