I believe February started off with a bang, no wait more than a bang, with a huge explosion. Beyoncé Knowles-Carter was left standing in the midst of that explosion. Flash forward to the night of the GRAMMYs and another artist was heating up the stage, Kendrick Lamar. Now what do these two artists have in common? These two artists were ready with a political statement to share during a very opportunistic time, Black History Month. I believe the black community consistently yearns for a more accurate representation of who we are. That’s exactly what Beyoncé and Kendrick gave us, a more in-depth narrative of who we are as people.
Beyoncé’s statement on black issues was an equation of various elements: the video for her song “Formation” plus its specific lyrics, plus her super bowl performance equaled a politically charged statement.
Let us start with the video: in one scene we see a little black boy dancing in front of a line of police officers and once he is finished they raise their hands up to him. This is a counter image to what we have actually seen: cops gunning down our young black men despite whether they were compliant or not.
Within the lyrics, Beyoncé sings, “I like my baby heir with baby hair and afro / I like my negro nose with Jackson Five nostrils.” This was responding to every person who came at her daughter for having “nappy hair” or her husband for having a “big nose.” These lyrics were there to say: features that set us apart from the rest is what makes us unique and the media or anybody else isn’t going to get us to hate ourselves for what makes us black.
Lastly, Beyoncé’s Super Bowl performance, where she stood with the rest of her back up dancers with costumes emulating those of the Black Panthers. She specifically chose to dress as this revolutionary black nationalist and socialist organization whose core practice was to monitor behavior of police officers and challenge police brutality. This decision was as if to say: this fight that the Black Panthers fought for still isn’t over.
After adding all these pieces together, Beyoncé is clearly trying to say: look we’d really appreciate it if you’d stop gunning down our people. No we’re not going to hate ourselves or change ourselves for your benefit and if you can’t handle that well we’re just going to have to do like these Black Panthers did and get in formation and fight for our people.
Now Kendrick’s music has always had something to preach. Sometimes it is controversial, sometimes it is enlightening. It was no surprise that his latest album !!!!To Pimp a Butterfly!!!! wasn’t any different.
On the night of the GRAMMYs, Kendrick began his performance in chains and cuffed to his fellow black men behind him. The setting was a prison, where again you see black men locked up. This was a clear comment on the American prison system. America is arguably the most incarcerated country in the world. There are more African-American men locked up today in the systems then there were under slavery in 1850.
The first song Lamar performs is “The Blacker the Berry” which is loaded with raw truth. Kendrick raps in the second verse, saying “That’s what you’re telling me, penitentiary would only hire me?” The first verse stating, “I’m African-American, I’m African / I’m black as the moon … You hate me don’t you / you hate my people; your plan is to terminate my culture?”
The men performing did not stay in chains for long, and as the camera panned to an audience that looked more than a little uncomfortable. As Kendrick transitioned into the next songs he seemed to state: you can lock up our bodies but never our minds.
When Kendrick performed his song, “Alright” it was set in front of an African tribal celebration. There’s a line in the chorus that’s an inspirational one, relatable across any race, religion, culture or sexuality: “Do you hear me, do you feel me? We gon’ be alright.”