On DAMN Kendrick Lamar became the biggest name in Rap. Whilst a critic’s choice from the start, Lamar had never had his Blueprint moment. He struggled to find an opening in the popular zeitgeist for his twistedly dark rhythms and introspective rap.
That all changed when lead single ‘HUMBLE’ went to the top of the Billboard 100. This is Kendrick at his most direct. It’s the caustic & damning all-caps mega-hit that his career was always leading to.
But we need to talk about his writing. We need to talk about the word ‘Bitch’.
I don’t want to sound like a granny clutching her pearls. I enjoy foul language more than most, and regularly utilise it in these reviews, direct it at my co-editor, and at random people crossing the street.
‘HUMBLE’ uses the word ‘Bitch’ 40 times. In a song that lasts just over three minutes. The question is: why?
‘HUMBLE’ is not a song about hating women. It’s a song about hating everyone. Which is fair game. It’s a song dedicated to the vapid youth of today and their obsession with self-obsession. It’s a command to sit-down and shut-up and aimed at a generation driven by anxiety and insularity. Hence the chorus: “Sit down / Be humble”.
So why use such a blunt, ugly word rooted in misogyny? The song isn’t supposed to be about women hating, so why write it in a way that leaves that as the inevitable interpretation?
What’s more, far from enhancing the power of the track this actually diminishes it. Chanting “Holla / Lil’ Bitch” over and over is laughably thick-headed and saps the song of it’s righteous anger.
This doesn’t completely spoil it; it’s still the best flow Kendrick has ever had. His disarmingly soft vocals have always intrigued me, especially when delivered with such malice. He’s closer to Curtis Mayfield than he is most other rappers, combing groove-driven R&B with an astute social conscience. On Pimp a Butterfly he took rap deep into the mire of American race politics in a way few could dare. He seems intent on taking rap forward.
If he wants to keep doing that, he needs to drop the word and all it’s hateful implications. Rap music has always been about attitude, always a protest and always uncompromising. This is where it draws it’s power and it’s identity. I get that.
But it’s time to move on. Because I for one am fucking sick to the back teeth of this off-handed ‘Bitches & Hos’ crap and I think Kendrick Lamar knows better.