Kendrick Lamar
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How Kendrick Lamar's "Alright" Became The Anthem To Civil Unrest In 2015

Kendrick Lamar's Grammy-nominated single flooded the streets during another manic year of racial disparities. 

The rapper’s Grammy-nominated single flooded the streets during another year of racial disparities.

It’s no secret that 2015 was the year civil unrest flipped its lid and had the country slapping on kufis en masse. When it comes to racial and societal injustices, every generation has had their unfair share of outcry. Millennials, in particular, have hundreds of cases, but thanks to the Internet, we’re able to invoke some type of change—or at least awareness—on a larger scale.

For the past three years, I took part in protests both actively and on the sidelines as a reporter and a civilian in New York City. It was powerful to see people of all hues take a stand against the lingering systematic oppression that ended the lives of Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray, Samuel DuBose and countless others. Marching on the West Side Highway, in the heart of Times Square and on the cobblestone streets near Union Square, I remember screaming the now-mandatory chants “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot,” “No Justice, No Peace” and “I Can’t Breathe,” as others played N.W.A’s “F**k Tha Police” and Kanye West’s “Never Let Me Down.” What I didn’t know was that another mantra would soon play though our voice boxes and iPhones and Android speakers: Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright.”

I first heard the Pharrell/Sounwave-produced track the week Kendrick’s album To Pimp A Butterfly leaked. I thoroughly enjoyed the racially charged album, but for me “Alright” was the tune that made the intense TPAB a little light. The jazz blends were clearly evident as a vocally lit Pharrell helped push the looped chorus into a memorable chant. The tune goes from serious to joyful to mindful as Kendrick spits, “Everyday my logic, get another dollar just to keep you/In the presence of your chico... ah!” and pulls the listener back into the oblivion of hope (and catching their breath) with “I rap, I black on tracks so rest assured/My rights, my wrongs; I write 'til I'm right with God.”

While listening to it on repeat, I was reminded of the lesson that pain isn’t permanent and getting through the tough times are what make us all stronger. My roommate and I decided to throw a close friend a celebratory Earthstrong bash paired with our housewarming just two weeks after TPAB’s release. It was a few months too late (six, actually), but anything for a party, right? I’ll never remember exactly how over 50 people fit into two-bedroom railroad apartment, but I do remember the negro spiritual that took place when “Alright” oozed through the speakers. We stayed low, knees bent, enthralled in the rapper’s verses and jumped up the low-ceiling heavens in unison once the chorus dropped. Sure there were a few on the sidelines (because, new album) but to see the mutual sense felt on that Friday night was incredible. It was a commanding moment because we all felt the pain and empathy we had towards those who perished at the hands of police.

Over 20 people died in police-related shootings that week. That month also brought to light the Department of Justice’s scathing report of the Ferguson Police Department. Emails and documents collected revealed how police officials violated the constitutional rights of African-Americans. Evidence of racism was also seen in the disturbing increase of arrests and fines towards black people. Multiple officials resigned following the harrowing report but at that point, the lesson of forgiveness wasn’t learned. The pain didn’t go away so we chanted “We gon’ be alright,” eyes shut tight with fists in the air. But like your Twitter timeline, the moment was gone before we really got to analyze it.

What’s worth analyzing is the problem this country has with statistics and police killings. While Vice’s July report on people who die in police custody points to the Bureau of Justice Statistics' Deaths in Custody Reporting Program for the answers, the data collected by the program dates back to 2012 with 4,309 dead after being taken into police custody or in a federal prison. The number doesn’t include how many people die while in contact with police because it’s never been tracked as closely as album sales are.

Before leaving office, former attorney general Eric Holder called the gap in stats “unacceptable,” while FBI director James Corney admitted the numbers they’ve acquired aren’t accurate. The stats are needed to track the now public problem with excessive force and improve police training. Advocates and news outlets have done the job of tallying police killings. The Washington Post reported as of yesterday (Dec. 10), 917 people were killed by police this year while the website Killed By Police tallied 1,120. At the time of the release of Butterfly in March, over 100 people were fatally shot by the police.

As critics continued to berate police officials over the loss of black lives in Ferguson and beyond, Kendrick’s album was taking a beating of its own. Fans were surprised to find the album full of jazz, blues and funk inspiration. Those of the woke status praised it for presenting blackness in it’s blackest form and others realized the bars and glory K. Dot spit over tracks like “Blacker The Berry” and “Institutionalized” just weren’t relatable.

Nonetheless, the album debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 chart, as well as number one on the Billboard Rap Album chart. The week of its release also broke a Spotify global record after it was streamed 9.6 million times on its first day. Despite the minimal clapback from those who questioned the album’s first soul-pop single, “i,”the album was still a success, but more brutal blows were on the way.

A few months later, “Alright” the fourth single of the album served as Kendrick’s performance opener for the BET Awards. As dancers waved American flags towards the audience, Kendrick stood on top of a graffiti covered police car spitting the truthful lyrics. A few days later, a luring video for the song was released but many were distracted due to swarming critics of Kendrick’s performance. Rap heads fell in love with the surprise verse added in the performance while, on the other side of the fence, Geraldo Rivera slammed the rapper for provoking young blacks to hate law enforcement. Stunned, the rapper spoke out about the backlash to TMZ. “How can you take a song that’s about hope and turn it into hatred?” he asked. “The overall message [of ‘Alright’], is, ’We gon’ be alright.’ It’s not a message of ‘I want to kill people.’ This is reality. This is my world. This is what I talk about in my music. You can’t dilute that.”

As the year pressed on, America experienced more exhausting racially-charged incidents. In addition to the Charleston, S.C. massacre, in which Dylann Roof executed nine Black churchgoers during a Bible study, countless cases of racial profiling on college campuses at University of Missouri, Yale and Harvard popped up and filled Twitter timelines. “Alright” began queuing up again in vines and viral videos at protests from West Baltimore to the streets of Chicago. We know now as a nation the problems we’ve dealt with are more than just about race. Police training and alleged overlook from government officials have also been brought to light.

Only time will tell what will happen next in relations between the people and law enforcement but for many, music helps heal wounds. At the top of the month (Dec. 6), the U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the Department of Justice would investigate the Chicago Police Department in light of the released footage of the Oct. 2014 shooting of Laquan McDonald. For over a year, video of the shooting was kept from public view.

Further reports uncovered police accounts were drastically different than the video, which showed Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting the 17-year-old 16 times seconds after exiting his squad car. The investigation will look into Van Dyke’s use of deadly force and other police in one of the country’s most dangerous cities. The investigation is a step in the right direction to rewrite the adaptation many have when it comes to how we view troubling police tactics.

Just a few weeks before McDonald’s video was released, Kendrick performed in the city for his sold-out Groove Sessions tour. The crowd at the Riviera Theatre mirrored house bashes, clubs and protests as the crowd jumped in unison to the shows closer: “Alright.” With more pain coming towards the grief-stricken city, a moment of clarity and hope was given to the crowd and to those across the nation. In times of despair, we’ve come together to remind ourselves that better days are ahead. 2015 was no different and perhaps next year will help bring more change. By no means is the fight over, but at least under one groove, we’ve all realized with time, unity, commitment and love we’re gon’ be alright.

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Ebro Darden caught the Internet's wrath after calling out Kodak Black for sexual assault during an interview.
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We're Looking At Y'all: Hip-Hop Won't Have A 'Me Too' Moment Because Of Apologists

Ebro Darden — the host of Hot 97 FM’s radio show Ebro In The Morning — caught the ire of the Internet Wednesday evening (Dec. 12) after a clip from an interview with 21-year-old rapper Kodak Black made the rounds. The longtime radio personality merely admonished and acknowledged the rapper’s recent sexual assault cases, including one that he is currently awaiting trial for. While Ebro noted he wouldn’t be able to go into details since the case is ongoing, he did take a moment to acknowledge that sexual assault is serious, and the discussion will not be ignored in the future.

“Respect to everybody involved in that case, we can’t get into details today… We take sexual assault here serious,” “El Viejo Ebro” exclaimed. “We can’t get into details, but we hope to have you back so that we can have a deeper conversation about that. It’s a serious topic, we’re hearing these stories a lot.” No more than two minutes later, the interview was over, as a visibly uncomfortable Kodak, legal name Bill K. Kapri, stated that the media is “entertained” by “bullsh*t” before leaving.

For some asinine reason, Ebro — a man whose job it is to interview musicians about life and their craft — was the one getting the heat for bringing up the allegations. The uproar was not given to the alleged sexual offender, but to the host acknowledging the wrongdoing by the alleged sexual offender.

Label booked him. I didn’t force anything. I was attenpting to make sure a huge issue was not ignored. https://t.co/vnl0JqeLfi

— El Viejo Ebro (@oldmanebro) December 13, 2018

Earlier this year, Buzzfeed posed the question: “Will Time Ever Be Up For Abusive Men In Hip-Hop?” Due to the fans, some media personalities and the higher powers continuing to insulate these artists and avoiding discussion of the elephants in the room, it won’t — at least for the time being.

Fans of the Florida MC ignorantly tweeted that Ebro is likely working “with the Feds” for bringing up the sexual assault allegation, which proves that time will not be up anytime soon for men who allegedly abuse women in the game.

Due to many fans’ beliefs that hosts and journalists should “stick to asking artists about music” — and not the controversial lives often documented and discussed more than the careers that provide them bread and butter on the table — time will not be up. A similar “demand” came up earlier this year, when Laura Ingraham said LeBron James should just “shut up and dribble” instead of using his platform to discuss politics.

Then, there are media personalities like Peter Rosenberg, who during the Kodak interview aimed to deflect from the situation at hand by asking about the moon landing of 1969, in order to make Kodak feel a bit more comfortable (although his status in the hip-hop game despite his documented wrongdoing certainly makes some uncomfortable as well).

We also can’t ignore the woman on the panel, Laura Stylez, who chose to stay silent instead of using her platform and her voice to stand up for the women allegedly affected by Kodak’s behavior, or women in general. As a woman, her silence rubbed me the wrong way entirely.

These two, however, are not the only problematic personalities. DJ Akademiks, YouTuber turned host of Complex’s Everyday Struggle, often discusses his relationship with embattled musician Tekashi 6ix9ine.

“I’m a little sad… but these are the decisions that got here,” Ak, real name Livingston Allen, said in a recent episode of the YouTube series regarding Tekashi’s recent high-profile racketeering arrest and possibility of life in jail. However, he continued to acknowledge that the young man is his n***a, and has not appeared to call out Tekashi for the allegations against him in terms of sexual misconduct.

It doesn’t appear he’s discussed his homie’s sexual misconduct charges head-on since 2014. Even in this particular interview, it appears that the 27-year-old was being more of an apologist for his friend, stating that “[he] could tell [Tekashi] was young, and obviously not thinking straight.”

Is this insulation of musicians who lead perilous lives a way to hold on to the clout these personalities have obtained? Or, is it realizing that if they stop defending these artists as a way to defend those who are hurt, they’ll lose a legion of equally as troublesome fans and followers in the process? Why not attempt to discuss the difficult topic at hand with as much discretion as possible, instead of getting a biased view of the story for clicks?

I know that as a woman in hip-hop, hip-hop doesn’t always love me back, but if this isn’t a slap in the face? To have this conversation occur in the same week that Cyntoia Brown was told she had to serve 51 years in prison for defending herself against a potential rapist, it’s infuriating to have to write about the blatant disregard and disrespect for the well-being of women in society in a field that I hold dear to my heart.

Due to the “separating artists from art” thought-process, especially in such a male-dominated industry and genre, it’s unsurprising that this is the response Ebro received for calling out wrongdoing.

This is the same thought process that allows R. Kelly to continue to tour despite well-documented instances of sexual misconduct for 25 years.

This is the same thought-process that causes music fans to lash out at Vic Mensa for “vehemently rejecting the trend in hip-hop of championing abusers”; although many would argue that he wasn’t the proper messenger to convey such a statement, the intentionality in the statement was appreciated by many.

On a grander scale, this is the same apologist thought-process that placed Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court and Donald Trump in the White House… and look at how well that’s going.

If we continue this trend of protecting the men in the game and not putting the well-being of the minority consumers of the genre into consideration (such as women and members of the LGBTQ community), hip-hop could be headed to a very murky place. While I don’t always agree with Ebro Darden, I applaud his effort in attempting to start a conversation that can’t continue to be ignored any longer, especially as a man with a platform in the hip-hop media space.

As hip-hop fans, we should aim to hold these artists accountable for their lyrics, comments and behavior. We can’t argue that they’re not hurting anyone through these things just because you don’t feel threatened, because best believe, someone does.

Whatever side of the fence you’re on, Ebro, Vic and other men attempting to hold these artists accountable is a small step on a long journey. While it’s clear that consumers are more interested in the music these people put out than the lives they lead, it would behoove all of us to take a long look at the state of the game beyond the bars and beats.

READ MORE: Ebro Calls Out Kodak Black For Sexual Assault During Interview

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Will.I.Am Is Wrong About The State Of Hip-Hop

“It’s become the lowest-hanging fruit.”

That was Will.i.am’s assessment of hip-hop in an interview with Rolling Stone over the weekend (Dec. 1), and another troubling quote in the ongoing fallacy that rap is somehow a lower form of art. It’s the same trope many rappers – especially those who tend to steer towards white audiences – lean on when they want to “evolve” or “grow” as artists. Kanye West would rather design water bottles than dabble in the slums that are rapping. Tyler, The Creator wants to score movies because rap isn’t good enough. Miley Cyrus is going back to country because “Come sit on my d**k, suck on my c**k” and “Lamborghini, got my Rolex, got a girl on my c**k” music is just too vulgar for her.

Even if part of Will’s point, that the bar for entry into hip-hop is low, is true, the situation is more nuanced than that. The bar for entry has historically been low, which is how you end up with “Ice Ice Baby” running the world in the same year Ice Cube told us about AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted, or 69 Boyz’ “Tootsee Roll” doing the same while Nas gave us Illmatic and Biggie gave us Ready to Die.

If anything, the bar isn’t any lower, the net is just wider. Hip-hop has expanded so far beyond its Bronx house party origins that calling it worldwide feels like an understatement. If aliens are picking up Earth’s frequencies somewhere, there’s a good chance they’re hearing some hip-hop whenever they do. It’s that big.

In the ancient rap world Will speaks of, the one where he was part of a Los Angeles backpacker group that existed far, far away from the mainstream, rap was not a privilege, it was a necessity. Most of the black men and women who lunged towards rap did so as an escape and last resort. They did so from impoverished conditions, with few options and even less hope. Rap was a way out and, for some, the only way. It was truly life or death as their choices were either make it big by telling your story or return to your desolate conditions to live out the rest of that story. So they persevered.

This, of course, led to the golden era of rap, but plenty of sameness as well. Many of the stories were the same, even if the lexicons between regions were different. As rap continued to evolve, so too did the stories, and the perspectives that were introduced into the zeitgeist.

Eventually, we grew to a place where rap became a privilege and not a necessity. Now, after generations of rappers setting trends and generally being the coolest people in the room at all times, kids were aspiring to be rappers, not just resorting to that profession when they were out of options. Now, kids could study their favorites their whole lives and work towards being that. Suddenly, and perhaps unintentionally and with a ton of misinformation, rap was a desirable profession. Jay-Z rapped because he had to. It was that, or sell drugs and play that story out. J. Cole raps because he heard Jay-Z and wanted to follow in those footsteps. That’s growth of a genre of music and of a culture as a whole. That’s admirable, not scornful.

With that new influx of hopefuls came a whole new set of perspectives as well. If rappers in the ‘90s had to be the coolest and hardest mothaf**kers in the room, rappers in the 2000s changed that just a tad. Before then, rap only had Will’s perspective, the cool cousin who got all the girls and wore all the best clothes. When folks like Kanye started striking platinum, rappers could be Carlton as well.

In this era, the perspectives widened even more as the talent pool got exponentially bigger. As always, music and technology walk hand-in-hand as well. At the same time all those aspiring rappers began to come of age, technology advanced to a place that made it easier for them to try their hands at achieving their dreams. Computers made music easier to make, functionally not artistically, and the internet made it easier to spread it around. Before, if a young Chris Wallace wanted to make it rapping, he had to find a state of the art studio, pay large sums of money to record several songs, and then do the footwork towards getting attention from record labels himself. Now, Malcolm McCormick, a son of an architect and a photographer, only needed a computer, a microphone and an internet connection to rise to worldwide rapping fame.

In the world we live in now, we don’t get just Deebo’s story in rap–we get Craig’s, Smokey’s, Joi’s and Big Worm’s, too. Hell, we get Hector’s and the Pastor’s, too. And if we fall deep enough into a SoundCloud wormhole I bet we get Mr. Parker’s story, too. For all the complaints about Lil Yachty and the like, we still have Kendrick Lamar and his gravity. If you hate Lil Baby, you can find J.I.D. on the same playlist on your streaming service of choice. All of them exist, and none spite the other.

And this is all a good thing. Where hip-hop was once a specialty store, a Foot Locker of sorts where you could buy new sneakers and maybe even some socks and a shirt, now it’s a whole mall. You can get anything you need in hip-hop, as long as you’re willing to go find it. Foot Locker is still there, but you can go to Macy’s or PacSun, too.

With all of that comes plenty of music we don’t understand or value, but that doesn’t mean that music isn’t good or important. Mainstream has always gravitated towards a more accessible, or dumbed down sound when it comes to hip-hop. Some of the greatest rappers of all-time have capitalized on this trend and made careers out of that. That is why it’s called the music business. But that doesn’t mean the artistry isn’t there still. The current generation’s mastery of melody and cadence is just as impressive as the complexity and poignant lyricism of eras past. It’s just impressive in different ways. Jordan won one way, LeBron won one way, and now Steph Curry and his buddies are winning in another. But the game is still putting the ball in the hoop and preventing the other team from doing the same. The game is still telling our stories with an immaculate collection of sounds and organizing them into a song.

All of hip-hop comes from the same rebellious spirit that was encapsulated at those Bronx block parties in the ‘70s. All of it. Everything is about that youthful energy, and counter-culture. In taking the traditional, and changing it enough to invent something our own. Sure, we might not all enjoy the Lil Pumps and Tekashi 6ix9ines of the world, but somebody younger than us does, for sure. And sees it in the same light as we saw our heroes. Trend-setting, rebellious deities, speaking for us and telling our stories. They all come from the same place, even if they don’t sound the same. The bar is not lower, the net is wider, and the window into understanding the youth may be a little more opaque than it used to be. But that’s what age does to the eyes and the ears.

The constant degradation of hip-hop, its culture, its values and most importantly its sounds, is beyond problematic. The people who belittle the genre in an effort to hold it down, are the same ones who dabble in it every time they need a boost in popularity or the coolness factor. Hip-hop is the culture where they find their looks, their sounds, and everything else. We can’t let them work to depreciate the value of the culture they so often steal from.

It’s a classic case of gentrification, but this is a soil so pure it can’t be salted. This is a neighborhood so culturally rich, its natives can’t be run out of town even in the harshest of conditions, because we know once they buy up all this land they’re going to try to price us out. Don’t let them tell us hip-hop is the low hanging fruit when we know it’s the whole damn tree. If they can’t reach the sweetest of fruit at the top of the tree, that’s their fault. Not ours.

READ MORE: Stop Playing Into Female Rappers' Catty Feuds And Demand The Bars

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Bow Wow Threatens Revenge Porn And We All Should Be Disgusted

Shad Moss, still known as Bow Wow, took an ex-lovers quarrel too far when he threatened to leak a sex tape between himself and former fiancée, Erica Mena.

Fueled by a seemingly innocent comment from Mena, Moss fired back undermining the media personality, insinuating she was promiscuous and had accumulated more than 500 sexual partners in her lifetime. Brushing the comments off, the mother-of-one shot back saying, "You mean the 500 bodies you stayed eating between my legs standing up little man."

Clearly emasculated by the clap back, the "Let Me Hold You" rapper went on Twitter begging fans to warn Mena before he used revenge porn to expose her.

 

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#BowWow still has words for #EricaMena 👀

A post shared by The Shade Room (@theshaderoom) on Nov 17, 2018 at 9:44pm PST

Revenge porn or "non-consensual pornography" is defined as the distribution of sexually graphic images of individuals without their consent. This includes both images originally obtained without consent (e.g. by using hidden cameras, hacking phones, or recording sexual assaults) as well as images consensually obtained within the context of an intimate relationship," according to Cyber Civil Rights.

The two began dating in 2014 while co-hosting the now-defunct BET video countdown series 106 & Park. Before the year came to an end, the two were engaged and even posed for engagement photos with People magazine in February 2015.  The couple called it quits nearly nine months later, leaving speculation as to what caused their so-called fairly tale relationship to end.

Speaking with Global Grind after the breakup, Mena hinted towards the rapper's behavior in the relationship. “I could have gone public about our breakup a month ago,” she said after the rapper began teasing images of him with the mother of his daughter Jovie Chavis.

“He does this to make headlines. Just leave me alone, I moved on; why are you still in your feelings? He’s literally posting about Joie to get on my nerves and it’s not working. He’s posting it to fuck with her head and to try to get a reaction out of me. Listen, I walked away silently. He’s an abuser.”

Mena revealed Sunday (Nov. 18) that the rapper was reportedly suicidal which led to the end of their relationship. “I left him after he tried to kill himself with my son in the house,” she said while sharing messages from one of the rapper's associates. “He’s been trying to link with me ever since.”

From an ethical standpoint holding on to explicit videos and joking about exposing them to cause emotional or physiological distress to a person is morally disgusting. But more than anything, it violates Georgia and Calif. Revenge Porn laws.

It also qualifies as a felony that could result in one to five years in prison and a possible $100,000 fine.

Degrading a woman for her sexual choices is one thing, but as the father of a 7-year-old girl, Moss' primary concern outside of being the host of Growing Up Hip-Hop should be showing his child how a man properly treats women. Releasing a sex tape with somebody who almost became her step-mother is nothing short of ridiculous.

Mena then responded noting that she had been in contact with Lisa Bloom, a popular civil rights attorney known for working with women who have been victims of sexual harassment.

 

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#EricaMena seems unbothered by this alleged tapey tape!

A post shared by The Shade Room (@theshaderoom) on Nov 18, 2018 at 6:02am PST

What's most ironic is that last month (Oct. 2) Bow Wow released an emotional video to bring awareness to domestic violence, but is attempting to inflict sexual violence by threatening to release sexual images without the video participants consent.

It's a low blow which speaks to the rapper's mental health. It also showcases the casual toxic behavior that happens in the industry. The millions watching it all unfold on social media will more than likely follow suit.

READ MORE: Bow Wow Tackles Domestic Violence In New Video ‘Broken Heart’ 

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