Kendrick Lamar dropped a bomb on us Hip-Hop lovers with his new single and visuals for “Humble,” and it has the internet buzzing! The lyrics and visuals are ah-mazing, so, I was a bit surprised when I saw a few think pieces and criticisms labeling K-Dot misogynistic. Of course this is in reference to the lyrics “I’m so fuckin’ sick and tired of the Photoshop, show me somethin’ natural like afro on Richard Pryor, show me somethin’ natural like ass with some stretchmarks.” As he raps these lyrics a Black woman with make-up and hair that is slicked down then crosses to the other side of the screen where she is now “natural,” no make-up and her natural hair is down. We also see an image of a “raw,” natural ass with stretchmarks.
Here is where the criticism begins. Many Black women who identify as either womanist or feminist (for clarity, I identify as a combination of the two because Black women were the foundation and backbone of feminism) argue that those lyrics are yet another example of a Black man policing Black women, asserting that we don’t wear make-up and glow up on folks to appease men. The argument then goes on to say that he is projecting another idea of what women should aspire to be in regard to what men want and that his affirmation really isn’t affirmative at all.
We women don’t do anything for the approval or validation of men. I agree with that sentiment 100%, I honestly don’t care how a man wants me to appear or act, it’s not his choice; however, I don’t think policing is what is happening here, or at least it wasn’t the intention. I think when you pull that one line out of the song, it would appear to be policing. But, when the song and video first dropped, I listened to it at least 13 times in one sitting. And then another 20 or so times to further analyze it. I could be wrong (I of course didn’t write the lyrics), but because of lines such as “watch my soul speak, you let the meds talk. . . if I kill a nigga, it won’t be the alcohol,” I took the song as a whole being a jab at the industry/ industry rappers, and how fake it is, or the industry’s new habit of relying on enhancers (you know “percocets, molly, percocets”). With that being said, I thought the line about photo-shopped images was yet another jab at the industry, for promoting and producing images/ ideas of women that are unrealistic and problematic. To me it didn’t come off as him policing or putting down women who choose to wear make-up and weave, but rather him being tired of the industry only producing that super glam look and not a balance- of both women with faces BEAT FOR THA GAWDZ with laid weaves, and natural faced women who sport real, unprocessed hair. I think that particular line could be problematic, as in the men who do police women will use it to do just that and “uplift” natural (but only to a certain extent because some of y’all really don’t like natural as much as y’all claim to) women while simultaneously bashing women who choose the opposite.
And though I don’t agree with the very valid argument in this particular instance, I do think it opens the door for a conversation that is much needed. Misogyny is heavily present in rap, and as a woman who loves rap/ hip-hop, I often find myself cringing, even with artists that I love. And it’s deeper than just saying “bitches ain’t shit but hoes and tricks.” There are rappers who literally make songs that essentially promote violence against women, Dr. Dre, Snoop, and Too Short are just a few that come to mind off the top. Then you have the ones that are fake woke, as Kendrick Lamar is being accused of being (I’ll get to why I also disagree with that). The ones who give a nod to Black women, but not actually to us, it is more so a nod to our sexual bodies and our ability to be strong, and endure their bullshit, i.e. lies and cheating. Which perpetuates the ill idea of the “ride or die,” that women are supposed to go through hell and pain for love, with hopes that maybe one day their man will get it together- that is problematic, and harmful. Rappers are out here making a living, profiting off of the oppression of women, specifically Black women. I think it’s time to discuss how rap/ hip-hop fuels misogyny and oppression, and how there needs to be a serious shift.
There’s also some criticism that the girl in the video whom we get to see as “natural” is a lighter hue of Black, further giving in to the media/ industry’s bias when it comes to Black women. Now had this been any other rapper/ artist I would validate this in a heartbeat, because that is definitely a thing, but I can’t this time around. “Poetic Justice” is only four years old, and my how quickly we get amnesia. The female lead in the music video for Poetic Justice (which isn’t the only video of his to feature beautiful dark women) is the gorgeous Brittany Sky.
In an interview, Kendrick Lamar says he made the deliberate choice of casting a dark-skinned woman saying “I had an idea where I just wanted a little bit of a darker tone [girl] in the video.” He then goes on to say “…not light ‘Vs’ dark tho. More about balance, giving every shade of woman life, not just what da industry thinks is hot for the camera.” Source: http://www.bet.com/news/music/2013/03/04/kendrick-lamar-aims-for-model-equality-in-poetic-justice.html
I brought that up for two reasons. The first being to act as a vehicle to shed light on the attitudes about skin tone in the Black community in general, and the second is to serve as a reminder. A comment on the think piece I have been referencing said “of course he didn’t use a REAL black woman for this video, always with the light skins.” And then this (after reviewing her page, I see she has some deep hurt she has to sort through):
That hurt my soul. It reminded me of the time when I was in Kindergarten and the only other Black girl in class snatched a brown crayon out of my hand and handed me a white one instead. She told me that was the crayon I needed to draw my family because I “wasn’t Black.”
As a “light-skinned” Black woman, I fully acknowledge the “privileges” (I use that word very loosely as I don’t see white validation/ upholding Eurocentric beauty standards as a compliment nor privilege) that have been bestowed upon me. I also fully recognized that darker women are extremely underrepresented and are terribly mistreated and bullied daily, I know there are some issues that need to be worked out, but I am also tired of defending and trying to solidify my Blackness. What exactly is a “real” Black woman? I took my ass to Ferguson after Mike Brown was murdered, I went to Mizzou when there were claims of KKK sightings on the campus, I was front and center every time my university had a call to action meeting, I advocate for Black women and men of every shade every damn day! And yet, I have been dismissed from important conversations and considered not “Black enough.” Colorsim is real, it effects us all and we have to break free of the remnants of white supremacy, because statements such as those are going to continue to divide and hurt us, and they blind us when someone does attempt to be positive, such as “Humble.”
We have to remember to uphold those that have done the same for us. I think it’s critical that we remember that Kendrick Lamar has told our stories and uplifted us (Black women) in the way that he knows how in every single project he has put out. From “Keisha’s Song” (Section .80),” to “Sing About Me (Good Kid, M.a.a.d City)” and “Complexion (To Pimp A Butterfly)” just to name a few, K-Dot has been consistent in making sure he gives the women who raised him and grew up around a voice, visibility and affirmation, and not just our bodies. And maybe that’s why it’s hard for me to see Humble as misogynistic, because I know his (musical) track record. I would definitely say the execution/ delivery could’ve been better, but I do feel the nod to Black women was truly genuine. Correcting someone or calling them out for problematic behavior is always good and needed, but I try not to crucify the men that do actually attempt to do their part in genuinely loving Black women.