By Dani De Andrade, ’19
Kendrick’s interrogative, sometimes bordering on paranoid song “Mortal Man” gives listeners the opportunity for introspection, and it also acts as a reminder of the past black leaders that have had their messages hidden in a shroud of scandal and even assassination. “Mortal Man” reminds listeners of the danger of being a black leader in America and questions our allegiance to his cause, which is so easily besmirched in the media. Kendrick explores this insecurity while interacting with Tupac, who goes on to talk about the disconnect between America and the black community: “I don’t think America can know that. I think America think we was just playing”. By the end of the song, Kendrick demands that you choose a side and expects society to challenge his integrity, a challenge that is always birthed when a popular leader pushes a cause that demands social change.
The media in the United States specializes in sensation, and us viewers are accustomed to the kinds of reports that offer this sensation to us. In “Mortal Man,” Kendrick references media stories that destroy black individualism and uphold racial stereotypes, all the while offering sensation to viewers by connecting black people with criminality. Black perpetrators and white perpetrators are always considered in different contexts. Kendrick shows his audience this well-established narrative by asking, “If the government want me dead, plant cocaine in my car/Would you judge me a drug kid or see me as K. Lamar.”
Kendrick recognizes the delicacy of his position, a delicacy caused by the media’s long time strategy of connecting black men with social irresponsibility. This counter-productive strategy was used by FOX news during this year’s BET awards where Kendrick performed his song “Alright.” According to FOX News, not only did Kendrick’s performance incite violence, but rap as a music genre has done more damage to black people than racism (they are so adorable). FOX News horribly misunderstands that rap is not inflammatory for the sake of being inflammatory; instead, rap’s radical ideologies are a response to social marginalization and the hostile environments that arise as a consequence of it.
It is our responsibility as listeners to understand the fragility of Kendrick’s position if we are to understand his internal struggles. Kendrick’s confrontation with white America in “Mortal Man” will help us better understand why he chooses to speak in the first place, and why he puts his life on the line just to tell us his personal truths and autobiography. Kendrick’s interrogative lyrics offer a mirror to the listener who believes to their core in the message that is being preached, and questions our loyalty to his cause in a society that will always try to tarnish it.