Open Response to Isaac Simpson’s “Nobody Hates Kendrick Lamar”

Photo by Christian San Jose

“I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.”

-James Baldwin

Dear Isaac,

I was originally intending to leave this response on the message board of your article “Nobody Hates Kendrick Lamar” but as is the way most times with those message boards the conversation has mostly centered around who is sucking whose girlfriend’s dick. It seemed disrespectful to respectfully disagree with your article in that context.

I love the new Kendrick Lamar. It makes me excited and happy to be alive. I spend a good deal of my time volunteering as a community advocate for my neighborhood, and upon first listen it gave me the kind of validation that there is hope for a younger generation and actual change can be made to our society to empower younger people of color. This empowerment is by nature both difficult and messy, as human beings of all backgrounds are difficult and messy creatures. We are just as likely to mess up our best laid plans as we are to accidentally do something brilliant.

I personally think that’s one of the reasons that we as artists and humans aspire to worship unachievable greatness: It gives us something to take aim upon in an otherwise messy world. Simultaneously, the worship of greatness allows us as critics to apply John Updike’s famous critical rhetoric to artists. Essentially, we are able to judge an artist based upon the way that they judge themselves. So let’s look at Tupac.

Tupac aimed to get revenge against police violence. Tupac aimed for revolution. Tupac aimed for hate to lead to a critical mass in which Propaganda of the Deed would achieve true and lasting change.

Look at the world we live in today. Eric Garner was killed by a policeman. Michael Brown was killed by a policeman. And true, there were protests and there are whispers of political action that would hold police accountable for their actions. And there WAS Propaganda of the Deed! Ismaaiyl Abdullah Brinsley killed two police officers in the name of police brutality on December 20th, 2014. But this did not lead to the revolution of which Tupac spoke.

In fact, Ismaaiyl Abdullah Brinsley was widely regarded as a madman and his actions were decried by activists, police, and even his own family. Tupac’s own dream actually occurred. And by Tupac’s own rhetoric, he has failed at his goals. Propaganda of the Deed did not lead to a revolution in our hyper media saturated culture.

So let’s take another look at Kendrick Lamar. True, he compares himself to Tupac. And I do agree with you that this album is vague compared to Tupac’s work. But Tupac’s revolution never happened, so I am happy to see that Kendrick Lamar chooses not to resurrect Tupac, but rather to honor Tupac’s legacy as an intellectual giant by standing upon Tupac’s shoulders. Lamar chooses to make a gangster record that is nuanced and by his success at being a nuanced complicated artist, he gives me hope that we may achieve a nuanced revolution not complicit in the hate it attempts to quash.

Lamar’s beautiful vagueness can indeed be a call to action, and perhaps, unlike Tupac, this call to action might affect lasting real change.

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