Category Archives: Grammys

“And the Winner is? : Part 2”

By Sharieka Breeden
House vs. Field — “Part II of “And the Winner is?”
 Check out Part 1 of this two-part series for some insight and my reflections on “Forest Hills Drive” and “To Pimp A Butterfly”
These are my thoughts after reflecting on the current status of hip hop, it’s increased popularity, appeal and the way the genre has become widely embraced in homes where hip hop artist wouldn’t previously be welcome. For me, hip hop has always been important. Artists tell stories I relate to and respect. They tell stories that have helped to shape culture, paint the experiences of those from different cultures and help the blind to see. -Sharieka  
The match-up 
Who we choose in competition says something about us. As the Grammy Awards approach, Kendrick Lamar has wowed many by grabbing 11 nominations which he is well deserved of. The rapper who hails from Compton and has no problem delivering insight and truth through his music is a favorite for many. For some he may be kind of hard to take due to him never failing at being real.
For many years, darker-skinned men like Lamar were underrepresented in culture, the media and society. (Sidney Pottier and Mekhi Pfeiffer are exceptions)
 Lamar, a darker skinned brother with natural hair and an image that America for years rejected, possibly due to the “Field Nigga”  label seems to be widely accepted by many and renowned as a gifted lyricist who’s has appeared on late night television, is referenced in pop culture and even embraced in politics. (Yet there are still so many barriers to break). During slavery dark-skinned blacks spent long , hot days in cotton and tobacco fields doing harsh labor that often resulted in harsh punishment if the results were considered sub-par. It meant not being good enough or close enough to white and in the minds of many, it still does. The shades of darkness are true confirmation that darker individuals are farther away from privilege and closer to jail sentences along with not being viewed as societally acceptable. (It shouldn’t be this way. All of us possess beauty and the blacker the berry…). It’s messed up because this is much deeper and also is perpetuated in our own community where people shy away from spending too much time in the sun in fear of being black, hold their light skin relatives to higher esteems and say things like “ She’s pretty for a dark-skinned girl) (Ignorance is a weapon that kills our chance to exist)  The fear that arises in people when they see a black man who is unquestionably black is alarming. For in him, they can’t find a hint of themselves. As beautiful, gifted and essential to music and the world as Lamar and so many other dark-skinned brothers are, there worth and value should never be questioned. You can’t find a hint of anything else in them, but Lamar’s work and artistic ability can’t be ignored, nor can his message. He has been invited into the homes of many, breaking paradigms and eliminating some of the boundaries that “Light skin is in” and forcing us to embrace a more emcopassing and broader understanding for color, race, ethnicity and other identities.
Maybe his experiences as a dark-skinned black man make him go that much harder over beats and also shape his experiences and perspective in a world where being black can often mean being shot for no reason, lesser pay on a job, being imitated with no credit, real-estate discrimination, higher incarnation rates and other injustices in institutional systems like schools and workplaces.
“To Pimp A Butterfly” is an album well deserving of the nominations. It’s artistically genius, boldly truthful and dope listening. I see one man as a contender. It’s the lighter skin brother from Fayetteville, N.C. who spent time in New York for education and in pursuit of a music career.
J. Cole comes from a place where cotton fields and plantations really existed. There are still some in North Carolina if you travel in the wrong direction. They are just as present as confederate flags that people proudly wave and snarls that occasionally come when people think you’re going to snatch their purse on a morning run. Cole is a light-skinned brother with a multi-race makeup and while he can’t pass for white (in my opinion), for some he fits the mold for what was referred to as a “House Nigga” His music cuts and penetrates, forcing people to know what it’s like being from a tough city and in today’s America how black is black whether you’re light skinned or dark skinned. While he isn’t dark as Kendrick, you can’t say that the two mens life experiences have been much different. Both are faced with the same reality as me, knowing that we are losing count of the number of young black men shot down, tired of having to shuck and jive to be accepted and wanting more for our people than black on black crime in neighborhoods that are ridded with poverty and poor nutrition and a much-needed spark about education. Cole’s work relays a message and a reminder that things can get ugly and violent when people who are categorized as the minority want more. He also shows that he’s well aware of what it means to have skin color afford you luxuries and grant you the opportunity to take and shape someone else’s culture. He represents the black culture, because he’s black but he doesn’t permit everyone else to have the same pass.
In a world where it seems that dark skin or light skin doesn’t allow us to escape from the struggles that come with being black, we have an obligation to say claim all the homes and the fields in this land as ours (We are entitled to them as anyone, if not more). They belong to us, not to work in, be beaten and lynched on but to possess as places where we can grow abundantly in a country that should accept and embrace not only our music but us without second guessing their obligation to do so. Entertainers like Cole and Lamar both force us to think on this.
With Lamar’s Cali-style accompanied by the wisdom of Tupac and Dre’s deadly beats he’s the Malcolm X of the game right now. Cole is a powerful  voice as well though. With the influence of Jay-Z, advice from Nas and vision of his own, when he speaks into the microphone, he presents a different reality and tells of what struggles can result in while continuing to reflect on what it means to be human. He’s Huey P. Newton with his wordplay. Both are needed, both are essential.
To know that Lamar, is up for album of the year but comes from a genre of music that used to only be listened to and thought of as ‘just for some” is telling. What’s more telling is knowing that the only person that I see as a formidable opponent out of all the other artists at the Grammy’s is Cole who comes from a genre for the people that tells the stories that often go untold until they snatch national headlines.
And the winner is?
See Part I for my reflections on Cole and Lamar’s work.
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“And the Winner is: Part 1”

By Sharieka Breeden
Kendrick Lamar is up for 11 Grammy nominations. J.Cole is up for three. If the matchup for “Best Rap” Album was determined by who had the most nods for their work, it is evident that Lamar would be leaving with a win. It’s not though and honestly while Cole might not have as many nominations as Taylor Swift who has seven, in my opinion he is the only artist deserving and questionably worthy of exiting the stage with the award in a category where Lamar is featured.
Let’s see the lineup: Shedding some light on Art that illuminates
“A reflection on “To Pimp a Butterly, Lamar” and “Forest Hills Drive, Cole”
Kendrick’s  impact
The number alone make’s it evident that Lamar is a gifted artist with the ability to create music that people relate to and love. His lyrics are stimulating conversation-starters for many. As my partner and I delved into his third studio album, we found ourselves fascinated and immersed in his reflections on issues involving race, black masculinity, and economic status (to name a few).
As an artist Lamar uses  “To Pimp a Butterly” his work ranges songs like “King Kunta” where he embodies the energy and attitude of a character in the popular series, “Alex Haley’s Roots.” A psychedelic beat sampling and accompanied by catchy lyrics shed light the rise to fame, what that journey is like and who is with you along the way. It’s an introspective look at what it means to stay true to self and roots while moving up the ladder. The work also does what art is supposed to which is bringing people up to speed about parts of culture and life that they could’ve missed. It’s a nice tribute to a historical showing of the slave experience in America and the strengths of blacks willing to lose a foot to maintain themselves (to me it’s deep,  thought provoking and lends itself conversation which far exceeds what I touched on in a few lines.)
References to biblical scriptures and stories in “How much a dollar cost” question self worth and accountability while forcing us to think about self and what our obligations are as people.
The way that Lamar forces us to take a deeper look at reality is refreshing. Occasional comical undertones compliment the work helping to soften a message that is delivered in hard, impactful fashion.
For me, Lamar’s music makes him a leader in times where many aren’t willing to accept the role. His interview-styled conversation with Tupac during “Mortal Man”  left me with chills and allows us to revisit the thoughts of another genius while reflecting on how too many black lives are lost prematurely to senseless violence and systematic practices.
“U” and “I” are both spiritually tuned reflections of self that are relatable for many listeners who battle with what it means to exist in a world where we are forced to have a grasp on who we are and who we are trying to become. Recording music is one thing and taking it to the next level to use it as an educational tool is another. Kendrick’s thought on the debated “N” word is powerful. The breakdown and delivery of his knowledge of the roots of the world was a brilliant way to jump into tracks where the uses it While listening, I reflection and continue to question the usage as I kept his insight in mind.
Kendrick Lamar1
Addressing the black community is a must, especially in a time where accountability seems to be a failed practice for many. Lamar challenges the black community in “The Blacker The Berry”  These lyrics ring out loud and proud on days where t’nice enough to roll my windows down or on morning runs. “You never liked us anyway, fuck your friendship. I meant it  I’m African American, I’m African. I’m black as the moon, heritage of a small village. Pardon my residence. Came from the bottom of mankind. My hair is nappy..” Being real and powerfully voicing truths about identity, expectations, stereotypes along with publicizing the power and beauty that comes with being black is a strong point for the Compton based rapped. He also doesn’t shy away from talking about the harsher realities that come with the skin tone. His work makes you recall leaders during the civil rights moving who endlessly work to deliver the message of “Black Pride.”
The brother is deep combination of many things. The 5’5 rapper eloquently relays a message with radical thoughts and sounds that push boundaries. He’s deserving of the nominations and there’s only one category where I’ve even thought to question a victory.
Rap’s modern day: Ali vs. Frazier– Cole’s Corner 
I don’t see anyone as a formidable opponent for the lyricist other than J. Cole with “Forest Hills Drive” album. (Contenders in the Best Rap Album category).
While I see Lamar’s album as the album of the year and him as deserving of each nomination he is up for, Cole’s work can’t be forgotten and his lyrical wordplay forces you to hear him, embrace every word and then listen again. “What’s money without happiness?”. It’s questions like these that make Cole’s album feel like a conversation experience throughout. His work is the blueprint for looking within and seeing what it means to go for success and to truly value your circumstances.
Cole’s work embodies hip-hop flare and flavor. It’s also the journey of a rapper/artist who has progressed and taken great leaps to far exceed his previous work (Born, 2013 and Cole World: The Sideline Story, 2011)
The album is one that can be played while in any mood and also serves as a mood-setter.
Cole demands attention and respect in tracks like “January 28” and labels himself as the games greatest mc with lines like “You n*(gg*s might be L, or you might be Kane or you might be Slick Rick with 19 chains or you might be Drizzy Drake or Kendrick Lamar, but check the birthdate… You ain’t the God.” The line is accompanied by poetic and memorable remarks about black on black violence and continually working to be at the height of hip hop and life.
While he effortlessly makes his argument for being the games best and calls out white rappers for their imitation of what started as black art (appropriation) in “Fire Squad“, Cole draws minds to subject matters that parallel many issues in society such as the gentrification of neighborhoods, the devaluing or art and work for capitalistic gain and history’s role on modern day.
He also delves into the hearts and experience of listeners in “Wet Dreams” as he talks about his first time and shares the nerves and excitement of a young inexperienced virgin.  In “No Role Modelz” he shares an inside look at himself as well as his perspective on today’s women vs. women respected and culturally loved like Nia long and Lisa Bonnet. He paints a picture of the now and then and how culturally we’ve stepped away from values, attachments to not being sold for a dollar sign and the power we possess to get back there.
The tempo and pace on tracks like “G.O.M.D. and “Apparently” make you vibe out and just get lost in the content. Cole delves into his emotion on “G.O.M.D“. where he talks about the value of love and how it’s absent in society. The song is the perfect balance of reality and asking  questions about stereotypes that plague our community. I spent many road trips listening to Cole serenade and pump out uplift “I keep my head high…I keep my faith strong.”  He makes feel good music that make you think about what is necessary to feel better.
In songs like “A tale of two Citiez” Cole shows the world what it feels like have ambitions of obtaining materialistic that are praised and sought after in society. He effortlessly tells stories and brings you into his world of how robbing and crimes in cities where opportunities are lacking become the option. Cole is socially aware and focused on helping others get to that point. He’s honest and doesn’t shy away from revealing his ambitions and what it means to endure, and be involved with certain experiences based on circumstances.
Forest Hill Drive was a hugely improved showing of his ability to use his work as activists.
Both Lamar and Cole have created work worthy of listening to, worthy of discussing and repeatedly playing. It’s work that depicts the times and tells the individualized stories and experiences of two individuals that have great insight on what’s reality for an often overlooked population.
The albums dropped at a time where social and racial injustices are at the surface of societal issues that are echoed by terroism, violence, poverty and poor nutrition. As a black woman, proud of my heritage, culture and ambition to stay connected to my roots, I take pride in listening to artists who take pride in making art. Both Lamar and Cole do this because they shed light and raise awareness to the ills of the world while challenging us to do our part and put a mirror up for reflection .
As I said before, in my opinion Lamar is deserving of every grammy he is up for. The only category I have questioned involves both him and Cole “Best Rap album” Cole says he’s the best, while Lamar arguably just shows it.
Here’s Part 2 in the “And the Winner Is?” series.
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