On Sunday, Kendrick Lamar won two Grammys for “i,” including one for best rap song. It was a well-deserved victory, but just a day later Lamar’s released “The Blacker the Berry,” a new, blistering number that, in this writer’s arbitrary critical opinion, makes “i” look like a tame and happy-go-lucky throwaway track.
The song’s name references Wallace Thurman’s groundbreaking novel, one of the masterworks of the Harlem Renaissance, and Lamar does justice to the allusion with some brutally candid lyrics that lament lost ones like Trayvon Martin. But socially conscious lyrics are nothing new for Lamar; the real shift here is in his tone. In “i” he preached a universal “I love myself” gospel, but in “Berry” he’s unfiltered and impassioned, claiming to be “the biggest hypocrite of 2015” and noting that “You hate me, don’t you/ You hate my people, your plan is to terminate my culture.” It’s invigorating lyricism, aptly paired with some hypnotic production by Boi-1da, and expectations for Lamar’s forthcoming album have now, somehow, inched even higher.