The song “The Blacker the Berry” by Kendrick Lamar part of deep and rich musical lineage that explores various themes regarding racial identity inequality, discrimination and social injustice. This lineage consists of songs that connect through their powerful commentary on race and societal issues at the time of their respective releases. Each of these songs brings forth a broader narrative of social discourse and what is indicative of the Black experience in America. Below are the songs that connect thematically and enhance our understanding of Kendrick Lamar’s “The Blacker the Berry.”

Billie Holiday – “Strange Fruit”

Billie  Holdiday’s song “Strange Fruit”, which was released in 1939, is a haunting and foundational piece in this lineage. This song directly addresses the harsh realities of the time alluding to the immense racial violence and lynching. Its lyrics are such a visceral protest against racism and its emotionally charged melancholic melody sets the tone for later songs that confront racial injustice as well.


“Southern trees bear a strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees…”


Public Enemy- “Fight the Power”

In 1989, the hip-hop group known as Public Enemy released their polarizing song “Fight the Power.” This song would become a hip-hop anthem in even today time remains a powerful critique of racism and oppression. “Fight the Power” purpose as a song is a call to action, encouraging listeners to challenge oppressive systems. Its connection to “The Blacker the Berry” lies in its unapologetic and confrontational approach to addressing these issues at hand.


“Our freedom of speech is freedom of death
We’ve got to fight the powers that be
(“Lemme hear you say—”)
Fight the power!”


2pac – “Changes”

Tupac Shakur’s 1998 song “Changes” may resonate and connect the most to Kendrick Lamar the most out of all the songs present in this lineage. Kendrick Lamar’s idol and favorite rapper is Tupac Shakur. Lamar’s rap style is inspired by Shakur and Lamar often references and plays tribute to the late rapper in his music.  “To Pimp a Butterfly “, the name of the album “The Blacker The Berry” is on, was initially named “Tu Pimp a Cattipliar” which is a play on Tupac’s name. The song “Changes” , like Lamar’s song, delves into the complex realities of being Black in America. It tackles issues such as poverty, drug addiction, drug dealing, violence, and racial profiling. Shakur offers a personal and introspective perceptive on these issues like Lamar does in his song. “Changes” emphasizes the need for change and reform, echoing the sentiments that are conveyed in “The Blacker the Berry.”



“I see no changes, wake up in the morning and I ask myself
Is life worth living? Should I blast myself?
Im tired of bein poor and even worse, Im black
My stomach hurts so I’m lookin for a purse to snatch…”

J.Cole – “Be Free”

The last song in this lineage is more contemporary addition from J.Cole’s 2014 song “Be Free.” This song is a response to the tragic shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the protests that followed. This song is abundantly filled with emotion as J. Cole expresses frustration and sadness over the ongoing violence against African Americans. Through this emotion, Cole calls for empathy and understanding of the face of racial injustice, mirroring Lamar’s call to action in “The Blacker the Berry.”



“Can you tell me why
every time I step outside, I see my ni*** die?
I’m letting you know, that there ain’t no gun they make that can kill my soul…”

Kendrick Lamar- “The Blacker The Berry “

These songs, including “The Blacker the Berry,” form a long lineage that spans over 70 years. They all share a common thread of addressing injustice and inequality in America, whether it’s metaphorically or more directly. By examining this lineage of songs, listeners can obtain a new appreciation for the evolution of these themes in music and more importantly understand the ongoing struggle for social justice,  racial justice, and equality. Each song uniquely builds upon the foundation that was laid by the prior artist, contributing to an even more powerful narrative of social discourse and reflection on the Black experience in America.