The Politics of Rap Lyrics – Part III

Kendrick Lamar’s “Complexion” – PART III


Kendrick rips into the second verse with lines like, “I got the world’s attention…so I’mma (sic) say somethin’ that’s vital and critical for survival…” illustrating his intention to bring a political consciousness to his rap lyrics. Kendrick ultimately highlights the ignorance in not only highlighting the trivial nature of racial lines but he also points out the home-grown nihilistic side-effects of fighting over space. He eloquently moves from the “racial colors” that affect us onto the gang colors that continuously affect our own communities while suggesting that we need to overcome both. The politics of rap lyrics have taken a beating for years. This is a shining example of the positive.

Since hip hop music has seemed to move beyond a creative art form into speaking for the possibilities of black identities, a song like this is here at a most critical time. Teaching people about “life in the ghetto” is more than talking about violent experiences of crime and money. Music should speak on not only life in the ghetto but on how to grow up and realize the traps of the institutionalized surrounding that the ghetto perpetuates. Kendrick is speaking on this through a track like “Complexion”. He is illustrating a story that is beyond a person standing on the corner slanging dope. He is “preaching” about causes, he is speaking on the life plight of black culture. This is needed and appreciated.

Simply put, the intrinsic allegory Lamar spits on “Complexion” is indeed complex in its assertion about complexion. Whether it is about the white or black thing, or the internal rife between light-skinned and dark-skinned African Americans, or about the perpetual battle between gangs, Kendrick once again exposed a vulnerability within our collective urban mood while also suggesting a direction for a utopian collectiveness. And he does this all through his language – the language of hip-hop music. It goes to show that even his filler tracks (which are not the least bit fillers) on To Pimp a Butterfly are not too complex to be put into context.


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Matthew R. Morris

Educator, Speaker, Writer

Matthew R. Morris is a writer, speaker, and elementary educator in Toronto. He has an M.A. in Social Justice Education from OISE at the University of Toronto and is the author of the forthcoming book, Black Boys Like Me. 

Matthew R. Morris

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