Weird. Claustrophobic. Ferocious. Militantly black. Proud. Conflicted. I could be at this all day long and not exhaust the Oxford Dictionary for adjectives describing "King" Kendrick Lamar's head turning "The Blacker the Berry." The dude's grasp of the language and his knowledge of its potency is greater than entire English departments, so you're "better off trying to skydive..." than parse one of his tracks. It's far less of a Herculean effort to sit back and listen, though listening can be taxing too.
That's undoubtedly true of "The Blacker the Berry," which pummels you with Boi-1da's "Funky Drummer" percussion and makes you shiver with the zombiefied guitar circles. It most closely resembles "m.A.A.d. city" in terms of suffocating atmosphere, but even that feels tame in comparison to this. Lamar snarls a lot more on this one and plays into the utter paranoia of it all by suggesting schizophrenia in the intro. It's unnerving when he pointedly asks "you hate me don't you? You hate my people, your plan is to terminate my culture." Where before the city was "maad," now the kid is. And he's not sure what to do.
The "naïf," "idealistic" teen that accompanied us then has rotted into a man who can't come to terms with the fact that he's internalizing all of the racial hatred faced by Black Americans and unleashing it on his "kinfolk." He's weeping over the death of Trayvon Martin, and then killing someone "blacker than me." Whatever preaching he's doing with the Panthers is being negated by penitentiary trips. The chains binding his ancestors now entice Lamar to snatch and run, without the least bit of concern for his fellow man. Arguably that's the greatest tragedy of the Ferguson or Los Angeles riots; entire groups of people feel so "institutionally manipulated" that they stop giving a shit about their own communities. What's the smell of a dead neighbor when the trash has been picked up in weeks?
Despite the savior status he's often tagged with, Kendrick doesn't have any answers on "The Black the Berry." That's not what the song, which pays homage to the similarly conflicted "Keep Ya Head Up," is about. It's all about painful self-reflection, the sort that leaves you realizing "I'm the biggest hypocrite of 2015." If you leave the piece unaffected that's your fault, not Kendrick's. He's doing everything he can to expose generational plots and see through deceits. What other "King" works that hard?
(Details on the new LP are still scarce, but I wouldn't be surprised if it dropped at some point between now and festival season.)