Kendrick hearing about the backlash to “Humble.”
The rap world is currently eagerly enjoying Kendrick Lamar’s new album DAMN., which the self-proclaimed “greatest rapper alive” dropped last week. However, the album’s hit single, the innocuously titled “Humble,” has the oft-praised rapper in trouble.
“Humble,” like most things Kendrick Lamar does, has been acclaimed across the Internet for its surreal, pro-black music video rife with religious imagery (as well as footage of Kendrick playing golf, for some reason). But what has most people talking about it is a bit surprising: stretch marks.
Um. Yeah. A set of now-controversial lyrics from “Humble” reads, “I’m so fucking sick and tired of the Photoshop… Show me something natural like ass with some stretch marks.” In the song’s music video, these lyrics are accompanied by images of a light-skinned black woman who is seen wearing makeup and her hair in a straightened ponytail in one scene, then without makeup and with naturally curly hair in another. In yet another scene, Kendrick does, indeed, stare at a woman’s ass, complete with stretch marks.
— April (@ReignOfApril) March 30, 2017
While some have praised Kendrick’s lyrics (let’s be honest; do we really need more money going to cosmetic companies?) many women have found them to be problematic, even if Kendrick’s purpose was clearly well-intended. Kendrick’s point was that women should be proud of their natural appearance, but his lyrics privilege his own opinion over female agency, making the song yet another example of a male telling women what to do with their bodies. Many have also pointed out the less-than-progressive decision to cast a light-skinned black woman (a typical practice in rap music videos), and that the now-famous ass in the video is that of a slim woman. While Kendrick’s lyrics promote body positivity, the visuals don’t support his message, and rather seem to be about what he finds attractive in a woman.
To be fair, Kendrick has a notable and highly impressive track record when it comes to discussing women, as well as beauty standards. Kendrick’s 2011 song “No Make-Up (Her Vice)” iterates Kendrick’s belief that women don’t need to use makeup to feel beautiful, although the song also suggests that makeup is used to cover up signs of trauma or physical abuse (in the song, a female voice admits to hiding a black eye). In another song, “Keisha’s Song (Her Pain),” Kendrick empathizes with a prostitute who uses makeup in order to sell herself. More recently, Kendrick’s 2015 song “Complexion (A Zulu Love)” discusses colorism and its effects on romantic relationships.
If we buy into the message of songs like “No Make-Up,” or more well-known tracks like Beyoncé’s “Flawless,” we run the risk of trivializing the efforts of women who might use makeup because they simply like to use it (as opposed to doing it just to satisfy the male gaze). The same goes for women who use Photoshop, Instagram filters, cosmetic surgery, etc. Everybody has the right to feel beautiful, and the right to use whatever means they choose in order to achieve their ideal appearance. You know, as long as you’re not drinking blood to stay young.
And it’s worth noting that there are celebrities like Alicia Keys and pretty much all of the Kardashians who flaunt their own #nomakeup movement, blissfully unaware that they all fit within traditional standards of beauty, and they’re all rich enough to afford personal makeup artists for themselves.
Still, while the”Humble” lyrics have raised some controversy, it’s not to say that anyone is ignoring that Kendrick has been remarkably progressive compared to his peers. As many supporters and detractors have pointed out, the bar is remarkably low when it comes to feminist rappers, and if it weren’t Kendrick Lamar, most people wouldn’t think twice about the lyrics.
However, some people have already jumped on Twitter to defend Kendrick.
You not mad at Kendrick, you have some deep man issues that stem from your family that you don’t want to address
— Chakra Zulu (@TheBoyIllinois) March 31, 2017
More frustratingly, the criticism against “Humble” has been labelled as “feminist backlash” by quite a few publications, framing the controversy as some sort of stereotypical angry feminist lynch mob. The irony is that most of the women who disagree with the “Humble” lyrics are fans of Kendrick, and many have voiced their praise for the song as a whole. If anything, Kendrick’s flawed lyrics have only reinforced the relationship between audience and artist. We can disagree with our favorite rappers and appreciate their intentions, and ask them to do better.