Kendrick Lamar's new song 'Auntie Diaries' divides the LGBTQ+ community
After five years, Kendrick Lamar released his latest album Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers last week. One of its tracks immediately proved divisive among LGBTQ+ people.
"Auntie Diaries" features Lamar rapping in the first person about how he learned to embrace his family members' gender transitions. To critics, the problems begin with the first line of the first verse: "My auntie is a man now."
" 'Auntie Diaries' is really about Kendrick's relationship with — not actually his auntie — but really his uncle," said Raquel Willis, an author, activist and former executive editor of Out magazine.
Speaking to Morning Edition co-host Rachel Martin, Willis said she understood Lamar's intention of "reckoning with both homophobia and transphobia, particularly within the Black community," but found his execution confusing.
In the song, the Pulitzer Prize-winning rapper repeatedly says a slur commonly wielded against queer people. He also mixes up his relatives' preferred pronouns, and he "deadnames" them — using names that they no longer use.
He does the same to Caitlyn Jenner, the Olympic gold medalist, reality TV star, and erstwhile candidate for governor in California.
"That felt jarring," Willis said. "And I think maybe for a lot of other trans people it felt that way, because these are actual, real experiences we've had with family members who refuse to respect us and our identities, or have taken a long time to, kind of, evolve."
"I said those f-bombs, I ain't know any better," Kendrick Lamar raps. "Mistakenly, I ain't think that you'd know any different."
The song is in keeping with the confessional style Lamar cultivates on Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers. The album art depicts him crowned with thorns, and he writes openly about struggles with a messiah complex and working it all out in therapy and in art.
The song culminates with Lamar standing up to a bigoted minister, asking, "Mr. Preacherman, should we love thy neighbor? The laws of the land or the heart, what's greater?"
Some on social media have praised "Auntie Diaries" for using real vernacular to depict personal growth, but Willis says greater artistic rewards lie beyond a cisgender man's journey to acceptance.
"I would be more impressed for him to talk about the epidemic of violence in which it's largely Black, cisgender men, killing Black and brown trans women, or talking about the numerous bills, moving around the country, to restrict our rights," she said. "We've got to move beyond this getting-the-names-right, getting-the-pronouns-right conversation."
The LGBTQ rights group Freedom For All says hundreds of anti-LGBTQ bills have gone before state legislatures in 2022.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Kendrick Lamar's new record drew this reaction from NPR music reporter Sidney Madden. She tweeted, quote, "How is it possible for one album to make you feel like you're in a sound bath and on a minefield all at once?" The album is called "Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers." The Pulitzer Prize-winning rapper found a minefield with the song "Auntie Diaries."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AUNTIE DIARIES")
KENDRICK LAMAR: (Rapping) My auntie is a man now. I think I'm old enough to understand now. Drinking Paul Masson with her hat turned backwards, Motorola pager, off-white Guess jacket...
MARTIN: Raquel Willis joins us now to talk about this track in particular. She's an author, activist and former executive editor of Out magazine. Raquel, thanks for being here.
RAQUEL WILLIS: Thanks for having me, Rachel.
MARTIN: So I'm going to have you do the big work and explain what this song, "Auntie Diaries," is about.
WILLIS: Yeah. So "Auntie Diaries" is really about Kendrick's relationship with - not actually his auntie, but really his uncle and another family member and their experiences with gender transition. And so really, he's kind of reckoning with both homophobia and transphobia, particularly within the Black community and with religion, too.
MARTIN: So you sort of nodded to part of your critique of it in your answer there, but explain your reaction to this song. You've got issues with it.
WILLIS: I do have issues with it. Within the song, there is the overuse of the F-slur. He also misgenders - using the wrong gender for his family members as well as deadnames both of them, which is using names that they don't go by anymore. And so that felt jarring. And I think maybe for a lot of other trans people, it felt that way because these are actual, real experiences we've had with family members who refused to respect us and our identities or have taken a long time to kind of evolve.
MARTIN: Some trans advocates have praised the song and said it is a true, authentic reflection of his own journey. What do you say about that?
WILLIS: I think many things can be true at the same time. In my opinion, it's been the cisgender people in my life who were so moved by this work that they wanted to talk to me about it. Other queer and trans people that I know were not moved by it. I would be more impressed for him to talk about the epidemic of violence, in which it's largely Black, cisgender men killing Black and brown trans women, or talking about the numerous bills to restrict our rights. We've got to get beyond this getting-the-names-right, getting-the-pronouns-right conversation.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AUNTIE DIARIES")
LAMAR: (Rapping) He gave me some cash then gave me some game. Cherry freshener on the dash, I never complained. She even cut my hair at the pad, was loving my fade. The first person I seen write a rap - that's when my life had changed.
MARTIN: Is there anyone out there doing what Kendrick Lamar tried to do with this song but better?
WILLIS: Interesting question. On the level that Kendrick is, probably not, but I do think it's important for us to discuss that there are LGBTQ rappers and musicians out there who often don't get to shine because of numerous systemic barriers.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COCKY")
SHEA COULEE: (Rapping) What you staring for? What you staring for? High fashion, high fashion - I'ma give you more.
WILLIS: I'm from Atlanta, so I know folks like Taylor Alexander, Shea Coulee of "RuPaul's Drag Race" fame. So there are many.
MARTIN: Raquel Willis, author and activist, thank you so much for talking with us.
WILLIS: Of course. Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COCKY")
COULEE: (Rapping) I can see it in your eyes that you're mad at me 'cause I'm sick and I'm fierce and cocky. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.