Gemini season is upon us, and for some strange reason this season has birthed many of today’s beloved hip-hop favorites including Andre 3000, Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, The Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur to name a few. Regardless of how much you may like or dislike these artists, there’s one undeniable trait that these artists have in common – the ability to be unapologetically true to themselves. This trait can occasionally have negative side effects, but little is greater than knowing who you are, your gifts and flaws, and still having the courage to share those intimate components of self with the world. “Black Rage”, a song by a hip-hop artist, actress, songstress, and Gemini, Lauryn Hill, gives us a glimpse of the importance of self-knowledge and courage on the societal level.
As soon as the melody commences, you’re only afforded one count to brace yourself for the breadth of knowledge and insight that Ms. Hill disseminates. Although the lyrics are fairly straightforward, there are a few nuances and lines that I’ll expound upon that may enhance the experience and impact of the content.
While initially listening to the song, the melody may have seemed somewhat familiar. The melody is an adaptation of the song “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music. Although she darkens the tone of the tune a bit, the choice of this melody is ironic and eerie due to the weight and imagery Lauryn’s lyrics bring in contrast to the happy-go-lucky imagery of Julie Andrews.
When the dogs bite
When the beatings
When I’m feeling sad
I simply remember all these kinds of things
and then I don’t fear so bad!
Ms. Hill dedicated this song to Michael Brown and all of the protesters that have been speaking out about police brutality and the value of Black lives. The chorus is an ode to that dedication and reflects on methods of police brutality from past to present and the sentiment that is continually felt in its effect: fear. When a once shocking outcome starts to become normalized, fear begins to deepen. When people get fed up of the outcome and constantly being on edge, that fear cycles into either rage or despair. Rage is characterized by the difficulty to control a strong feeling of anger. It is important to keep the aspect of control from this definition in mind as you listen to the message. This idea is addressed in every stanza in the form of politics, self-worth, economics, health and etc.
In the very first line of the song, Lauryn begins the piece by addressing the idea that black rage has a foundation in the idea of “two-thirds a person”. This idea represents stagnancy and the incapacity to learn, grow and experience past a certain point. In other words, there is this metaphorical box that everyone in society should fit in, but we will never fill. The most unsettling part is that we are so focused on filling this box to be comparable to everyone else that we don’t question the idea of the box itself.
The line also hearkens back to the three-fifths compromise where Black people were only considered three-fifths of a person. The line shows how the three-fifths mentality has morphed and still shows itself in more subtle ways in our present. Though sometimes discreet, the form this mentality takes is deeply rooted in the psyche of many Black Americans and presents itself in a grueling battle between our ideas of self-worth, pride and respectability.
The piece neither condemns nor glorifies rage. The piece also does not promote the idea of being completely fearful. While the sentiments of rage and fear are understandable, what Ms. Hill does in “Black Rage” is strike the middle ground of these two sentiments and calls for courage. She leads you to question who you are as well as what controls you. Without knowledge of self, the ability to be controlled is intensified. Like her fellow Gemini brethren, Lauryn Hill compromises not one ounce of her identity while sharing her gift. She challenges us to do the same — to not be broken by the complexities of the human experience.