Dear Culture, does Kendrick still have it? This week on the Dear Culture podcast, I’m talking to culture writer Shamira Ibrahim about the Pulitzer Prize-winning rapper’s latest project, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers and whether or not King Kendrick should keep his crown.
Panama Jackson [00:00:06] What’s going on, everybody? Welcome back to Dear Culture, the podcast for, by and about Black culture here on theGrio Black Podcast Network. I’m your host, Panama Jackson and it’s June. It’s Black Music Month. So what we’ve been doing all month long will continue to do is talk about Black music. And today’s episode will be no different. We’re going to be talking about one of the albums that came out that was one of the most anticipated albums of the year and maybe even knocked one of the other album of the year contenders right off this pedestal. I’m talking about none other than Kendrick Lamar’s missed Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers.
Panama Jackson [00:00:43] I couldn’t think of anybody better to have this conversation with than one of my best friends, one of my favorite music writers, music journalists, somebody whose opinion on music I actually genuinely value and respect your life. You know how people have like in quotations on their like Twitter handles like yours should be like “I wrote that” as like your Twitter handle because you’re literally everywhere. But let me I’m I got to read this bio like this is amazing. So Shamira Ibrahim is a Brooklyn based culture writer by way of Harlem, Canada and East Africa, who explores identity, cultural production and technology via a race critical code framework. As a critic, reporter, feature profile writer and essayist with a particular emphasis on Francophone accessibility in the Anglophone Black Diaspora. Yo, that’s got to be what you send to schools and places when you do your talks with that has to do what you said to people. Right. We are here to talk today, though, about Kendrick Lamar’s latest album,Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers, an album, I got to be honest, I really like this album. Now, you culture critic person who obviously probably listened to this album day the day it came out because the conversations were going to be flying around. How many times have you listened to this album so far? Because I know people who were like, I can’t listen to that album. Like, I just can’t do it. Is too is too heavy, is too whatever. Like, how many times have you listened to it at this point?
Shamira Ibrahim [00:02:09] I’ve probably spun out like 9 to 10 times. I generally have to give a good 3 to 5 listens even really have a cogent opinion anyway, so I probably gave it a good 9 to 10 spins.
Panama Jackson [00:02:25] All right. I want to start a little bit more globally than just the album specifically. But, you know, I mean, Kendrick releases an album everybody’s waiting for. As soon as Kendrick announces the album’s coming out, it becomes like the highly anticipated album, right? Because the album we’re all looking forward to hearing, like, which is interesting because Kendrick is a bit of a recluse, right? Like he’s really not in the picture very much. Like he kind of hops in and hops out on occasion. But like, why do you think Kendrick is the most anticipated? Well, I’m like I say, he’s the most but one of the more anticipated artists. Whenever an album’s coming out, like, why? Why is that?
Shamira Ibrahim [00:03:00] I mean, I feel like. Like the idea that him being a recluse kind of adds to the mystique of, like, the creative genius, right? You know what I mean? Like, J. Cole does the same thing as well. Right. J Cole does the whole I’m not in the picture. Right. Kendrick is a little bit more like I’m going to sit with my wife and kids and be thinking, but they’re both in the whole like, I don’t be reading a lot, but I’d be thinking a lot of people.
Panama Jackson [00:03:23] I knew he was going to come up.
Shamira Ibrahim [00:03:29] For the record, I’m not saying that even as necessarily a bad thing. Right. I really think that like with rap and art—I do think all art is political. I also think that it also is just a reflection of our time. Right. So I think that while we are is inherently political, it does not have to be politically informed if that makes sense. Right. So it can just be a reflection of their present minds and thoughts. I can fervently disagree with their present mind thoughts. Right. But I also think there’s some value in them just sharing what they are seeing and perceiving in that being political in and of itself. Right. It doesn’t have to be a lie as opposed to just a contextualization of what their lives are. Right. So with that said, you know, I think that the reality is Kendrick got a Pulitzer. Right. His work became like elevated to this idea of him being a truth teller of the Black experience. Right. He went to South Africa his entire life changed. Right? Right. He kind of reached that echelon. Right. And he became embraced by the mainstream as someone who was the unifier of the Black voice. Once his music became the sound of the American protest movement being kept going, great grand slam of racism. And that kind of changed everything for him, right? And changed not just he, which is already kind of already a mainstream label, even though, of course, it operates as an indie kind of subset and hadn’t changed where he saw it as a platform, right. Where he saw as someone who was getting licensed for morning TV shows, a morning programs as exit music for Good Morning America. Right. That “I love myself” song was everywhere.
Shamira Ibrahim [00:05:26] Alright was everywhere, right?
Shamira Ibrahim [00:05:31] You know? Whether it was kids singing it, whether it was grow ups singing it, you know, whether it was, you know, white people putting it on t shirts for the lyrics. Right. You know, that kind of really transformed his trajectory. So it was everyone’s feeling that they could kind of identify with a piece of his music no matter what your entry point was. So you could have entered at Section. 80 when he was still k-dot. . You could have entered at “Damn” right. And those are two very different Kendricks.
Panama Jackson [00:06:09] But they really are.
Shamira Ibrahim [00:06:11] You know, that was kind of why it’s not really a surprise that this was like very much an anticipated project for him after many years. You know, in that respect, it’s kind of like how Andre is going to always be a hotly anticipated album, right? Even though they’re different artists, they kind of serve a similar purpose in the canon of artistry, right? People have established a mythos about who they are and what they serve to a canon of hip hop, especially as white fans kind of became injected into the conversation. And the second Andrew decides to do something, it’s going to get a million sense.
Panama Jackson [00:06:49] All right. You know what’s interesting is like so I went to read the Pulitzer thing and this is what it says about “Damn”, which is the album Kendrick won a Pulitzer for recording released April 14th, 2017, a virtuosic song collection unified by its vernacular, authenticity and rhythmic dynamism that offers affecting vignettes, capturing the complexity of modern African-American life. Which is funny to me because I don’t really actually think, “Damn”, does that. Like, I actually feel like, like Good Kid, Maad City does that more. This new album probably does that more than “Damn” does, which I enjoy. But it’s just so interesting because like, Kendrick has become like in my read of this Kendrick has become like an academic exercise for everybody. Like that’s that’s a lot of what I hear you talking about is kind of where we have placed him in society. Like he has a societal context now, right? Like he’s been all of his albums have been dissected by the podcast dissect. There are two books about him right now. Miles Marshall Lewis has Promise that You Will Sing About Me and Marcus Moore has The Butterfly Effect: how Kendrick Lamar Ignited the Soul of Black America. People are digging into Kendrick in a way that turns everything that he writes into this larger thing. His sentences are broken down now and you know, like. I think that’s so interesting because I’m kind of usually anti like over academic academic-sizing and making over the academic hip hop. I don’t know how to say that word. I don’t know how the right word is, but. You know, he’s kind of been put in that space, like with like the Tupac’s of the world, like Tupac and Jay and all these people, hip hop wise. I kind of wonder if. Like that has that has made it so that we think too much about what Kendrick brings like this is going to sound is gonna sound crazy because I actually think he belongs here. But I also wonder like, have we turned too much pressure onto him? Is being the voice of like, whatever it is that he’s supposed to represent society? Like, does Kendrick even want this, this spot? Because I kind of think this album kind of speaks a little bit to that.
Shamira Ibrahim [00:08:49] So I think this album is him claiming two things, right, which is him claiming that, you know, he can only save himself and all of these things. Right. There’s two conversations happening, right? There’s the musical conversation and there’s a cultural conversation. Right? And then there’s a kind of the greater kind of racial discord and everything in white supremacy. Right. I think musically, Kendrick is always pushing himself to wanting to be the best. Right. And that’s like an ego thing that he’s always had. Right. We heard the control verse. Right. You’ve heard all of these things. But that’s like general rapper, ego, egotistical, you know, chest thumping, you know, always wanting to change each other and wanting to be the greatest. I don’t think that’s anything that’s untoward that any rapper does write. Any rap is to say, I’m the greatest. I’m going to be the one that you guys are always going to want to be like. Right.
Panama Jackson [00:09:45] Especially the ones who. Shamira Ibrahim [00:09:46] Have disclosed exactly what he’s always said. He wants us to do new flows, new ways to change the flows in different pockets. He’s always doing that. He’s always spitting No one can ever dispute that. Right. So there’s one level of that right of him wanting to kind of always show that, you know, that Kung Fu Kenny is always here. Right. So there’s that kind of part of the conversation. Then there’s a cultural conversation of the discourse, right, where I think gets a little bit disingenuous with how people say what he wants or doesn’t want, because the fact of the matter is, he removes himself in the conversation. Right. And so right when you put out art and you want to be consumed when you don’t have any sort of actual ownership as to how it gets consumed, unless you choose to do press saying this is what I want it to me. Right. And he chooses not to. Right. And that’s just. Right. Right. He chooses you know, he chooses not to go out and do press saying, you know, I wanted to do this story and I wanted to need this. And this is what I was trying to go for. So once you choose to release it to the world and default to how your fan base interprets it as ABC, then really it’s for the masses to then become the default interpretation. Right. And we can have all the cultural curators and cultural critics have the more nuanced, the fine, erudite analysis with all of the bursts and stands and breakdowns that they want. Right. But if your default fan base engages with it in one way, they become the avatar of how your art is perceived. Right. And if you don’t choose to engage with that, either to amplify or bucket, and that becomes the control. Right. And that becomes what people have to engage with or against. And I think that is one other part of the conversation about what you want your art to mean versus what your art starts to represent for your fan base. And I think that’s one thing that a lot of Kendrick’s fans, from a scholarly standpoint, who find some things that some critics kind of come up against tend to overlook, right. About what his art and sculpture represented to some people versus
what it is. It’s a similar issue for J.Cole, right? About what, Jake? About his art versus what J.Cole wants it to be, all these other things. Right. And the third thing really ultimately being, you know, how the industry ultimately works, right? The industry across the board tends to put people into boxes. Right. So you need the street rapper, you need the conscious rapper, you need the path rapper, you need the X, Y, Z, rapper. Right. And so at some point, Kendrick got firmly planted to I am the conscious rapper. Right? Who is also like rapping my ass off. Right. And like Kendrick is like really trying to different ways find ways to push up against that because the idea of a conscious rapper kind of is like a silly concept at this point, right? You know, in 2022. Right. Like I think that kind of went the way of, I don’t know, like the iPod Touch. Like, I just I feel like that kind of label is a little bit ridiculous at this point. Right. But, you know, I think in his way, he’s trying to move away from that and say, I’m just myself. And if you are with that, great. If you’re not with that band, also great. But the reality of the matter is that you have a fan base and you have a following, right? So like you are still seeking for people to engage with you and see you as something that they want to engage with. Right. So there’s like a little bit of a sleight of hand there where you’re like, Yeah, don’t buy into the cult of casually. But also, I mean, you want people to buy to the cult of 400,000, right? Already. So like, I get it. But I also there’s a little bit of like, all right, like I buy it and I get what you’re trying to say, but you’re also still what if you want to buy into the message, you know.
Panama Jackson [00:13:49] We’re going to get it and we’re going to get it into exactly that. You led perfectly segue perfectly into what we’re going to talk about. We’re going to take a quick break here, dear culture, and we’re going to jump into the actual album. Kendrick Lamar’s Mr. Morale and The Big Steppers Here on Dear Culture, where I’m joined by Shamira Ibrahim. They too. All right. We’re back here on Dear Culture, where I’m talking with Shamira Ibrahim about Kendrick Lamar’s latest album, his fifth studio album. Though, if you start counting all the albums that he actually has, his mixtapes and all kind of stuff? And you started talking before the break. We were talking more globally about Kendrick’s career and who he is before the break. But then you started mentioning like what like the narrative that the masses kind of build based on their own. Because Kendrick doesn’t really give you much to work with. Like he put something out there. You got to run with it. So let me ask you straight up. On this album, what do you think he was trying to do and did he actually do it? Because it’s kind of on us to figure that part of it out. Like, to me, it’s an album about his personal life and how he basically had to go through some things to get where he’s at. He learned a lot of lessons along the way. He had to go to some therapy, almost tanked his relationship, apparently. But maybe they’re okay. There’s a lot of discussion about that on social media, like in this specific songs we’re going to get to. But like in a general sense, like, do you think he achieved what he was trying to, especially since we kind of got to make the narrative up ourselves. On what he was doing.
Shamira Ibrahim [00:15:34] Right. So I think the general narrative is kind of straightforward, right? Well, I want to say straightforward isn’t like it’s an easy story. I don’t want that. That would be oversimplifying it. And I don’t want to be unfair to him over something that you can clearly see he put that towards. Right. You know, but it’s kind of the person charting their journey of like what has kind of been up to over the last couple of years. Right. And it’s kind of clear that he’s been supposed to have been working on himself. Right. Intoxicated.
Speaker 3 [00:16:11] There’s a lustful nature that I failed to mention. Insecurities that are projects. Sleeping with other women when he’s her. The pure soul. I know. I’ve found in the kitchen acts. And what did I lose myself in?
Shamira Ibrahim [00:16:22] Can it be if he has taken a seat, reflected on his journey, you know, gone to therapy. Unpacked some things that he has not realized about himself in the last few decades come to terms with some unhealed trauma that he hadn’t really acknowledged in quite some time, and then kind of extrapolated that into some things he has realized, both in his family as well as in the greater hip hop community. Right. And it’s kind of made him realize interact with the rap world and the hip hop industry a little bit differently. But while he’s trying to do that and try to deliver that message, he’s also saying, like, I’m putting this out there, but at the end of the day, I can’t be the savior of everything, right? I can only really save myself if I try to extend this to everybody else. The funny thing about it, though, is that it’s kind of embedded in this narrative where he’s still inherently having the savior complex. Right. And I say that because, like the big throughline of it is like, you know, having Kodak Black as like the big stuff, right? You know what I mean? As all the all the way through it. Right. You know, despite my very I don’t know if anybody would know me and how I feel about someone like Kodak Black. I think it would be quite obvious that I am not a fan right. As someone who has been credibly accused several times of sexual assault and has recently pled guilty to sexual assault. Right. And consistently, you know, gets put on features. He recently was put on a Tidal playlist that was curated by Jay-Z. Right. So this is not a thing that he is like being shunned by the greater community. So I don’t want to pretend this is a thing that just Kendrick is doing. Right. But he is heavily featured in this. Right. And the thing that Kendrick is trying to imply. Right. And, you know, it’s pretty obvious is that when he gets to this final set of songs is like, you know, Black men specifically are kind of like he’s walking wounds of accumulated pain and trauma unaddressed and uncleaned. Right. With no one really giving them resources to handle it. And we’re just, you know, dealing with it and this access and consumption and all of these kind of gestures of hypermasculinity as opposed to really actually confronting our pain and really absolving ourselves and to try and offer you absolution and giving you the chance to start here. Right. Which is, of course, the ultimate savior complex. Right. But the irony of that all is that, first of all, that’s not in any sort of version, whether it be religious, legal or ethical, how absolution works. Absolution inherently implies that you as a person go before, whether it be your version of a god, whether it be your version of the legal authority or the person you transgressed upon and, you know, confess your sinned or confess your version of whatever you infringed upon and admit that I wronged you and then work towards moving forward. Right. That is not something that Kodak has at any point done. Right. Most recently being, you know, Latto’s team strongly suggesting that Kodak has violated her and Kodak’s team strongly going back, actually, it was Kodak saying that, you know, hollered, first but that’s a whole that’s a whole other conversation.
Panama Jackson [00:20:14] You know more about Kodak Black’s transgressions than I do, clearly, because I know about that.
Shamira Ibrahim [00:20:19] But I just happen to have reviewed Latto’s album recently. But these sorts of things that continue to be encouragements. Right. And so it’s like, how do we elaborate on this conversation? And I don’t want to make Kendrick’s album specifically about Kodak, but if you pick, you take this person, right and you specifically choose this person because you wanted you wanted to pick the most irredeemable. Right. And you specifically wanted to pick it because Black men and Black people are viewed as irredeemable. Right. The framing is clear and intentional, but it’s like, you know, you take the wrong person. Right. You know, and it’s like, when you pick the wrong person for this right. It shifts the focus of the argument away from the point you’re trying to make. It turns it into a debate.
Panama Jackson [00:21:12] So it’s interesting. It’s interesting that you. I believe everything Kendrick does is intentional. Mm hmm. The thought that you are giving it, that he literally went out of his way to pick somebody who basically has been viewed in this sense by. I swear, I generally think like. Somebody do just like these folks. And they’re like, you know what? I like Kodak Black, and that’s a Black man. What a story. Let me go ahead and throw him in here, because you know what people are saying that he is like like the thought process. I think we will come to the same place. But the thought process that you’re giving Kendrick credit for, like, man, that really is generous. Like, I really like that. I know we always he’s very intentional, but I’m almost like, man, you’re getting a bad rap. They’re trying to cancel you, bro. Like they saying you can’t.
Shamira Ibrahim [00:22:01] I’m trying to give him the most generous reading ever.
Panama Jackson [00:22:04] You really are.
Shamira Ibrahim [00:22:06] You know, he operates in both Christian and, you know, “Hoteppian” dogma, right? You know what I mean? So I’m really trying to give him grace in both, you know, and say in both of them, they look at, you know, absolution and all these things, but it’s a misapplication, I think. You know, these are conversations that people have around people like Joe Budden. People like, you know, so many other so many other individuals who they always say, don’t you believe their story, restorative justice? Don’t you believe in any of these things? I’m like, yeah, they haven’t done the prerequisites for that. Right. You know, so do I believe that Black men are existing with all the trauma in the world and they haven’t addressed it and that we would be much better off if we worked on that? And that is a form of gendered violence that we need to embrace. Absolutely. And I think it’s valid for Kendrick to explore that, explore that through his own personal journey. Do I believe that it is very telling that that is happening while the people who are on the other side of that for specific cases are Black women. Right. You know, like that conversation is the chart. Where are we just going to yada, yada, yada that part right now, that part in the story. I don’t want to overshadow the fact that, you know, I don’t think that Kendrick is not a moral authority. Right. You know, he takes this stuff.
Panama Jackson [00:23:31] We treat him like one on occasion and we treat these people like moral authorities. But yeah, absolutely not yet. Absolutely.
Shamira Ibrahim [00:23:37] You take the conversation, you take. But what ends up happening is that it overshadows the nuance of the of the of the of the album, because it does become like a glaring red light, right, to really consume it casually. I think about it in the context of I just watched the XXXTentacion documentary. Right, right. And it’s like, you know, they go through the conversation around, you know, all the mental health issues he has and all these things, all things I believe. I do believe equally struggles with mental health issues. I do believe he clearly just lost faith and at a very young age and didn’t have a chance to really have the proper environment, to even have a chance to see and get the help you need a while before you know, the worst of him kind of came to fruit, right? And came to bear fruit. That said, accountability for violence and accountability for violence. Right. And all of the conversations that are being had around him and all the things he worked towards, redemption still don’t come to terms with the fact that he took accountability for the violence he had publicly. Right. And these things have to be had in concert. Right. And so that’s kind of what happens when we kind of talk around all of that. And that said, you know, it’s not like this album was a redemption for Kodak album. I don’t want it to make it sound like that. Right. But what we do kind of do these nuanced conversations, that’s why it becomes a conversation. A lot of how your fans receive it versus your intention, right? Because it makes a song like Auntie Diaries. This is a very complicated song. Right. And I think a very intentional.
Panama Jackson [00:25:15] Or I wanted to go next. So let’s go ahead.
Shamira Ibrahim [00:25:27] He’s, I think, trying to discuss very different things. Right. You know Kendrick’s journey with his family, with two different people in his family right on multiple verses. And then it kind of gets deluded on multiple levels, right? One because of the shock value of trying to discuss the use of slurs. Right, both at the beginning and the end of the song. Right. And that it and then equivocating the use of slurs in the queer community versus the use of. interracial slurs. Right. Which then just like already raises an ongoing conversation that continues to rear its ugly head about, you know, positioning the LGBTQ community against, you know, as if it’s like against racial conversations. There’s that and there’s also just the intentional shock value of using those slurs right now. Are people going to go ahead and create a petition to go ahead and cancel or whatever, canceling these people these days? Right. Which is like I use this term at this point. No. Right. I mean, there might be one or two because people get the word right, but not anything of value or substance. Right. But is it telling to you that I know personally and I already saw, but I knew before it was ever going to happen that if a Black queer person tweeted, this is frustrating to me, that he would do this just to make a point, even though I appreciate the song that Kendrick’s fans would tell him to shut up, right? Yeah, I think it’s frustrating that I knew that people would say that and that’s what happened. Right. I saw tweets being like, oh, you know, Kendrick did the most progressive song about Black community. He hear this in rap ever, right? You know, and y’all can’t be happy. And it’s like, who’s y’all? Like, who is this war? Right? You know, who was grateful for this and speaks to who the song is serving and who the audience is? And I think it’s valid that we have a conversation within the heterosexual community about how we engage with queerness. Right. But then it’s not a song for queer people. It’s a song for, you know, the heterosexual community about how engage with queerness.
Panama Jackson [00:27:49] I was going to say just that. That’s the whole thing right there. Like, who is this song for? And like, because I’ve had a million conversation with people about this song. Right. And some people are like, look, I get what he’s trying to do. I see the intention. Like, it might be messy, but he’s trying. And this is how Black men grow, right? Like this is like the progression of growth. Like, you know, you’re going to I learned the term dead name. I’d never heard that term before. And so I started reading like myself about this. Like I didn’t know. I didn’t know that. But there are lots of things, right? And I consider myself somebody who is actively trying to be better. But I’m still learning a lot, a lot of stuff, too. So I hear the song and I’m like, I get it. I was like, But I know something’s off here. So then it’s like, Who? Who is this song supposed to be? Is it for people? Like, is it for people? Are the people who this could be most beneficial to the folks who literally need the most? I guess growth in this is are they ever going to hear it anyways? And even Kendrick’s audience by who in the world is going to actually hear this song and gain from it? Because what it sounds like is most of Kendrick’s audience, interestingly, is people who probably know that the way that this landed has problems.
Shamira Ibrahim [00:28:58] Right. Shamira Ibrahim [00:29:00] The funny thing is that the way he ended the song. Right. And people were like, Oh, well, that’s the whole point. But I’m like, But we wouldn’t appreciate if Jack Harlow did the exact same song, about his journey to becoming, you know, enlightened about hip hop. You know what I mean? Right. Or enlightened about
racial relations. Right? I’m not saying that to say that makes it you know, that means that his entire song is invalid. Right. But, you know, like like Jack Harlow, just like dropping, you know, “N” bombs repeatedly and being like “we didn’t know better” Right. Even though we all know or if you guys don’t know. I’m sorry. 95% of these white people who listen to rap are definitely saying it in the privacy of their apartments or homes or bedrooms or whatever. Right. You know, that’s not going to make it anything acceptable for me to engage with publicly in a song. Right. You know, and that part of it is not going to make it like something that I want to engage with, have a conversation about really dialog over, or say that there’s something that I find value about because of the pain associated with that. Right. And so I think that distinction is something that people have to think about, is that is there value in the art? Is there value in what it’s doing? Andit’s a consistent issue I have with Kendrick and not just about the the harm of what is happening here, but also I think that Kendrick in general, and it’s not just here but in other albums, I think he gets rewarded or lauded merely for the kind of path of engaging with the topic or attempting to engage and expand on the topic matter whether or not it lands like he gets rewarded for taking the swing. Right. And I think there’s something to merit to that because of being a mainstream artist and being willing to take risks and being rewarded for taking risks when so much of hip hop can be so formulaic at times on a mainstream level. There’s something to be said about that that’s a little bit exciting. All right. But it’s okay to say when something is a swing and a miss and it doesn’t. That’s right. And that we enjoy it because he’s technically proficient. But the execution just was not there. Right. That doesn’t make it any less of an artist. That doesn’t necessarily make him a bad person. But it means he could have tried better. He could have tried again. And I think there’s a reluctance to say that, as if it’s going to mean that you’re less of a fan. Right. And it’s okay. Like you can clearly see the thrust of what he was trying to get to. You can clearly see the pain and what he was trying to engage with. But when you see songs that are really trying to engage with topics and really clumsy ways, but because of the fact that he is just so proficient at shaping a story, because he is truly a storyteller and not many rappers are both just really good at flow, but also really good at telling stories from like top to bottom that you can say, okay, it was a good story, but this was just not really well executed. It has to like what he was actually trying to portray that people sometimes are really just hesitant to admit that. And I’m like, You can replay it all you want. You know, like, that’s just where I fall short. And I think that’s something that happens to a lot of talented artists. I think it happens to Andre at times, right? I think it happens to a lot of like top tier rappers who, like, we’re talking like a matter of inches here, right, about the differentiations between the skill level and the fall off.
Panama Jackson [00:32:46] Speaking of like storytelling, so “Mother I Sober” is like the other song on the record that I think probably gets the most discussion about just because of what he’s addressing, you know? How being asked if he had been sexually assaulted by, I believe, his uncle or his cousin. I can’t remember it off the top of my head. But how that constant questioning impacted him and the things he saw with his mother, like his mother being being beaten. It’s he is a great storyteller. And songs like this, which is the penultimate song on the album, like really bring that part home because it’s like so he’s really good at this look.
Panama Jackson [00:33:32] Like I will never forget, you know, “Sing about me/ Dying of thirst.” Like that still stands out to me as, like, one of the greatest, like, storytelling, like rap songs ever, in my opinion. So when I hear him on Mother I Sober, I’m like, This is this is amazing. Like, you can see what he’s really good at doing and this is kind of the thing that brings it all home on the album. Like, this is where all of the rest of the stuff has come from and all the lessons that he’s discussed on the album kind of show their face here is like, this is the point of it all. Mm hmm. Like, what do you think about, like, does that? Because to me, like, I see what he’s doing with Auntie Diaries. He did it to me on Mother I Sober. Right. Like I see what he’s trying to do. I don’t know that he got it, but he did it to me on Mother I Sober which I love. I can listen to on repeat even though the subject matter is heavy, like where do you stand on that song? And how he kind of brings the album almost close to an end with that song.
Shamira Ibrahim [00:34:24] Yeah. I think that the song is really bold, right? And I think the song is really ambitious. I think the song tries to handle so many things, right? Yes.
Panama Jackson [00:34:38] It’s like a Spike Lee movie.
Shamira Ibrahim [00:34:42] No for real, though. It handles the personal issue as a handle on the cultural and societal and tries to make it a little universal. Right. And in that, you know, there’s going to be things that are going to be done with a broad stroke. Right. And so, you know, his experience with his family, his experience with his wife and his children, which we get introduced to in some way for the first time. By the way, he’s going to be a new, like Black excellence thing where we give credits to like wife and kids are just like adding them on songs. Like, I just can’t, like, you know, that’s awesome. Just wondering, you know, I’m not saying it’s a bad thing. I’m just like, Oh, we’re just doing this now.
Panama Jackson [00:35:22] Like, listen, I’m about to call my wife and kids up here right now, get him on his podcast just so I can be like, “Hey, man, I’m working on me.” Shamira Ibrahim [00:35:28] You know, listen, you know, I’m down with the gang, so I’m all good with it. But I think there’s there’s so much that’s interesting in here. Right. You know, I can be a little particular about the sex politics of it all, but it’s not really worth it. Right. I do think just like his perspective and his reflection over his time about like having empathy and understanding as to like what triggered his mom’s reaction over the years. Right. And getting a level of clarity over that was was really ambitious and how he got there, you know, and really realizing that there’s a lot of there’s a lot that accumulates from his perspective and there’s a lot that involves somebody coming to their own conclusions as opposed to just, you know, one rash decision where I think the interesting contradictions or the purpose of this novel right to me is is, of course, like the closing tracks of the hour of the, you know, of the album really are supposed to be about, you know, like how he can really only save himself, right? Or how he can really only do so much. Right on on. You know, how freeing himself is, you know, like the Count Me Out track and so on. Right. But at the end of the day, like what he talks about it. He talks about how he’s releasing his family he’s releasing, he’s doing all this transformative work. Right. And I think it speaks to like how he continues to, like, talk about like all these traumas and all that kind of, you know, like wake work, which is like kind of looking at the pain of Black people and saying that, like, look to the past and take it. And like, I’m releasing us from that. Right. And that delivery of engaging on that and taking that on for himself speaks to like how he still believes that’s his intent to release like all of the listener’s, release all of everybody. But that’s not how the work is done. Right. You know, the work is not necessarily done by just like articulating what you know and then saying, I set forth and set free.If that was the work is I don’t know why I’m paying my therapist? I would really, really love to know because I’m a very intelligent person and so I can’t figure my life out. But I think these are the sorts of nuances of like, how can Kendrick both sets the burden on himself and then both demands himself to be freed of this burden you know. And I think that’s that kind of inherent tension that he lies within that his fans are are not willing to like recognize. Because if his critics who are engaged in his savior complex and then demand that he
serve a purpose politically like lean into his fans will look at the part where he’s like, “I’m not this,” I am you know,I’m Kung Fu Kenny from L.A., Kung Fu Kenny from Compton and they’re like, That’s all he wants to talk about: his life. He gives slices of life and they apply to the greater context, like how Spike Lee does in Brooklyn. Right. But he doesn’t just do that. He does invest in a greater construct of racial trauma and gives us that investment. And he does wilfully do that. And he has to embrace what that really means for him. And I think hopefully he takes the time over, you know, the next album to come, whether that be five years from now or seven years from now to decide, okay, maybe I just need to decouple that even further. Right. I don’t think he needs to be a racial hero.
Panama Jackson [00:39:34] He does’nt he doesn’t. All right. Before we go to break, this is all great. This is all that. Everything you’ve broken down, just like I thought you would. That’s why you sent me the. The professional bio, the one that has all the all the big words. So hold on. I have one question in one sentence. In one sentence. All right. How mad was Pusha T when Kendrick announced and dropped his album about the fact that everybody forgot Pusha T dropped the album as soon as missed them around, a big surprise drops.
Shamira Ibrahim [00:40:05] I mean, he had to put himself through 3 hours of Nore screaming. So I think he was pretty, pretty disappointed. So I would say that he was off there during Drink Champs promo, you know, and then everyone probably forgets. I would be pretty irritated.
Panama Jackson [00:40:26] It was quite the promo run for that whole album, as a matter of fact. All right. We’re going to take a real quick break here on Dear Culture, and we’re going to come back with some Blackfessions, our Blackacommendations and we’re going let Samarra tell you where you can find all of her work, which is literally everywhere. But we’ll be right back here on Dear Culture.
Panama Jackson [00:40:52] All right. We’re back here on Dear Culture, and we’re going to do one of my favorite segments here where we get a chance to discover just how non monolithic the Black community is. Because every time I have a guest on here and they come up with some Blackfession, that makes me question all kinds of things about them, no matter how long I’ve known them. And it turns out today is going to be no different. So Shamira, my friend, my homie. Been in my wedding, been in my house, ate my food. Drink my why. What is your Blackfession?
Shamira Ibrahim [00:41:22] So I thought I was going to go with the predictable one and say I can’t play spades, which is true. So I went with a more egregious cultural confession, since I do write about music a lot, and I’m pretty sure by time I see this, I will not be welcome in the state of Louisiana, which is sad because I actually really like Louisiana. Oh, gosh.As much as I enjoy 400 Degreez the album I really do. I am not the biggest fan of Juvie’s “HA”, the original or the remix.
Shamira Ibrahim [00:42:10] I tried, but I really have tried. I have tried to get my know. I think most people are like you just have to understand the vibe of it. It’s just not there for me. And I love the music. I love the production. I love, you know, Cash Money’s production. Obviously, it’s just not it’s not here for me. I just have. I’ve tried. I really, really have. So the fact that it’s like, I don’t know, I like offbeat things. I listen to soul the. Like, I just don’t know. Like.
Panama Jackson [00:42:46] Listen, listen, listen, listen. I’m going to be actually a little bit sympathetic to you. Number one, I think that’s insane. But I do love “Ha.” I don’t care for the remix. And I’m assuming you’re talking about the Jay remix. He was trying to hop on a cultural wave that he saw come, and he did it terribly. One of the few times I was like, This is better without Jay-Z.
Panama Jackson [00:43:08] I could understand listening to that and not being from the South and not really like getting it. Because I feel like the nation kind of caught on later now when I still remember where I was when I saw the video for the first time. It was substantial in my life. Like I saw that I was like, I call people like, Yo, this is crazy how dope this is, but this video looks like real poverty. Y’all like they look really broken, this video, except for all the expensive cars they have. But like, this sound was so unique to me, and I was already familiar with Juvenile. I was already familiar with, like, the whole, like, baby and cash money thing from down south because I’m also I wasn’t like it wasn’t like in my it wasn’t something I was super familiar with what I’d heard of it before. So I could see how maybe that could be. And I don’t understand how at this point you don’t like it because that song still being you throw that on anywhere that joint just goes, especially how can you like the album and not like that song when that album?
Shamira Ibrahim [00:44:04] Because I, I enjoy Mannie Fresh as producer, you know what I mean? Like I think Mannie Fresh is like legitimately a good producer. I like bounce music. I just that song specifically is just not for me. Like, that’s the song that of course they’re going to play either that or like, you know, back that day. Right? But like it’s just that it’s not issue me. But I am trying I’m not going to be there. I’m not going to be there with like, you know, like a skyline if it comes. All right. But it’s just not going to be the thing that gets me up out my seat. Now, to be fair, I am now of the age demo where, you know, even if they play, you know, get it on for the 99 and 2000, I’m no longer running out of the bathroom to get it moving. Now, I’m actually washing my hands and taking my time. Right. So I’m just slowly I am slowly ease out of that of of that phase of my life. But you know yeah. So that’s the thing that will fully earn me well-deserved slander I accept it I have gotten that before my good homegirl who was from New Orleans who will probably hear this is going is actually threatening violence. But yeah, well, that’s my thing.
Panama Jackson [00:45:17] That’s fine. So you will let that chopper spray in the parlance of New Orleans, that’s all good. But the good thing about our Black is, is that we we usually follow it up with the Black immigration, which is an opportunity to redeem yourself by sharing something about Black culture that that you you like that you like to share going forward the pay it forward part of this. So a Black commendation for all those who are just now listening is a recommendation about something Black and something Black culturally for, by, about, is diasporic, whatever it is, it’s just something that that pays forward thar Blackness. So Shamira what is your Blacka commendation for the people you have just insulted with your musical take about Juvenile’s Ha.
Shamira Ibrahim [00:45:59] Well, I’m definitely not going to recommend anything New Orleans related because I will not violate those streets. But I did recommend a bag brand. I know a lot of people are fans of Telfar and for folks who are fans of Telfar, please feel free to continue consuming the brand, of course, but I am also just choosing to recommend a different brand just for people who want to continue, you know, finding other ways to support Black businesses. Mine is a brand called Anima Iris. It is another Black owned brand by two Black women, fully sourced by Black, a kind of all Black supply chain. So they their workers are in Senegal. They are locally sourced leather. They barely, barely trace their wages of their laborers.
Panama Jackson [00:46:52] Well, thank you for being here. Where can people find your thoughts, opinions, critiques?
Shamira Ibrahim [00:46:58] Twitter is _ShamGod. And you’ll find me rambling about plenty of things on there and on Instagram. Sometimes I’ll post some of the things I’d be writing, so you can also check there, which is tomorrow the first.
Panama Jackson [00:47:16] Well, look, we appreciate having you here. Your insights like you literally hit all the points that I was going to try to hit in one way or the other, because that’s that’s why I wanted you to be here to talk Kendrick Lamar’s album. Like, we were one of the first people I hit up about the album. When I listen to it, I think I might have waves, like, oh, thoughts. Like, I knew you were going to have somebody that were going to be insightful and they’re going to be interesting.
Shamira Ibrahim [00:47:37] You were one of the first to it was you and our homie Yinka. So, you know, it was literally you two that we were arguing about.
Panama Jackson [00:47:43] Yeah, there you go. So, look, I want to thank you for being here. Thank you for being on Dear Culture. We’ll have you on again at some point to talk some other things. So, yeah, absolutely. You know, and to everybody who’s listening, thank you for listening to their culture. If you like what you heard, please give us a five star review and subscribe to the show wherever you listen to your podcasts and share it with everyone you know. Please email all questions, suggestions, compliments, hustles, schemes, finesses, all of that stuff. Make sure you send it to podcast at the Growcom. Dear Culture is an original production brought to you by theGrio Black Podcast Network ourselves produced for myself, Panama Jackson and Crystal Grant and edited by Cameron Blackwell. Taji Senior is our logistic associate producer and Regina Griffin is our managing editor of podcast. So as always, thanks for tuning in. Thanks for listening. Thank you, Shamira. Have a Black one.
Panama Jackson [00:48:46] This song was so Black. When I remember seeing the video, I looked down and I had a dashiki on out of nowhere and I was like, any song I can force me into a dashiki out of nowhere. That’s super Black.