Kendrick Lamar spends much of his new 18-song double album, “Mr. Moral & the Big Steppers”, wrestling with big questions: identity, spirituality, monogamy, mortality.
But no single track has aroused more online conversation than “Auntie Diaries,” in which Lamar explores his changing relationship with his trans relatives.
The song is a living, exceptionally provocative look into the mind of a younger Lamar who forms a concept of transness in the midst of a working-class Compton culture that is not often inclined to embrace it. But the Pulitzer Prize-winning hip-hop star does not approach it in an easy redemptive arc.
The song has already antagonized some listeners with its sharp use of anti-gay slander and other deliberately foul language about gender and sexuality. But it has also won over some trans listeners for being terribly accurate about this cis, straight black man’s path to a better understanding of their relationships.
The song is played during years of his youth, when Lamar will understand that a character he once knew as a favorite aunt has turned into a male identity. “My aunt is a man now / I think I’m old enough to understand now,” he says at the opening of the song. “I see him and his girl holding down their hands.”
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 album” Good Kid, mAAd City “from 2012.)” The Barbie dolls played a mirror image of Venus / He built a wall so high that you could not climb over / He did not laugh as much when the children start joking ‘F— t, F — t, F — t, ‘we do not know better’, he raps.
The song’s incorrect gender and slander are astonishing but definitely intentional for its effect; Lamar is one of the most detailed, precise and challenging lyricists in all music today.
Cruel gestures like death names (using a transgender person’s name before they passed) and repeating slander over and over again would be unforgivable in conversations. But the song’s provocations feel like a jerky look back at the young mind that Lamar populated on songs like the 2012 “Backseat Freestyle”, a fan favorite for its evil ostrich, but a character study of a naive young man suffering from foolish influences.
In “Auntie Diaries”, a younger Lamar tries to understand his affection for and fascination with the trans relatives around him, while navigating and absorbing the contempt and violence he sees around them. “Look, my aunt is a man now, a little bravado / scratches like from the lottery / hope she comes up tomorrow.”
Lamar cites his trans uncle as the first person he has ever seen write rap – an influence that made his career possible.
But Lamar also asked my mother why my uncles do not like him so much / And at parties why they always want to fight so much with him / She said: ‘Ain’t no tellin’ / N— always been jealous because he had more women / More money and more attention made more envy. ‘”
Later, Lamar also calls back to an infamous real moment on stage in 2018 when he brought up a white fan to rap with him, and she repeated anti-black statements that, from Lamar’s mouth, would be a normal part of hip hop’s vernacular, but got him to stop the show to reprimand her. “Reminded me of a show I did in town / That time I brought a fan on stage to rap / But disliked the word she could not say with me / You said, ‘Kendrick, is not room for contradiction / To really understand love, change position ‘/’ F — t, F — t, F — t ‘, we can say it together / But only if you let a white girl say’ N— ‘. “
In the wake of Dave Chappelle’s “The Closer” controversy, over the comedian’s transphobic language, this high wire act could easily have backfired on Lamar. While trans fans will get different reactions based on their wide variety of lived experiences, some have said they are grateful for Lamar’s sincerity and the delicacy with which he uses hateful phrases for compassionate purposes.
“Like it or not the use of filth, dead names and disgrace is reality. I’m sorry he did not sugarcoat it for you, but it is realistic because I personally die by name and disgrace by family to this day, I wrote. a trans female fan on Twitter. “This song may not be one of your ideal versions of alliance and activism, but it’s done in a way that holds true and weight for transphobia and homophobia in hip hop. We should be thankful that one of the most remarkable rappers in life chose to address this topic. “
“A lot of people have problems with Kendrick’s use of f-slur here, but it’s important to remember the narrative framework the song uses,” wrote another transfan. “This becomes incredibly relevant at the tip of the song … I have looked at this text countless times, it is very clear that everything in this song is intentional. It is a recounting of the events in your face that led to a previous ignorant Kendrick Lamar became aware of LGBTQIA + people and provoked him to fight for them. “
When the song is close, the language reflects his understanding, and ends with Lamar in the church giving a full certificate of love and humility in the face of someone’s deepest truths about himself.
“Now I forced myself to stand and say, ‘Mr. Preacher, shall we love your neighbor?’ he says, “The laws of the land or of the heart, which is greater?”