Kendrick Lamar’s new album, “Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers” is an in-depth review of social progress. The critically acclaimed rapper has come back after winning a Pulitzer Prize for the album “DAMN”, solidifying him as an exceptional artist in popular culture. Even with his mass critical acclaim, his authenticity cuts through to even the most critical hip-hop fans.
Lamar is not the only Rapper to balance political and personal issues, but he has gained a reputation as the most notable “conscious” apper in modern hip-hop. He challenges this notion on the latest project, but his work consistently fulfills these expectations. So, when he decided to push back against political correctness on his latest project, the passion that followed was inevitable. Lamar includes prominent contributions from rapper Kodak Black, who pled guilty to rape and sexual assault on April 28th, 2021. The eighth track, “We Cry Together,” depicts angry expressions from masculine and feminine perspectives performed by Lamar and actor Taylour Paige.
However, the track “Auntie Diaries” is causing the most controversy. The track is about his path to acceptance of his trans uncle and gay/trans cousin. Lamar’s story exemplifies the traditional American aversion to homosexuality and transness, particularly in Black communities. As Lamar says:
“I sat in the pew, you had stronger faith
More spiritual when these dudes were livin’ life straight
Which I found ironic ’cause the pastor didn’t see him the same
He said my cousin was goin’ through some things”
Animosity toward Queer and Trans folks is deep-seated in established communities. Anything contrary is corrected, critiqued, or rectified by mentors and guardians, leading to an ugly pathology, as Lamar says:
“The history had trickled down and made us ign’ant.”
For Black folks, modes of respectability are usually reinforced in there and homophobia adds to the pressure cooker. Lamar explains his participation in this epidemic, which allows the listener to see their involvement. More importantly, the story outlines a closeness to the queer members of his family, something that is unprecedented in mainstream hip hop. Queer people are typically not welcome in dominant rap narratives, and even in 2022, there is hostility toward community members (Da Baby’s Rolling Loud rant, for example). The track breaks the mold for not following this tenor.
However, Lamar does make a bold choice in the text within the context by including “the f-word.” Saying:
Back when it was comedic relief to say “f*****
f*****, f*****, f*****,” we ain’t know no better
Elementary kids with no filter,
Lamar utters it ten times in the song. He also misgenders his uncle by saying:
My auntie is a man now
Lamar uses the wrong pronouns for his uncle in the first half of the song. Within the song’s context, Lamar takes us from his less tolerant adolescence to an accepting adulthood. His language progresses and changes toward the end of the song. He substitutes the slur for saying “the f -word,” ensuring he addresses his uncle with proper pronouns. He tells a story from the past but still utters a word that he knows is historically triggering.
It is disappointing considering that Lamar has the insight not to use these terms. It is not unreasonable for critics to want Lamar to use politically correct language. The LGBTQAI movement needs an erasure of specific words, so as to not reinforce Queerphobic language. The rebuttal to the song is fatigue. It’s the frustration at Lamar for knowing better than to utter the speech that he does, even if it is to enhance the picture he’s painting.
“Auntie Dairies” is very timely for many reasons. First, our generation is becoming increasingly vocal about uplifting Queer voices. Media is still catching up, but there is an active movement to connect Queer folks through multiple media platforms. Trans people of color have contributed to and starred on television for four years. There are over one hundred podcasts by and for LGBTQAI folks, and there has been more visibility for openly Queer rappers. We as a culture, can access information about Queer identities more efficiently than ever before. Lamar, who is known as a straight artist, coming forward on a highly anticipated album expressing his growth on the topic, reflects the ability for change. It inspires hope for more peace amongst the Black community. It evokes emotional reactions from those either identifying with Lamar or his cousin or uncle.
The decision not to censor himself or correct his language makes the piece feel less welcoming to Queer listeners. Lamar is a master storyteller and arguably did not need to include the slur to paint the full picture. Ultimately, the track is progressive in many ways but still frustrating. Framed by an album that is challenging political correctness, the song proves that those influenced by Queerphobic pathology can learn to accept Queer members of their community. Still, it is not the pathway to a Queer and inclusive hip-hop ecosystem.