Why Kendrick Lamar’s new album is preoccupied with Fox News
Damn, King Kendrick has a new album out.
Kendrick Lamar follows his universally lauded 2015 album “To Pimp a Butterfly” with “DAMN.” The new album is packed with thematic overtures and bon mots his fans will parse in the coming days.
His contemporaries, like Future and Drake, may command the charts, but Lamar’s work tends to inspire conversations and dissections. His fans explore his albums like grad students working on term papers. This is because Lamar is dedicated to elevating the stories of what it means to be black in America, often wrapped in religious and political overtones.
As Lamar’s mother says at the end of “Real”: “Tell your story to these black and brown kids in Compton. Let ’em know you was just like them, but you still rose from that dark place of violence, becoming a positive person.”
He allows his albums to unfurl like a movie, like when he included recorded answering machine messages in 2012’s “Good Kid, M.A.A.D City,” or when he imagined a one-on-one conversation with the late Tupac Shakur in “Butterfly.”
In “DAMN.”, one of the threads Lamar tugs is a Fox News discussion over the Compton rapper’s performance of “Alright” at the 2015 BET Awards. The hook from the song: “We ‘gon be alright!” — could often be heard at Black Lives Matter protests.
Watch an extended clip from that 2015 segment below:
The Fox News segment showed clips of Lamar’s performance where he rapped atop a police car and the American flag flapped in the background. An excerpt of the reporters’ back-and-forth leads off this new album, providing the outro to the song “BLOOD.”
“Lamar stated his views on police brutality with that line in the song, quote: ‘And we hate the popo, wanna kill us in the street fo’ sho’ … ‘”
Oh please, ugh, I don’t like it.
Back when the segment aired, Lamar told TMZ Live: “How can you take a song that’s about hope and turn it into hatred? The overall message is ‘We’re gonna be alright.’ It’s not the message of ‘I wanna kill people.'”
Lamar criticizes Fox News at least two more times on the new album, including a moment where Geraldo Rivera, from the same segment, said: “Hip hop has done more damage to young African-Americans than racism in recent years.”
Rivera responded to Lamar on Friday in an 18-minute video posted to Facebook. “I have no beef with Kendrick Lamar,” he said.
“I think too much of hip hop, too much of rap, has really portrayed the cops as the enemy, as the occupying army,” Rivera said. “It’s an us against them, where this very popular powerful art form, this poetry, is being used to really set young people, young minorities, black and Latino principally, against the officers who are sworn to protect them,” he added.
Lamar’s preoccupation with that idea is one that may feel familiar to minorities, and to rappers that came before him. On the subject of police targeting black Americans, Tupac rapped about it, as did N.W.A.
What it feels like to have brown skin — from the disparities in arrests, the longer sentences handed out in court to the systemic racism prevalent in American society — have been long documented by rappers who have tried to keep the stories of their communities in the public consciousness.
And in 2015, at the height of “Butterfly,” Kendrick Lamar did so in a one-off performance alongside the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C. Held at the Kennedy Center, the show happened at a time when the arts center sought to present more hip-hop events than it had in the past.
The audience included people who may not have previously attended a concert at the Kennedy Center, a venue that often stages ballets, operas and other theatrical productions. When Lamar first appeared on stage, lured by the orchestra, he began with a song I’ve heard some say they’d skipped while listening to “Butterfly.”
“This **** ain’t free!” he rapped, as if to say: Did you hear that?