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
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.