The Blacker the Berry

Album: To Pimp A Butterfly (2015)
Charted: 66

Songfacts®:

  • This impassioned, racially charged song features lyrics that celebrate Lamar's African-American heritage, and takes on social issues and hatred. The Compton rapper concludes by referencing his own hypocrisy of being outraged over the 2012 killing of African American teenager Trayvon Martin while gang violence still plagues neighborhoods.
  • The song title and its ideals are pulled from Wallace Thurman's 1929 novel of the same name, which explores colorism and racial discrimination within the black community.
  • Lamar quotes 2Pac's 1993 single "Keep Your Head Up," when he raps, "The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice." That line most likely references The Jungle Brothers song "Black Woman," which includes the lyric, "the darker the berry, the sweeter the juice."
  • The single art shows a mother and her twins, from the tribe of the Surma, in the Valley of the Omo of Ethiopia. It was taken by Italian photographer Giordano Ciprian.
  • Boi-1da came up with the beat with the help of Stephen "Koz" Kozmeniuk, whilst Terrace Martin added the jazz part at the end. Martin explained his contribution to Billboard magazine: "I was listening to the record, zoning out... what he's talking about is a perfect time for what's going on in life. It's a soulful record, it's a record that needed to be done, and it's like the modern times of Public Enemy. It's a black record. It's a record about being black and being proud at the end of the day."

    "It inspired me to counteract what he was doing with something hella jazzy. He just got done talking about 'hypocrites' and pro-black s--t, and I'm like, 'Let me calm that down because we [are about to] cause a riot out here!'"
  • The song's hook is performed by Jamaican Dancehall artist Assassin, who is notable for his vocal contribution on Kanye West's Yeezus track, "I'm In It."
  • This is the official song of the NBA 2014-2015 regular season.
  • Lamar told Rolling Stone that he begun writing the song's lyrics when he saw the news of Trayvon Martin's murder. "It just put a whole new anger inside me," he said.
  • Lalah Hathaway, often referred to as the First Daughter of Soul, sings the track's intro. The daughter of soul singer Donny Hathaway and a classically trained vocalist, the songstress' performance on Snarky Puppy's "Something" garnered widespread praise due for her astonishing ability to sing multiple notes at one time and earned Hathaway her first Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance.
  • Jazz pianist Robert Glasper is a frequent collaborator of co-producer Terrace Martin and he ended up contributing to this song. He recalled to Billboard magazine: "Terrace was like, 'Let's get a band together and go in the studio, and just try to come up with some ideas for Kendrick's record.' [The riff] was a little something I came up with in the studio, and we just started jamming on it. It was just something to have, and in the end it was like, 'Oh, I don't think we're going to use any of it for the songs.' But then they ended up tagging it on the end of 'The Blacker The Berry.'"
  • Lamar concludes the song by rapping:

    So why did I weep when Trayvon Martin was in the street
    When gang banging make me kill a n---a blacker than me, hypocrite


    MTV News asked the Compton rapper who he was talking about on the last verse? "A few people think it's just talk and it's just rap; no, these are my experiences," he replied. "When I say, 'Gang banging made me kill a n---a blacker than me,' this is my life that I'm talking about. I'm not saying you, you might not even be from the streets."

    "I'm not speaking to the community, I'm not speaking of the community," K-Dot added. "I am the community."

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