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Breaking Down Kendrick Lamar's "Humble" Lyrics
Breaking Down Kendrick Lamar's "Humble" Lyrics
Photo courtesy of YouTube / Vevo.

One Player's Opinion on Kendrick Lamar's Message To Black Men And Their Patriarchy

Lenny Kravitz, Grace Jones, Lauryn Hill, Lion Babe, Thundercat, SZA & More Rock The Afropunk Festival 2015 in Brooklyn, NY. Photo courtesy of YouTube / Vevo.

Kendrick Lamar brought the heat once again with his newest track, "Humble," with visuals by go-to music video director Dave Meyers. After recently teasing new music with a cryptic Instagram post it’s rumored that the Compton rapper’s To Pimp A Butterfly follow-up will release April 7th. In the meantime, he presumptively continues to give us pieces of his upcoming project, dropping "The Heart Pt. 4" just a week ago.

Unlike, "The Heart Pt. 4," the song's braggadocios messaging, "Humble" shifts from introspection to instruction as he processes his thoughts on black women, from his youth to manhood. While Kendrick’s politically charged lyricism has served as a narrative to the black man’s experience, his thoughts on topics related to black women and their experience have remained somewhat hidden until now. "Humble" gives us a chronological breakdown of his relationships with the women in his own life from his grandmother to what you presume to be his first sexual experience. He goes from praising his grandmother who funded and fed him growing up into putting, dare say, his “type” of woman on a pedestal.

“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 stretch marks,” Kendrick raps on the song. While he’s expressing his desirability, these lyrics put down a group of women in order to uplift others based off of looks. We’ve seen this done countless times over in the music and entertainment industry. It’s divisive and does not aide in creating unity within the movement for black lives.

Ultimately, his misguided lyrics bring to light the superficial realities many men have allowed to grip them throughout history. While he is letting women know that they don’t have to subscribe to superficial beauty standards, he’s doing so in a way that some say is dismissing of women who choose to wear their hair in weaves, apply makeup and experiment with plastic surgery. Female MCs such as Missy Elliott and Lauryn Hill have been pushing against this sort of rhetoric for a long time. Fortunately, this is all a part of Kendrick’s learning process, as he suggests at the end of the song, “There are levels to this shit, you and I know.”

In order to make sense of the black woman’s place in society, he enters the hair salon, a space many black women look to for solace. He sits under the hair dryer in order to understand the black woman’s perspective when it comes to beauty standards. However, understanding the black woman’s place runs much deeper than complimenting our crowns and natural physiques. There are nuances that need to be discussed. It will take men acknowledging their places, giving up patriarchy and choosing to take a stance of humility. Kendrick’s reenactment of Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper,” hints at his understanding that he must sacrifice his place as well. The recognition is there, but the real talk has yet to begin.

Lenny Kravitz, Grace Jones, Lauryn Hill, Lion Babe, Thundercat, SZA & More Rock The Afropunk Festival 2015 in Brooklyn, NY. Photo courtesy of YouTube / Vevo.

"Humble" is further proof that we need to have conversations on intersectionality, a term defined by critical race theorist Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw in 1989, as the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage. Kendrick’s "Humble" challenges black men to take a seat and have this conversation amongst themselves and with women. Part of the solution will come through first listening to women.

We can’t afford to have women standing on the frontlines alone without the support of men any longer. Throughout history, black women have organized against the routine violence responsible for destroying homes and communities. Black women have always showed up to fight for and on behalf of black men. However, more often than not black men have not showed up in the same way for us.

This disjointed approach hasn’t gotten us far. The Million Man March, started by Minister Louis Farrakhan in 1995, was meant to bring together African American men with the intent of addressing the economic and social ills plaguing the African American community. However, women were completely left out of the conversation and on the 20th anniversary of the march, Louis Farrakhan reportedly began to compare and slut shame women, while reinforcing problematic gender roles on national television. Black men can no longer march under misogyny's stronghold, while hashtagging the names of women lost to systematic violence.

Kendrick’s "Humble" is what Beyoncé’s "Formation" was to black women—a call for black men to take an introspective look at their place and power. He is self-aware of the stance of humility he needs to take and is encouraging other men to do the same. He is telling black men to get into formation, by ridding themselves of respectability politics, the lines used to disenfranchise the movement and to be humble—women and looks aren’t going to get us free. Kendrick roots his lyrics in religion and credits his newfound understanding to the divine as he looks into the camera with a sea of bald headed Black men nodding their heads in agreement, as he sings, “Be humble, sit down, be humble.”

Priscilla Ward is a celebrated writer whose work has been featured on Essence, Salon and is also the creator of #BLCKNLIT. You can find her tweeting about bell hooks, sandwiches and art shows @MacaroniFRO.