By Dibora Haile, Lifestyle Contributor
Last February’s Black History Month was definitely one for the books. In the wake of Beyoncé’s Super Bowl show, Kendrick Lamar brought the 2016 Grammy Awards an equally unapologetically pro-Black piece. It was described as “the best performance in Grammy History” and words like “inspiring” and “powerful” were thrown around in the media. Celebrities from Adele to LeBron James alike praised the positive message, and it even received accolades from the White House via Twitter. Even more so, Kendrick was necessary. In the context of the #BlackLivesMatter movement and the anxiety of our country’s race relations, his exhibition was not only unapologetically Black exhibition but also highly Afro-Conscious, and politically charged.
Kendrick sounded off by swaggering on stage with chains and penitentiary apparels. His predicament made a statement about mass incarceration. Yet as the performance continued, it became apparent that this was not just a physical state of imprisonment, but it also extended to mental captivity. He awkwardly grasped the microphone, and exclaimed, “I’m the biggest hypocrite in 2015.” He flinched when the saxophones hummed, startled by the sound. Then, he continued to rap in a more self-assured tone. “I’m African-American. I’m African. I’m black as the moon. Heritage of a small village. Pardon my residence.” These words are self-affirming of his identity and of his heritage, something that African Americans have lost due to slavery. As he continued to rap, the chains fell off and he was free to brazenly tell the audience, “You hate me, don’t you? You hate my people. Your plan is to terminate my culture.”
As the music picked up, Kendrick staggered in a limp somnambulistic motion into a different scenario. It is one of a large bonfire, surrounded by African tribal women dancing and drumming. In this dreamlike state, Kendrick’s first words were, “And when I wake up…,” leading into a performance of “Alright”, a song that has become an anthem for anti-brutality, anti-racism rallies. Its hopeful tone resonates with the Afrocentric themes of his performance. The choreography of this portion allowed for more mobility, a stark contrast from the rigged movement from his penitentiary state.
When he was pulled away from this dream state, there was no longer a backdrop of prison or tribal rituals to enforce his message. There are only his words. He began to perform an unheard track that invoked the death of Trayvon Martin, which formed the inception of the Black Lives Matter organization. Candidly displaying his anger and anguish, he internalized the inherent conflict of black on black violence and police brutality that he faces. He ended with a bang, revealing a map of the African continent labeled as his hometown, Compton — a token to his Blackness and liberated conscious embedded in his realization of his Afrocentric roots.