Friday, September 26, 2014

Kendrick Lamar's New Single Should Be The Theme Song For #HeForShe

Unfortunately for his much-maligned melancholy rival Drake, Kendrick Lamar can do no wrong in the eyes of most of the hip-hop community. I won't waste words by writing about how well-loved his first two albums are. This week, he released the first single from his forthcoming album.

"i" has been divisive. The Isley Brothers-sampling beat has been called too light. The lyrics have been called too sappy. Lamar's nasally voice on the song has put off some listeners. People say this song isn't the "real Kendrick." They want the darkness of "good kid, m.A.A.d city" instead of a pop tune.

There's some truth to that. It's not his best song. I'm reminded of when "Backseat Freestyle" came out and  people were taken aback by how he went from a conscious Reagan-hater on "Section.80" to a kid wanting a bigger penis. But the song made perfect sense in the context of "good kid, m.A.A.d city" and now it's one of his biggest songs.

"i" will surely make sense in the context of Lamar's new album. The outro lyrics are different from the rest of the song—"I lost my head," "Woes keep me / It's a jungle inside"and could be part of a narrative setting up a darker song after "i" on the album.

The biggest thing I take away from "i," though, is its positivity. It's a fun, poppy song. The funky sample is a throwback to the soul-charged pop Kanye West and OutKast gave us a decade ago. The jazzy bass solo at the end could fit right in to "The Love Below."

Lamar touched on the song's subject matter on GKMC's "Real" two years ago. "i" is far more direct and gets to its straightforward hook in less than 30 seconds. Lamar hasn't hidden his obstacle-strewn Compton upbringing, but on this song he says "fuck it, let's just keep on going."

This is a song you just can't hate. It's too much of a feel-good number to say it's truly awful. Letting "paranoia haunt you," as Lamar puts it, has been a theme of pop culture and society for the last decade, but his answer to it is "lift up your head and keep moving." It's not an original point, but it's a hard one to disagree with.

Emma Watson's recent speech on the United Nations' #HeForShe campaign had some of the same points. "Fighting for women's rights," she says, "has too often become synonymous with man-hating." It's alienated men from feminism and it's got to stop "for certain," she says.

Feminism is not just about women, she says. By definition, it's the theory of the equality of the sexes. In school, as her female friends dropped out of their favorite sports to avoid looking too masculine, Watson's male friends were unable to express their feelings for fear of looking too feminine.

Suicide is the leading killer of men in the U.K. ages 20 to 49, Watson points out. That's more than car accidents, cancer and heart disease. A stigma still surrounds mental health worldwide. Too many people make jokes about suicide while too few know how to recognize the signs of it.

Men feel immense pressure from society, and it's hard for them to love themselves. Not often do we talk about men being confined by gender stereotypes, but neither sex has the benefit of gender equality, Watson says.

Gender equality should be about celebrating and loving oneself. We should embrace our identities as men and women instead of confining them. We should celebrate our sexualities and our feelings and we should be able to express them however we want. We should be happy about who we are.

It will take decades, perhaps even centuries for gender equality to be realized. But it won't take that long for some things to change. Along with our identities, we should celebrate the little differences.

Superstars like Kendrick Lamar and Emma Watson have the power to change minds and mentalities. Watson's speech and Lamar's single couldn't have surfaced at a better time and they complement each other beautifully. With their words, maybe the distorted building blocks with which we've created these gender stereotypes will start to crumble. Maybe men and women will start to appreciate and respect one another as equal, beautiful beings. Maybe we will finally start to love each other.

But that starts with loving ourselves.

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