Now as you may know I love conscious rap, something with a message but I also love raucous rap. Bars. One person anointing themselves as the greatest alive. And to me, one stands alone.
The rap game has been blessed recently, first we had Drake and Meek Mill going at it, and then we were gifted with ShETHER by Remy Ma which might be one of best diss tracks of all time, but that is a topic for another day.
The ability of rap to influence popular culture has never been more evident and with that comes responsibility and opportunity. I applaud the efforts of people like J Cole, Kendrick Lamar and Chance the Rapper who speak on issues like Christianity, politics and racism but what about sexism.
As excited as I am for his upcoming album (April 7th can’t come soon enough) and the battles that it may inspire if, The Heart Part 4 is anything to go by, I am also wary. As a fan of all the aforementioned artists, there is a part of me that doesn’t want to see anyone lose face, however satisfying the ensuing rap battle may be but that is my issue. The other thing I am weary of is the collateral damage or missed opportunities this hypothetical battle could produce.
Hip-hop has long been an outlet of black excellence and a mouthpiece to voice the struggles of existing in a world unkind to you by virtue or your appearance but it hasn’t always been kind to women and the struggles described are often singular and unkind to the fairer sex. I’m not calling anyone a misogynist, I am just saying that the culture can improve and I would like to use Kendrick’s latest song, HUMBLE. as a teachable moment.
I love the aesthetic of the song (as you can tell by the way it is plastered through this post).
But as with all things, it is not perfect. Looking at the second verse
The above section is powerful because he seems to be sympathising with the pressures women face to show perfection to the world and encouraging them to embrace their imperfections which is noble and something he has done in the past, in No Makeup (Her Vice) where he espouses similar sentiments.
The problem comes in the next line
Now I will admit this line passed right by me the first few times I heard this song because it has become normalised to think of women in regard to men. I struggled when I came across this thread to think of a (black in this case) woman who I was unrelated to and whom I showed affection to recently that was not sexual or because of something they had done for me. In the first paragraph, Kendrick has correctly highlighted the issue but seems to imply the reason he can sympathize is because he finds natural women attractive. This reasoning is the same issue I have with men who say they are feminists because they have mothers, sisters, partners etc. Women should not need to derive their value from what they provide men, a true friend or ally doesn’t love only if you are giving them something.
Furthermore another key issue is highlighted, the acceptable face of blackness.
First things first, I have no ill will toward the model in the video. I take no issue with her shade of melanin and I am in no way questioning her blackness. I wish her even more success.
My point is that it is a well-known secret that lighter skin is in vogue, this goes back to slavery and the concept of house and field slaves. House slaves tended to be lighter while their field contemporaries were darker and often did more of the manual labour. This is the basis for many of the stereotypes we hold presently in terms of light skinned people being more delicate and dark skinned people more rough and strong. Furthermore, the perceived preference of light skinned people by white people and their better treatment consequently served to stokes the flames of discontent and encourage practices like skin bleaching in an attempt to become fairer.
How does this relate to Kendrick, in talking about his preference for natural women, only a certain type of ‘natural’ is displayed. It might seem minor but there are a wide variety of black women of different shades, hair textures, and body shapes so his portrayal of this natural women perpetuates the idea of a standard of beauty as unattainable for some as the photoshop he is so against.
In the above shot, there is a wider selection of black women and had this or a similar shot been used as the visual for Show me somethin’ natural like afro on Richard Pryor the point could have been even more profound. Equating different shades of melanin as all equally black and beautiful, which they are.
I really love his music and rap in general but placing one’s head in the sand when you realise something is problematic is never the right thing to do. As the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing I must use my privilege as a man to say something when I see it.
Like I said before, challenging your bias is hard but you can and should critique what you love.
Peace and Love,
Aharoun the Author