Kendrick Lamar – “The Blacker The Berry” Song Review, Lyrics Analysis and Meaning

kendrick lamar the balcker the berry lyrics analysis song meaning

Kendrick Lamar is the realest rapper around. He is a lyrical genius, if you want proof, take a look at lyrics for “i” and this song “The Blacker The Berry“. “i” is the first single off of his upcoming third studio album and won two Grammy Awards yesterday. And this second single “The Blacker The Berry” could be well on it’s way for some Grammys next year as well. Yes, it is that good.

“The Blacker The Berry” lyrics are blunt, explicit and harsh–as harsh as the oppression of the Black community around the world. Kencrick Lamar goes all out on his view on the black oppression on this track–how they are looked at, how they are treated down, the hate towards them, stereotyping and how ‘equality’ has been a playful word for many people around the world.

Kendrick Lamar - The Blacker The Berry cover art

Kendrick Lamar – The Blacker The Berry cover art

Listen to “The Blacker The Berry” by Kendrick Lamar

Isn’t it just pure gold?


Buy Kendrick Lamar’s “Blacker The Berry” on iTunes / Amazon


 

Song Review, Lyrics Analysis and Meaning Behind “The Blacker The Berry” by Lamar

‘The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice’ is a phrase used to show that the exterior of something cannot be used to measure the interior of it. The berries (fruit) are most delicious when they are ripe, and ripe berries turn blacker and blacker. So straight away, with the song title itself, Kendrick has begun is all out ‘assault’.


TIP:  The Blacker the Berry: A Novel of Negro Life (1929) is a novel by American author Wallace Thurman, associated with the Harlem Renaissance. It was considered groundbreaking for its exploration of colorism and racial discrimination within the black community, where lighter skin was often favored, especially for women. – Wikipedia / Amazon


Let’s get down to the analysis of the lyrics of the track.

[Intro]

Everything black, I don’t want black
I want everything black, I ain’t need black
Some white some black, I ain’t mean black
I want everything black -//

This intro to “The Blacker The Berry” is almost a murmuring growl by Kendrick Lamar. It signifies the ‘confused’ society today about the ‘blacks’. Everybody speaks about ‘equality’ in big events and still they cannot do what they preach. The modern society is in a constant battle in accepting the African Americans or rejecting them. Everybody prefers black stuff-black cars, black watches, black gadgets, black clothes and what not, but when it comes to humans, black is something people look at in disgust. Kendrick gives a brilliant start to the track with the intro.

[Bridge]

Six in the mornin’, fire in the street
Burn, baby burn, that’s all I wanna see
And sometimes I get off watchin’ you die in vain

The story begins. First line describes a chaotic situation early in the morning in the streets (of Compoton, possibly) and chaos is all he wants to see. The third line refers to recent controversies relating to Michael Brown incident. They are said to gain pleasure (get off) putting down an innocent (die in vain). In this stanza “I” refers to a third party.

It’s such a shame they may call me crazy
They may say I suffer from schizophrenia or somethin’
But homie you made me
Black don’t crack my nigga

Kendrick Lamar spoke about the Michael Brown incident on Twitter, saying “What happened to [Michael Brown] should’ve never happened. Never.” But this tweet was criticized by many, very publicly. And that’s what Kendrick addresses here. He can’t help if other call him ‘crazy’. They say he is delusional (schizophrenia), but the reality is he grew in Compton, he has seen and witnessed it all, the streets made him. No matter now much hate he gets, he says he won’t ‘crack’.

[Verse 1]

I’m the biggest hypocrite of 2015
Once I finish this, witnesses will convey just what I mean

Lamar basically asks us to stay with him on this song “The Blacker The Berry” until it ends and it will all make sense to the listener. This is a 5 minute 30 second long track, but we shall go through breaking down the lyrics nonetheless.

Been feeling this way since I was 16, came to my senses
You never liked us anyway, fuck your friendship, I meant it

And so begins the epic lyric-rapid fire. Kendrick was 16 when it all hit him. All the people surrounding him, whom he called ‘friends’, were pretty much fake. They never liked him for his skin color, and he says ‘fuck your (fake) friendship’ and he doesn’t even flinch saying it.

I’m African-American, I’m African
I’m black as the moon, heritage of a small village

Kendrick says he is African American, on paper. But truly he is only African and he feels no part of him as an American. Remember, he was born and raised in Compton, and his parents are from Chicago, so he is full on American. And to say he is ‘African’ means he feels so detracted from ‘America’-his mother country. He says he is ‘black as the moon’ referencing to the dark side of the moon. We only see the ‘white’ or bright side of the moon and the dark side is always hidden from us, but by who? The media? Corporate America? You decide.

Pardon my residence
Came from the bottom of mankind
My hair is nappy, my dick is big, my nose is round and wide
You hate me don’t you?

Kendrick lays down few of the stereotypes and reasons why whites hates blacks. He comes from a poor, small village, which is the lowest of the lowest parts of societies. Africans are believed to be the starting roots of mankind, dating back hundreds of thousands of year. Nappy hair is the ‘natural texture of Black African hair..,’ says Wikipedia. Another stereotype is the size of the male genitals of the African Americans, and yet another is round and wide noses. And he asks this is enough for you to hate me, right?

You hate my people, your plan is to terminate my culture
You’re fuckin’ evil I want you to recognize that I’m a proud monkey
You vandalize my perception but can’t take style from me
And this is more than confession

Continuing from the previous lines, Kendrick goes on a blistering rant against the racial oppression. He straight out says ‘others’ hate the Blacks and wants to see them eliminated from the world. ‘Monkey’ is in reference to a racial slur that says Africans are from the ‘jungle’. And Kendrick says he is proud to be a ‘monkey’. Even as a singer, Kendrick’s perception is treated like ‘vandalism’. I’m pretty sure a herd will rise up against this track as well, calling it vandalism. He goes on to say, no matter how much they put down his perception, he still has (music) style, and nobody can take that away from him. This is not a rant, this is not a mere confession, this is just the reality of the world.

I mean I might press the button so you know my discretion
I’m guardin’ my feelin’s, I know that you feel it

“The Blacker The Berry” says the singer can press a button and spit out everything he knows and pin point the errors of the society. But he decides to keep most of bottled up, guarded. It’s not like ‘others’ can’t feel what’s going on in the world. It’s just that they chose to overlook them.

You sabotage my community, makin’ a killin’
You made me a killer, emancipation of a real nigga

Kendrick says ‘you’ tried to destroy the Black community. “makin’ a killin’ goes in line with ‘making a living’, and he calls out those who have made a living out of destroying the Blacks. He wasn’t a killer, but ‘others’ made him a killer, when he tried to defend himself. ‘Emancipation’ means ‘rights’and liberation’. Kendrick calls himself a ‘real’ Black man and he is fighting for his liberation.

[Pre-Hook]

The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice
The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice
The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice
The blacker the berry, the bigger I shoot

The pre-hook is a rhyme of the title of the song. He keeps on saying how the exterior cannot be used to judge the interior. In the last line, he addresses a racial stereotype about African Americans using fire arms. ‘Others’ have a natural assumption that a Black person will shoot you, and this also relates the previously mentioned Michael Brown shooting.

[Hook by Assassin]

I said they treat me like a slave, cah’ me black
Woi, we feel a whole heap of pain, cah’ we black
And man a say they put me in a chain, cah’ we black
Imagine now, big gold chain full of rocks
How you no see the whip, left scars pon’ me back
But now we have a big whip, parked pon’ the block
All them say we doomed from the start, cah’ we black
Remember this, every race start from the block, just remember that

Assassin goes on to speak about a little history of the Blacks. And this history is still being used to measure the African Americans today. Treating them like slaves, abusing them physically and mentally and putting them in chains, were all part of history. Now things have changed and the ‘others’ cannot stand to witness that.

Today some African Americans are rich, with gold chains (instead of iron chains) and rocks (diamonds and gems). The scars ‘others’ make are still upon the backs of the African Americans. But today, they have luxurious and huge cars and other rides (‘big whip’) with them. ‘Others’ don’t even want to give the African Americans a chance, because they are black. In the last line Assassin says, every race starts from the block (the pedestal-like thing athletes rest their feet on at the start of the race), meaning everybody comes from the same level of equality, everybody should get a fair chance, just like in a race.

[Verse 2]

I’m the biggest hypocrite of 2015
Once I finish this, witnesses will convey just what I mean

Verse 1 and 2 of “The Blacker The Berry” begins with the same two lines, conveying the same meaning as we mentioned above.

I mean, it’s evident that I’m irrelevant to society
That’s what you’re telling me, penitentiary would only hire me

Kendrick says the world thinks of the Blacks as ‘irrelevant’, their voices are not being heard, their rights violated and they are put down at every opportunity the ‘others’ get. Getting a job for a Black man is as hard as it can be, and African Americans are more destined to prisons than jobs in ‘others’s perspectives.

Curse me till I’m dead
Church me with your fake prophesyzing that I’mma be just another slave in my head

The racial slurs will follow him from his birth to the death. In the era of slavery, the slave owners have supposedly used manipulated Bible verses to control the slaves.

Institutionalize manipulation and lies
Reciprocation of freedom only live in your eyes
You hate me don’t you?

Institutionalize could refer to African Americans being sent to prison, rehabilitation centers and even mental hospitals, sometimes for no genuine reason. Kendrick also says the notion of freedom only swings between the ‘whites’ and African Americans are excluded from that system too. He pulls out facts and ponders the question ‘You hate me don’t you?’

I know you hate me just as much as you hate yourself
Jealous of my wisdom and cards I dealt
Watchin’ me as I pull up, fill up my tank, then peel out
Muscle cars like pull ups, show you what these big wheels ’bout, ah
Black and successful, this black man meant to be special
CAT scans on my radar bitch, how can I help you?
How can I tell you I’m making a killin’?
You made me a killer, emancipation of a real nigga

These lines from the second verse gives a powerful idea. Kendrick Lamar calls out the racists as people who are insecure about themselves and take it out on others, mainly Blacks, who can be put under the rail easily and get away with it. Kendrick Lamar is genuinely a musical genius, and others are jealous of him about it. It hurts ‘others’ to see an African American drive a car, pump his own gas with his own money.

Even if an African American is successful in the modern society, he will still be abused. Others think he must be the ‘exception’ to be successful like that, or even take up wrong trades to become rich and successful. ‘CAT scans’ are used to diagnose the tumors inside the body. Kendrick says he will speak what’s in his mind, if you dare to question him.

Kendrick Lamar has a net worth of an estimated $14 million as of 2015. He says he is making a killin’ with his music, not by other means. The society made him (African American) a killer. He is just looking for his (Blacks’) liberation.

Pre-hook and the hook repeats again and we get to the third and final verse of “The Blacker The Berry”.

[Verse 3]

I’m the biggest hypocrite of 2015
When I finish this if you listenin’ sure you will agree

Note how the second line has changed from verse 1 and 2 to verse 3. He is coming to the end of the song and after this final verse, he is positive that those who ‘listened’ (with their minds) will agree with him.

This plot is bigger than me, it’s generational hatred
It’s genocism, it’s grimy, little justification

Kendrick Lamar is not speaking for himself through this amazing “The Blacker The Berry” track. What he said here applies to a whole community, a whole race of people. And he says the ‘hate of the Blacks’ have been there for generations. Now ‘they’ don’t even hate for a reason. They just hate for the sake of hating, because their parents and grandparents hated the ‘Blacks’. Bringing down a race or culture is called genocide. And Kendrick says this oppression of the African Americans is nothing less than genocide, and it’s pointless hate. The oppressions, genocides and murders of the African Americans have been given little to no justice by the authorities.

I’m African-American, I’m African
I’m black as the heart of a fuckin’ Aryan

Again Kendrick goes on to say how he feels isolated from American although they call themselves African-American. Here ‘Aryan’ refers to Nazism. He says he is black as the cruel heart of a Nazis, who believed Aryan to be a ‘superior race’.

I’m black as the name of Tyrone and Darius

This is another racial stereotype. Names such as Tyrone and Darius are ‘assumed’ to be always related to the Blacks.

Excuse my French but fuck you — no, fuck y’all
That’s as blunt as it gets, I know you hate me, don’t you?
You hate my people, I can tell cause it’s threats when I see you
I can tell cause your ways deceitful

Knowledge of French language is supposed to be a ‘superior’ thing. And Kendrick says African Americans could be less worried about French. He shifts from ‘you’ to ‘y’all’ to show that a massive group of people are actually standing against his race. He ponders the question if others hate them!

Know I can tell because you’re in love with the Desert Eagle

In this line Kendrick tries to speak to the African American community. He talks about gang violence (Desert Eagle is a gun). Kendrick Lamar witnessed a lot of gang violence growing up. He wants to seen an end to it.

It’s funny how Zulu and Xhosa might go to war
Two tribal armies that want to build and destroy
Remind me of these Compton Crip gangs that live next door
Beefin’ with Piru’s, only death settle the score

Again a little lesson from the history books. Zulu and Xhosa were (are?) tribes in Africa. Dutch invaded them back in the days. Kendrick Lamar thinks it would be humorous that Zulu and Xhosa tribes fought with each other. Before Dutch arrived, they were at peace. So Kendrick straight up says, Dutch is responsible for the massacre of these two tribes–much like what is happening in American today. The two tribes are Americans and African-Americans.

Kendrick Lamar very openly addresses to his fellow African Americans to stop the gang wars. Compton and Piru are two cities in California who are constantly at war (gang wars) with each other. These wars only result in killing their own. Then what is the point of the war?

So don’t matter how much I say I like to preach with the Panthers
Or tell Georgia State “Marcus Garvey got all the answers”

Kendrick doesn’t want to ‘preach’ around the country with The Black Panthers (an African American movement) or tell that Marcus Garvey’s theories and ideologies would solve all these problems.

Or try to celebrate February like it’s my B-Day

Kendrick doesn’t even want to celebrate ‘Black History Month’ which is February each year. It is pointless to have to celebrate a ‘month’ talking about the history of a race when they are not amounted to anything in the present.

Or eat watermelon, chicken, and Kool-Aid on weekdays
Or jump high enough to get Michael Jordan endorsements

Another few stereotypes used to address African Americans. Watermelon, chicken, Kool-Aid and playing basketball. ‘Jump high enough’ is in reference to Michael Jordan’s special vertical jump.

Or watch BET cause urban support is important

BET stands for Black Entertainment Television–a network dedicated to Black audience.

So why did I weep when Trayvon Martin was in the street?
When gang banging make me kill a nigga blacker than me?
Hypocrite!

Trayvon Martin (17) shot dead by George Zimmerman, is another example for African American oppression. The important thing to note here is, Kendrick Lamar questions himself why he cried at the death of this teen, because in his eyes, he is party responsible for the Black oppression too. ‘gang banging’ refers to (not what you think :P) gang violence. African Americans kill each other during these gang wars and how is Kendrick Lamar supposed to ask the Whites to not oppress them, when they are oppressing themselves?

These final few lines pretty much change the whole persona of the song he has been building up. Kendrick Lamar want to start from Compton, start from ending gang violence. Then they will be able to speak up about the White oppression.

So was this the entire “The Blacker The Berry” about? An effort to showcase their own weaknesses before they ask ‘others’ to end oppression? Even Kendrick Lamar was building the whole song to convey that last message, still what he said in previous verses still hold valid.

Conclusion

Did Kendrick Lamar just play with our heads? At the beginning of first and second verses he says you will understand what he says at the end of the song (“when I finish this”). So now that we have analysed the full song till the end, it makes us wonder if Black oppression by the White was really the point of “The Blacker The Berry”.

The aim/objective/target of the song is (could be) something drastically different from what the song lyrics mean. I begin to question if “The Blacker The Berry” was targeted at calling out gang members who kill their own. It is true that Whites have oppressed them, but their own are killing each other. The meaning behind the first two verses are quite direct in conveying the Black oppression. But the final verse takes the song to a whole other direction.

So that is my interpretation of “The Blacker The Berry” single by Kendrick Lamar. There may be other interpretations, and I could even be wrong at times. So do let us know what you think about this track and what could be the meaning of the song and what could be the underlying idea of the song. This is such a great song to pass on without a discussion.

  • It’s no problem at all. I had a hard time recognizing some words and lines too, and in such situations I refer to 2-3 lyric sites, just to be sure. I really appreciate the effort you put into giving feedback, it helps me a lot.
    Definitely I will do more lyric breakdowns and analysis of songs. But as you said they have to inspire me–and not a lot of songs have that ability nowadays. Thank you!

  • Mike Scott

    Sorry for the late reply. I just checked the RapGenius lyrics and it seems that you are right. My mistake. That lyric just seemed to fit some of what the song portrays. I look forward to future breakdowns of songs that inspire you!

  • Thank you so much for the compliment and the comment.
    Make sure to share the article on your social media. 🙂

  • Hassan B

    GREAT ANALYSIS MAN THANK YOU

  • Thanks a lot man! It means a huge deal to have 3+ hours of work being appreciated. I can’t hear “Black” there. There is quite a clear difference in his pronunciation of “Black” in the previous line and “Block” in the last line. I checked Rap Genius and three other lyrics websites and all of them showed that word as “Block”. But all of us could be wrong. Also it would be ‘easier’ to connect the dots if the word was “black” rather than “block”. But the word “block” in that place makes perfect sense too, as I have explained. But I still like to keep this conversation open.

  • Mike Scott

    First off, great analysis. I enjoyed reading your interpretation of the song. I think you misquoted Assassin in the last line of the hook, “Remember this, every race start from the block, just remember that”. I think it is actually, “Every race start from the Black”, which ties in with the popular notion that all mankind originated from Africa and fits perfectly with the theme of the song. Can’t wait for the actual album.