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Pop Culture The Word 6 minute read

Kendrick Lamar & J. Cole: Role Modelz & Leaders

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My mom would walk in from work wearing all the signs of an annoyed woman:  tight lips, raised shoulders, eye-cutting every time that she had to walk over one obstacle course of wires strewn unattractively over her living room floor.  When I was little girl my dad strung together, with gold covered wires, various speakers; and placed them throughout the main living area of our home.  There would be speakers behind chairs and curtains, mounted on walls and stuck in book shelves so he could really hear his music.  My dad created his own surround sound system before places like Best Buy even existed.  Music was his drug.

Music announced his presence in the home. If he was there; music was playing: Miles Davis, Roberta Flack, Marvin Gaye, B.B. King and Jimi Hendrix made up my childhood lullaby.

So, it’s no wonder that I, like many kids do, followed his lead and inherited his addiction. I must have my music—all genres.  Like most addictions, it pushes me to what some may consider strange places and has certainly made temporary friends of people whom are very different from me.  For instance, my middle-aged butt recently attended the J.Cole and Kendrick Lamar concerts (concerts that some would say are better suited for my teenage sons).

What I observed at both has been fascinating.

I have watched 2 Black men stand on stage, performing to audiences that are 95% Asian, Latino, and White millennials, who are enthusiastically, loudly singing the words to song after song.

Last night, at Kendrick Lamar’s Damn show, when the lights lowered and indicated that the show was about to begin, the stadium started chanting, “Kendrick, Kendrick, Kendrick!” My friends and I had abandoned our nosebleed seats and snuck into a VIP section filled with 20-something Indian and Chinese American students on the right side of the concrete stairs and White male, skater-boy dressed teens on the right.  Not one of them sat down the entire concert. They jumped, fist bumped, swayed, and rapped along with Kendrick, a man, small in stature, wearing a orange prison suit, with braids circled about his head in a style similar to the seats in the stadium.

You never liked us anyway, fuck your friendship, I meant it
I’m African-American, I’m African
I’m black as the moon, heritage of a small village
Pardon my residence
Came from the bottom of mankind
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
You vandalize my perception but can’t take style from me

I said they treat me like a slave, cah’ me black
Woi, we feel a whole heap of pain, cah’ we black
And man a say they put me in a chain, cah’ we black
Imagine now, big gold chain full of rocks
How you no see the whip, left scars pon’ me back
But now we have a big whip, parked pon’ the block
All them say we doomed from the start, cah’ we black
Remember this, every race start from the black, just remember that

Kendrick Lamar- The Blacker the Berry

 

Just call the shit HiiiPoWeR/ Nigga nothing less than HiiiPoWeR/ Five-star dishes, food for thought bitches/ I mean the shit is, Huey Newton going stupid/ You can’t resist his HiiiPoWeR/ Throw your hands up for HiiiPoWeR

            Kendrick Lamar – The Blacker the Berry

Cole, too, wore a prison uniform. The symbolism certainly isn’t lost on me.

“Can you tell me why / Every time I step outside I see my n***as die / I’m lettin’ you know / That there ain’t no gun they make that can kill my soul.”

Be Free J.Cole

 

Some things you can’t escape
Death, taxes, NRA
It’s this society that make
Every nigga feel like a candidate
For a Trayvon kinda fate
Even when your crib sit on a lake
Even when your plaques hang on a wall
Even when the president jam your tape
Took a little break just to annotate
How I feel, damn it’s late
I can’t sleep ’cause I’m paranoid
Black in a white man territory

Neighbors, J. Cole

I was in awe at each concert.  Yes, the music is dope. These gentlemen are clearly musically gifted and exceptional showmen (you must be almost magnetic to enrapture an entire arena filled audience for 90 minutes without fancy light shows or background dancers. It was just them, a microphone and their words.

Their words speak of the struggle of being Black in America—and the largely non-Black audience loudly voiced each one.  We, in Black America, have been looking for our leaders. We’ve been searching for the next Malcolm X or Martin Luther King, Jr. I ‘ve realized that our leaders just may not be existing in traditional ways, but may be championing for us and guiding us in the ways they have.  They are feeding our message, our plight, our concerns with many who wouldn’t know and perhaps wouldn’t care were it not delivered to them in such an appetizing way.

I am struck by their bravery. How many music executives refused to sign them or told them to tone down their lyrics so they’d be appealing to larger audiences—yet they didn’t, though they were hungry for success?  They are leading, as music oftentimes has.

Watching them left me hopeful and reminded me of a moment when I was visiting Cuba.  The bike-taxi driver got in some conversation about what was going on in America.  Unlike most Cubans, his English wasn’t the best, but at the end of our conversation, he advised, “we gon’ be alright
we gon’ be alright
We gon’ be alright
Do you hear me, do you feel me? We gon’ be alright. we gon’ be alright
Huh? We gon’ be alright
we gon’ be alright

 Something about attending both concerts makes me believe that maybe we are.

 

 

 

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