By Karan Menon
Picture source: Google Images
“Some say the blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice
I say the darker the flesh then the deeper the roots”— Tupac Shakur (1971-1996)
The African-American experience within the history of the United States of America has been one in which their presence has always been debilitated. From the conclusion of the Civil War to the current moment, the hegemonic make-up of white supremacy has spoken to an omnipresent challenge for survival for the members of the black community. ‘Hip-hop has done more damage to young African-Americans than racism in recent years’, attorney and reporter Geraldo Rivera claimed in 2015 as a response to Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Alright’, a song that is known as the anthem for the Black Lives Matter Movement. The challenges endemic to this framework have been foundational to the approach and growth of hip-hop culture and the art form of rap, which has developed as being of central significance to the spread of hip hop’s language and imagery.
Rap music is an exemplification of hip-hop culture and offers a story of both struggle and strength. Rap’s earliest days emerged from African Americans in the Bronx borough of New York City. In the 1970s, a wave of white flight left behind, fundamentally, an impoverished black community. Artists from this region brought together words and beats, to depict the struggles of destitution in black culture. Rappers like Grandmaster Flash, Kurtis Blow, and the Sugarhill Gang served to join together and galvanize their community. Inside the boundaries of this new collective, strength and resiliency have risen to a great extent from the affirmation of shared experiences. Thick narrative depictions of life continued as a fundamental precept in rap music through the modern moment.
The Black Lives Matter movement began as the #BlackLivesMatter on Twitter (Rickford). The hashtag was made by activists Patrice Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tomati in 2013 and developed after the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin. The motto gathered more reputation and bolster during the Ferguson uprisings against police brutality (Rickford). The development is characteristically distinctive to older movements such as the Civil Rights Movement. The authority withdraws from that show of solitary charismatic leaders such as Martin Luther King. Instead, the movement does not have one specific leader. Black Lives Matter is a grassroots movement and contains components of suddenness and self-organization. Since the movement has that element of suddenness, it permits the movement to have numerous diverse elucidations. The movement is difficult to characterize, yet all including because of this fact.
In addition to the Black Lives matter-movement, Michelle Alexander contends that the mass imprisonment of African Americans is the ‘New Jim Crow’. She finds that ‘ the prevalent account that emphasizes the death of slavery and Jim Crow and celebrates the nation’s ‘triumph over race’ with the election of Barack Obama, is hazardously confused. The colorblind public agreement that wins in America today—i.e., the far-reaching belief that race no longer matters—has blinded us to the realities of race in our society and encourages the rise of the modern caste system’ (Alexander). She argues that the criminal justice system is intrinsically supremacist, finding that it is “perfectly legal to discriminate against offenders in about all the way it was once legitimate to discriminate against African Americans”. America cannot be considered as a post-racial society. The ancient Jim Crow has been nullified, however, the same mindset has returned with a new frame of rules, hence the new Jim Crow.
The song chosen as the primary source for this paper focuses on racism and in particular stereotypes. The song both explores and amusingly utilizes stereotypes to demolish those specific stereotypes. The primary source I’ve chosen is Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Alright’ since it was unofficially adopted as the anthem for the Black Lives Matter Movement. Kendrick Lamar, in his awe-inspiring record To Pimp a Butterfly, seeks to explain the black involvement within the United States by portraying the way in which the risk of death continuously influences the way African Americans see their lives.
Kendrick Lamar released his third studio album To Pimp a Butterfly in 2015. The album focuses on a few central topics: racial inequality, African American culture, and institutional racism. Lamar implements awful stereotypes to his own advantage with the album, moreover expressing a similar opinion as Jay-Z: utilizing their riches and power as a celebrity to do something great. The song ‘Alright’ served as a fourth single and was released on June 30, 2015. It was produced by Pharrell Williams and composed by Lamar himself, with additional writing credits by Mark Spears and Williams. ‘Do you hear me, do you feel me? We gon’ be alright’ The song does not have a perceptible chorus and the hook is effortlessly repeatable and catchy. Usually, this part is frequently chanted by crowds in relation to the Black Lives Movement. Concurring to music journalist Jamilah Ruler, the song has “helped bring hip-hop back to its political roots. And within the pantheon of modern black music of struggle, it’s helped give life to a few of the day’s most rigid activism” (King). The song has been hailed as a protest anthem and has been utilized numerous times by dissenting crowds within the form of chants (King). The verses of the song make it undoubtedly accessible to the Black Lives Matter movement, with the most self-evident verse being that of ‘ Ni**a, and we hate po-po / Wanna kill us dead in the street fo’sho ’ (35-36). Artist Anderson Paak found that the tune is one of the biggest records in the world. He noted that the song’s success was down to the verses, finding simply ‘might not have heard it on the radio all day, but you’re seeing it in the streets, you’re seeing it on the news, and you’re seeing it in communities, and people felt it.’
Protest music is ubiquitous in hip-hop culture. The genre has the notoriety of being excessively misogynistic and that it lauds violence, drugs, and money. That thought can be viewed as a stereotype of its own. Hip-hop can be much more than merely that oversimplifying stereotype. As with many genres, hip hop offers many different types of music, as is proven by Kendrick Lamar in ‘Alright’.
Just because you follow Lebron James or listen to Tupac doesn’t mean that you aren’t racist, everyone loves celebrities. If Lebron was standing near your house you’d go up to him and click pics, but if it was just a common African – American man, you will feel uncomfortable and call the cops. Every time a black man dies all these “white” T.V. show hosts call upon African – American guests and say that they are listening and so are all the “white” viewers.
I’m not antagonizing the hosts or their viewers, all I am saying is that they are doing a good job by spreading the word but do your homework first, read articles like this, it will help you understand the situation better.
Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colour-Blindness. The New Press, 2011,
Rivera, G. (2019). “Hip-Hop Has Done More Damage To Young African-Americans Than Racism”. [online] Complex.
Available at: https://www.complex.com/music/2015/06/geraldo-rivera-upset-with-kendrick-lamar-and-race-issues [Accessed 2015].
Lamar, Kendrick. “Alright.” To Pimp a Butterfly. Kendrick Lamar, 2015. MP3.
Harris, Aisha. “Is Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” the New Black National Anthem?” Slate Magazine.
N.p., 03 Aug. 2015. Web. 10 Oct. 2017.
King, Jamilah. “The Improbable Story of How Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” Became a Protest
Anthem.” Mic. Mic Network Inc., 11 Feb. 2016. Web. 02 May 2018.
Manabe, and Noriko. “We Gon’ Be Alright? The Ambiguities of Kendrick Lamar’s Protest Anthem.” Music Theory Online,
Rickford, Russell. “Black Lives Matter: Toward a Modern Practice of Mass Struggle.” New Labor
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