So, I’m a white girl with a strong affinity to hip-hop - to fast beats and superfluous speak, and concepts that motivate me to be fearless in my daily pursuit of justice. Call me a SJW, and I’ll tell you worse has happened before.
Within my demographic, I hear a lot of criticism regarding hip-hop’s violence, drugs and misogyny. This criticism exists within the African American community, too – by the very artists and producers of hip hop, Kendrick Lamar included.
But what Lamar reveals in Black Panther: The Film and what many white folk don’t understand is that the violence, drugs, and misogyny that exists in a lot of hip hop is reflective of rage and pain, a response to systemic oppression of African American people – “Season’s” “modern-day slavery” – that goes unseen by white folk in a Eurocentric America. But that is the beauty of this Afrocentric film and accompanying album – African American empowerment is the future of our nation, and, in break with a vicious cycle initiated by my mistaken, oppressive white ancestors, there is opportunity for white folk to reconcile a past of violence against self-deemed “others” – the very basis of hip-hop’s critique.
Released during Black History Month, Kendrick Lamar/Top Dawg Entertainment CEO Andy Tiffith-curated 14 track Black Panther: The Film relies upon the Marvel film’s racially conscious narrative for its own progression. In semi-congruence with Black Panther’s Pan-Africa theme, Lamar has recruited big names – SZA (LOVE), Anderson.Paak, Travis Scott, Khalid, Vince Staples, Swae Lee, Jorja Smith -, as well as some more obscure South American artists: singers Babes Wodumu and Sjava, and rappers Yugen Blakrok and Saudi.
Often uncredited, Lamar’s voice subtly guides the album through Black Panther’s opposing perspectives: T’Challa, super-powered king of the fictional African kingdom Wakanda, and revolutionary Erik Killmonger, seeking revenge for T’Challa’s father’s mistakes. “I am T’Challa,” he announces at the end of opening song “Black Panther.” “I am Killmonger. . . this is my home. . . Northern California.”
It is his home in Oakland, California that drives Killmonger to vengefully take the Wakandan throne. (Non-coincidentally, Oakland is the origin of the Black Panther Party of the 60’s.) “I Am” alludes to the heart of Killmonger’s bitterness: Wakandan isolationist policy, micro-manifest as his abandonment in racially oppressive America. “When you know what you got” - in this case, advanced technological development - “sacrifice ain’t that hard.” Killmonger’s abandonment is a product of that sacrifice. Smith’s “I Am” is also hugely feminist, but I’ll save that for another entry.
So, during Killmonger’s short rule, he completely disregards Wakandan tradition. Lamar echoes this dismissal in the chorus of “King’s Dead”: “miss me with the bullshit.” Accompanied by a menacing bass, Killmonger f***s all of T’Challa’s values before proclaiming “All hail King Killmonger.”
When T’Challa fully understands Killmonger’s aggression as a response to Wakanda’s abandonment of African peoples beyond the confines of the kingdom, he abandons an isolationist worldview. T’Challa cedes warfare, and drags Killmonger’s limp body to watch the sunset, reminiscent of “Season’s”, “I cried when lil’ bruh died/Got high and watched the sunrise.” “Seasons” ends with a convergence of opposing viewpoints: “I am T’Challa, I am Killmonger. One world, one God, one family. Celebration.”
Lamar’s narrative style is not a new concept for him. His autobiographical 2012 good kid, m.a.a.d city tells a story of a kid corrupted by violence and poverty inherent to African American culture. Evidently, nor is his introspective political bend. His 2015 To Pimp a Butterfly expands upon his autobiography: “Institutionalized’s” “you can take your boy out the hood but you can't take the hood out the homie” addresses how wealth has little value for an individual void of background and education necessary for social involvement.
Lamar comes from Compton – he is reinvigorating the classic West Coast gangsta of Tupac, Snoop Dog, N.W.A, and transforming music that reflects a culture of violence and gangs (the basis for major criticism of hip-hop/rap genres) into music that discusses it roots: a response to systemic violence of the very white folk who so vehemently criticize its.
Perhaps Lamar promotes Black Panther because T’Challa’s political ambiguity and Killmonger’s interaction with a racially oppressive America so deeply resonate with him. Despite his immense power within the hip-hop/music industry, he owes his success to Compton.
Hip-hop has something so wholesome about it – something that doesn’t always exist in the Indie/folk I listen to, as well. Maybe it’s an awareness. A refusal to hide what looks bad. I’m no philosophy/psychology major, but don’t we need to address weaknesses to heal?
Because African empowerment is not disempowerment of others. In “Bloody Waters,” although James Blake’s whiteness stands as emphatically the few Caucasian actors – a refreshing concept for a historically white-dominated film industry, Blake’s smooth voice effortlessly melds with Paak’s free-flowing rap.
Black Panther: The Film, like a lot of contemporary hip-hop, is majorly collaborative. It stands for solidarity, the same concept I’ve heard time and time again at Gaslight. Music, like all art, has the capacity to revolutionize, and Gaslight’s democratic bend reflects the wisdom of hip-hop.