Kendrick Lamar came into Grammys night with 11 nominations. Halfway through the broadcast he had already won five, including Best Rap Album. But even if he loses the Album of the Year award to Taylor Swift, he won the ceremony with a soulful and politically-charged performance that started with him rapping “The Blacker the Berry” in chains, surrounded by band members who played from behind bars.
Lamar soon transitioned into “Alright,” which has become not only his biggest hit (though it lost the “Song of the Year” award to Ed Sheeran) but also an anthem for the Black Lives Matter movement.
“I’m black as the moon, heritage of a small village,” he raps in the song. “Pardon my residence, came from the bottom of mankind. My hair is nappy, my dick is big, my nose is round and wide. You hate me don’t you?”
All of those conservative politicians and pundits who were so offended by Beyoncé’s “Formation” performance at the Super Bowl are probably not going to think much more highly of this one. Though, as one of my Twitter followers pointed out, at least white people seem to know Lamar is black.
“I’d go in certain parts of the world, and they were singing it in the streets,” Lamar told The New York Times earlier this year when asked about the song’s role in the racial justice movement. “When it’s outside of the concerts, then you know it’s a little bit more deep-rooted than just a song. It’s more than just a piece of a record. It’s something that people live by—your words.” He called the song’s positive refrain a “chant of hope.”
The performance also included a freestyle finale where Lamar gave a shout-out to February 26, the day Travyon Martin was killed by George Zimmerman in 2012. “On February 26th I lost my life, too / It’s like I’m here in a dark dream / Man hear screams recorded / Say that it sounds distorted but they know who it was,” he rapped.
Lamar’s electric turn ended with an image of Africa with the word “Compton” in the center, was rapturously received by the Grammy audience, including Anna Kendrick and Adele, who had the unfortunate task of following him. “I love you Kendrick, you’re amazing,” she said from the stage following her performance.