Kendrick Lamar’s Triple J Hottest 100 Win Might Be A Little Problematic

Contributor: PEDESTRIAN.TV

So it’s official: after being overlooked in the 2016 countdown in favour of The Rubens, Kendrick Lamar has assumed his rightful place at the top of triple j‘s Hottest 100. And while some may argue that To Pimp a Butterfly‘s King Kunta is a better track, HUMBLE is a certifiable TUNE, its killer production illuminating Lamar’s flow as one of the best in the game.

But while some have praised the song for being ‘feminist’, others have slammed it for being precisely the opposite. And some of us – including yours truly – are mostly confused, because while it’s catchy and some of Lamar’s rapidfire insults against his detractors are fuckin’ mint, ey, some of its lyrical content does sit uncomfortably – especially at a time where the entertainment industry is so committed to ‘wokeness’.

In the same year that Kirin J Callinan was reportedly dropped from Laneway for exposing himself at the ARIAs, and further from home Hollywood finally started to hold dudes accused of sexual assault or even just sexual misconduct/grossness (re: Aziz Ansari) accountable, a song that uses the word ‘bitch‘ at least 20 times was voted the single of the year.

But let’s be clear here: there is a distinction between using language that could be deemed ‘sexist’, and actually behaving in a way that harms women, like by getting your junk out in public or not understanding the concept of enthusiastic consent.

Now triple j have acknowledged HUMBLE‘s problematic nature: they themselves in the wake of the countdown’s results have spelled out the ‘controversy’ around the song, even noting that its “Lil’ bitch” hook received a shitload of complaints on the triple j hotline.

And fair enough – while you could contend that it’s aimed at other rappers, ‘bitch’ remains a word that’s historically been used to put down and dismiss women and to feminise men, which is apparently an insult.

The Js also noted the swirl of both approval and criticism around

I’m so fuckin’ sick and tired of the Photoshop
Show me somethin’ natural like afro on Richard Pryor
Show me somethin’ natural like ass with some stretchmarks

as some applauded the song for its championing of natural-looking women, its stand against restrictive beauty standards.

But even the demarcation between natural-looking and Photoshopped women has a sexist strain to it: it’s still asking women to look a certain way in order to please a man, it’s still putting women into boxes based on their appearance, it’s still a judgment call coming from a person who – at face value – wants women to “sit down and be humble“.

But hey, at least Lamar likes eating pussy, huh? “Ooh, that pussy good, won’t you sit it on my taste bloods?

It’s all very complicated and uncomfortable to sit with, but it feels worthwhile for us to at least try, as the song raises worthwhile questions, not just about the way musos talk about women, or use derogatory language about women to make fun of other men, but about the function of music/art generally. Why should all artistic work be entirely unproblematic anyway? Doesn’t a problematic song draw attention to an issue, thereby beginning the long and difficult effort of dismantling ingrained power structures? Does the work – in this case HUMBLE – even necessarily reflect its author’s views? Where is the line between ironically saying ‘bitch‘ and actually perpetuating something much more harmful?

Using a word or trying to say something ‘woke’ but getting muddled doesn’t make Lamar sexist, or mean feminists who like his work are ‘bad feminists’.

And even then the song for the most part feels like an attack on other rappers who aren’t as good as Lamar – it’s just a shame he felt he needed to use historically loaded language to do so.

Fuck, I’m exhausted, brb.