In 2016, the rapper and activist Kendrick Lamar emerged on the Grammys stage, heading a chain of shackled back-up dancers wearing mock-prisoner uniforms. His band played morosely from behind bars on both sides of him, and after carefully detangling his own chains, Kendrick approached the microphone and began his first verse from “The Blacker the Berry” – directed at white America.
With Kendrick’s last line, the performers shed their shackles as the lights went dark, and their once prisoner-like uniforms revealed neon tribal patterns – turning their wardrobe of oppression into a liberative representation of African culture. Kendrick, stumbling over to a second stage, transitioned to another song on To Pimp A Butter y’s album, “Alright,” as performers in African dress freely danced around the almost furious artist. As an article in e Atlantic described it, “He’s calling for a ‘conversation for the entire nation,’ illuminated by a re that has been roaring for longer than America has existed.” e astounding performance concluded with Kendrick’s silhouette on top of a projection of Africa’s borders with one word written inside – “Compton.”
This year, at the 2018 Grammy Awards, Kendrick took the stage again – this time in a sea of marching dancers dressed as soldiers, performing his song “XXX” in front of a moving backdrop. With an eerie voice singing “America, God bless you if it's good to you,” the dancers marched in a moving square, revealing Kendrick under a bright light in the center. Later in the performance, American stand-up comedian and actor Dave Chappelle interrupted, “I just wanted to remind the audience that the only thing more frightening than watching a black man be honest in America is being an honest black man in America.”
Although these performances undoubtably shine a spotlight on the mass incarceration of black people and modern day racism in America, they are truly a theatrical drop in the ocean compared with the rest of Kendrick’s work on the Black Power Movement. Winning the Grammy in 2016 for Best Rap Song, Kendrick’s black anthem “Alright” has become a poignant mantra for many – his famous words “we gon’ be alright” chanted loudly across rallies and protests all over the nation.
Now, along with crafting incredible, and necessary, politically-charged music performances, Kendrick’s status as a black role model and philanthropist has given his talents an enormous scope. Fashion has always been political, but recently with the Time’s Up and #MeToo movements boldly supported at the 2018 Academy Awards, it’s never been clearer how much of a political statement fashion can make. And political fashion statements are Kendrick’s bread and butter. Shocking to even the designers themselves, in Kendrick’s hit music video for “Humble,” he wore a sweatshirt from emerging LA brand Second/Layer that read “Dreamer.” e video generated 6 million views in 24 hours, and compliments immediately poured in about the brand’s clothing.
Kendrick Lamar has undoubtedly become one of the biggest names in music over the last few years. But his music is more than just catchy. rough his music and larger platform as a celebrity, Kendrick has consistently rebelled against injustices in society.
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