“Who will deny that you and I, and every nigger is a star” – Kendrick Lamar
In a world becoming increasingly indifferent about buying rap albums, selling a million records is no mean feat. Kendrick Lamar achieved this with his “Good Kid, Maad City”, a brilliant concept album which details the coming of age of a talented rapper from Compton.
Off the strength of recording an album that easily outstripped every other album in its category, Kendrick Lamar did the unthinkable.
Kendrick had established himself as a true genius, and the follow up to GKMC was highly anticipated. Dropping that defining verse on “Control” didn’t help matters at all.
Kendrick put us out of our misery with the release of “To pimp a butterfly” and there was about where it ended for me.
On the first couple of listens, it was full of jazz, full of soul and full of too many things that made it almost impossible for anyone to take an immediate liking to it. In a nutshell, TPAB was too black.
I live in Nigeria and like many Nigerians, racism is not part of daily life, we’re too busy surviving to be bothered by “blackness” and for this singular reason, I didn’t immediately relate to TPAB.
We watched on CNN as Police officers got away with killing black people, we watched protests degenerate into nothing. The narratives became increasingly familiar, the disturbed violent black teenager or adult with a history of drug abuse and the white police officer scared for his life.
The victims pictures were mugshots or photos of them throwing up gang signs and when the protests begun, the message of Black people as violent became reinforced. It took a while for me to realize that America has built and become comfortable with a comfortable blackness.
There’s a certain standard for black people America is comfortable with, the prevailing mentality which makes African American features ugly or undesirable. The stick thin white models over the curvy black woman, curvy is uncomfortable.
As with most generalizations, a few people have managed to escape this notion of comfortable blackness but the reality for the majority of black people is that the system represses every type of blackness it deems uncomfortable.
It was with this new understanding that I gave TPAB another listen and it started to make sense- there’s a blackness that doesn’t have to fit in a box, there’s a blackness that doesn’t accept the killing of black people by white cops, there’s a blackness that rejects our features as being ugly. That blackness is uncomfortable.
On “Alright”, Kendrick yells, “All my life I had to fight nigger!”, a song that has quickly become an anthem for the “Black Lives Matter” movement.
If Kendrick’s message has been blunted by time, Beyonce’s surprise video on Saturday brought to the fore another aspect of uncomfortable blackness. Opening with a picture of a police car sinking, Beyonce’s video has already started a rash of repression to this undesirable type of blackness.
The Business Insider ran a story this morning with the headline “People are boycotting Beyonce after her Super Bowl song sent a harsh message to Police”.
The image of a black boy dancing in front of a line of Policemen as well as a spray painted wall that read “Stop shooting us” have thrown to the fore the kind of blackness which America is not comfortable with portraying.
“My daddy Alabama
You mix that Creole with that Negro, make a Texas Bama
I like my baby hair with baby hair and Afros
I like my Negro nose with Jackson 5 nostrils…”
Celebrating her black identity, Beyonce makes a reference to Michael Jackson, who felt so compelled to conform to comfortable blackness, he did away with the “Jackson 5 nostrils”.
Uncomfortable blackness celebrates identity regardless of where you live, it’s a movement.