The Pit and The Pendulum: #BlackMusicMatters

Cover art of Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly

1989 is an album by Taylor Swift. 1989 is also the opening line of the Public Enemy song, ‘Fight the Power.’

Well, actually, the full line goes “1989, the number/another summer/sound of the funky drummer.”

Anyways, the song was released 26 years ago. Swift was born 26 years ago. I’ll let you consider which is more important.

Before that last statement makes you flip the page, let me outline a few more facts. In 1989, Yusef Hawkins, a 16 year old, went to Bensonhurst, New York to inquire about a car.

He ended up dead, murdered by 10 to 30 white youths armed with bats, knives and guns.

Another Public Enemy song entitled ‘Welcome to the Terrordome’ contains a quick dedication to this young man killed. It also contains the lyric, “Caught in a race against time/The Pit and the Pendulum.”

Basically, Chuck D is saying that as time progresses without an effective plan enacted against racism, racism will become accepted again.

In 2009, 20 years after Taylor Swift’s birth, and Public Enemy’s statements on the importance of a seminal black rights movement, Oscar Grant was killed in Oakland California.

He was killed when an officer claimed to see him touch his waistband, even though he was shot in the back. The officer in the case was charged with involuntary manslaughter, not murder. This situation spurned a movie that was released into 2013 called Fruitvale Station.

Also, in 2013, Lamar was up for a Grammy for best rap album. It was for his album ‘good kid, m.A.A.d City.’

Although generally considered the best rap album of the year by critics, and containing an abundance of significant rhetoric on the struggles of black culture in America, it lost.

Lamar lost best rap album to two white musicians: Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. He left empty handed, losing an award to two white musicians, in a genre founded on, and by Black culture.

In 2015, Lamar released another album. In 2014, Swift did as well.

Now, any arguments that can be made against good kid, m.A.A.d city vanished upon release, and subsequent analysis of Lamar’s new album.

The album, entitled ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’, built off of what good kid, m.A.A.d couldn’t accomplish. It blended genres, being influenced by jazz, blues, electronic, hip-hop and spoken word.

It addressed black culture, black consciousness, crime, art and revolution, all the way from its first track, entitled ‘Wesley’s theory’ (an analysis of the exploitation of black artists), to its last track Mortal Man (a call to awareness of the deaths of the black and innocent).

The title, ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ is even a critique of society and its subsequent limitation of black culture asserting that black people (the butterflies) are exploited for all they’re worth (pimped), and then left to squander by the industry.

If there were ever an example of this in the music industry itself, it would be what happened at the Grammys, which occurred on Feb. 15.

In 2016, three years after Kendrick Lamar lost to Macklemore for best rap album, three years Lamar used to work, and stew and perfect. Three years, with even more black people being killed by corrupt police, and even more alleged “opportunities” for black culture to grow, Lamar lost best album yet again, to a white person.

He lost best album to Taylor Swift.

Now, the problem here isn’t Swift herself. She is a prominent activist for feminism and female rights, and any wrongdoing here isn’t her wrongdoing.

However, when a year that a black artist releases an album that specifically arranges itself to comment on black culture, society, racism and its dire consequences is the same year that the country in which said artist resides in has the largest rates of black deaths by police, the fact that their art is overlooked becomes troublesome.

Lamar arguably releases two of the best rap albums of the past 10 years, and both times, is held as a runner-up to a white artist.

The first time, by a white artist residing, and performing, in a predominately black genre.

The second time, by a person that had previously enlisted said artist to help them out on a song, one of the songs on the same album that said artist lost to.

Now, if that isn’t exploitation of black culture, then I don’t know what is.

It is true that the Grammy’s are overwhelmingly white. Not many will find that a surprise, it being an awards show and all.

Out of almost 60 years that the Grammy’s has existed, a black artist has only won Album of the Year 11 times. This is either due to them being snubbed out of an award by a white artist, or snubbed out of the nomination process altogether.

However, it’s almost more troubling to note that black culture is exploited when needed, but then ignored when not.

The Grammy Awards have no problem using black artists as performers, to draw in crowds and viewers, but when presented with the opportunity to actually acknowledge their talent on a larger scale, they flounder.

The Macklemore case aside, black artists usually win in black genres. Blues, sometimes jazz, rap and R&B are not dominated, but are more often than not, won by black artists. This is almost white culture saying to black artists: be happy with winning in your genre, but don’t dare trying to take ours.

Unfortunately, this article comes to a close with no real answer to this problem. Black music, especially rap and R&B is chiefly overlooked by those in the critical community, and scoffed at by almost everyone over a certain age, or leaning towards a certain side of the political spectrum.

Black artists are held back through the process of exploitation and used for their talents, but not their viewpoints.

How can the race situation change when those with the largest voices are not celebrated and recognized for what they have created, said, completed or attempted to do? How can we evoke change, when any movement towards change is disregarded?

In our society, a society plagued by racism, how do we acknowledge those that have something to say?

Well, this question can be answered easily: just fucking acknowledge them!

The first step towards eliminating racism is simply by acknowledging that it exists and attempting to fix it. The article above acknowledged the racism prevalent in society and the statement below attempts to fix it, even in the smallest way.

Here we go.

Kendrick Lamar deserved album of the year, but lost it, to a white person. That is the truth.

About Tyler Majer 73 Articles
Tyler works out of Peterborough, Ontario, and reluctantly attends Trent University. He loathes deeply, while drinking often. The cigarettes will soon consume his life. Read his poetry while you still can at while reading his journalistic work at this very site. I would say that he would be appreciative, but that may not be the truth.