Kendrick Lamar devotes much of his new 18-song double album, “Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers,” to grappling with big issues: identity, spirituality, monogamy, mortality.
But no track has sparked more conversations online than “Auntie Diaries,” on which Lamar explores the evolution of his relationship with his trans loved ones.
The song is a lively and exceptionally provocative look into the mind of a young Lamar forming a concept of transiting amidst a working-class Compton culture not often inclined to embrace him. But true to form, the Pulitzer Prize-winning hip-hop star doesn’t tackle it in an easy redeeming arc.
The song has already upset some listeners with its pointed use of anti-gay slurs and other deliberately ugly language around gender and sexuality. But he also won over some trans listeners for being heartbreakingly specific about this straight cis black man’s path to a fuller understanding of his relationships.
The song is set through the years of his youth, as Lamar comes to realize that a character he once knew as a favorite aunt has transitioned into a male identity. “My aunt is a man now / I think I’m old enough to understand now,” he says as the song opens. “I watch him and his girlfriend hold their hands down.”
Later, the song revisits the story of a cousin he once knew as Demetrius, now a trans woman named Mary-Anne (who first appeared in his song “Sherane aka Master Splinter’s Daughter” , from his 2012 album “Good Kid, mAAd City.””) “Barbie dolls played with the reflection of Venus / He built a wall so high we couldn’t climb it,” he raps. -he.
The song’s gender errors and slurs are startling but certainly intentional for their effect; Lamar is one of the most detailed, precise and engaging lyricists in all of music today.
Cruel gestures like deadnaming (using a trans person’s name before they transitioned) and repeating insults over and over again would be unforgivable in conversation. But the song’s provocations feel like a throwback to the youthful mindset Lamar inhabited on tracks like 2012’s “Backseat Freestyle,” a fan-favorite for its devilish leg but a character study of a naive young man plagued by insane influences.
On “Auntie Diaries,” a young Lamar tries to make sense of his affection for and fascination with the trans parents around him, while navigating and absorbing the slights and violence he sees around them. “See, my aunt is a man now, slight bravado / Scratch the likes of the lotto / Hoping she’ll stop tomorrow.”
Lamar cites his trans uncle as the first person he ever saw write raps — an influence that made his career possible.
But Lamar also “Asked my mama why my uncles don’t like him that much / And at parties why they always want to fight him so much / She said, ‘I don’t’ / N— always has been jealous because he had more women / More money and more attention made more envy.
Later, Lamar also recalls an infamous real-life moment on stage in 2018 when he brought in a white fan to rap with him, and she repeated anti-black slurs that, from Lamar’s mouth, would be part integral to hip-hop. vernacular, but made him stop the show to reprimand her.
In the wake of Dave Chappelle’s “The Closer” controversy over the comedian’s transphobic language, this high-tension act could easily have backfired on Lamar. While trans fans are going to have different reactions informed by their wide variety of lived experiences, some said they were grateful for Lamar’s candor and the delicacy with which he uses hateful phrases for compassionate purposes.
“Whether we like it or not, the use of f—slur, dead naming and misgendering is a reality. I’m sorry he didn’t water it down for all of you, but it’s realistic because I personally died named and misgendered by the family to this day,” wrote a trans fan on Twitter. “This song may not be one of your ideal versions of alliance and activism, but it is done in a way that holds the truth and the weight of transphobia and homophobia in the hip hop. We should be grateful to one of the most notable living rappers for choosing to tackle this topic.
“A lot of people have issues with Kendrick’s use of f-slur here, but it’s important to remember the narrative framework the song uses,” wrote another trans fan. “It becomes incredibly relevant at the top of the song…I’ve watched these lyrics countless times, it’s very clear that everything about this song is deliberate. It’s a face-to-face narrative of the events that led a Kendrick Lamar before ignorant to become understanding of LGBTQIA+ people and pushed him to fight for them.
At the end of the song, the language reflects his understanding, ending with Lamar in church giving a complete attestation of love and humility to someone’s deepest truths about themselves.
“Forcing myself to stand now, I said, ‘Mr. Preacher, should we love your neighbour? he says. “The laws of the country or the heart, which is greater? »
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.