Op-Ed

In Kendrick Lamar’s 'Element,' Peace and Violence Coexist

Kendrick Lamar's new video illustrates a nuanced portrait of black life, survival and what it means to be hard.

*This piece does not condone violence*


Two dark skinned women, one rocking a kinky puff and the other with long braids accented by baby breaths, walk down the street, arms locked, a bouquet of blue balloons flowing in between them, as they belt from the top of their lungs:

“If I gotta slap a pussy ass nigga, imma make it look sexy!”

Those women are my friend and I, and this was only two days ago, on the posh, boujie streets of SoHo. I imagine folks were intrigued, others confused. Some may have even taken it personally. This image of us is violently delicate: such a strong juxtaposition of gentleness and aggression and randomness that it is as jarring as it is charming. Dark skinned women, who are taught not to be too loud, too forward with our existence, are even more threatening once we realize the full potential of our power. Throw in the fact that we belted an aggressive rap song is enough to disgust some. The balloons add poetic measure: we float, we sway, to the beat of the wind.

Kendrick Lamar’s “Element” music video implies similar complexities: it is bloody, it is hard, it is violent. Yet, it displays violence in an alluring, elegant form, which contrasts with the stereotypical ideas around violence and hip-hop: that it is terrifying, that it is intrinsic in black people, that it is sewn into our DNA. In “Element”, violence exists alongside beauty, wonder, curiosity and power, illustrating a nuanced portrait of black life, survival and what it means to be hard.

To be clear, I never thought I’d be so moved by a portrayal of violence since viewing “Element”. Primary school taught me that violence is never the answer, but growing up black and awkward in Brooklyn taught me that sometimes you have to fight, to prove or stand up for yourself - or, at least act like you’re ready to fight if the moment arises. The worst thing you could be called is “pussy”, which, in this case, means weak, but actual pussy is far from that. Lamar has expressed in several songs, especially tracks on DAMN., that this dynamic—being hard, being down, standing up to bullies, other rappers, the streets or a whooping from his momma—is something he is too familiar with, and willing to challenge—by refuting it, or giving into it.

“Element” is the realization of these dynamics and the self realization of his role in it. The lyrics are blissful and confident, as if aggression is a taste to savor—who brags about making fighting look sexy? In the visuals, violence doesn’t look sexy, but it is celebratory, soft and cinematic. There are three images in particular that reinterpret the musings of Gordon Parks, a stunning photographer: “Untitled, Alabama”, where three children pose, the one in the middle waving a gun; “Black Muslims”, a black and white portrait of black muslim women standing strong; and “Boy With June Bug”, a serene moment in nature, where a black child unites with an insect.

The choice to reincarnate these images seem precise: each represent a moment in blackness that is complicated in America. I couldn’t help but think of Tamir Rice when seeing the boy with the gun, because in our society, that moment could lead to a black child’s death. Conversely, that image reminded me of how prevalent guns are in our culture, even at a young age, and how harmful that can be. The muslim women are powerful and stoic, yet, our nation still has toxic views about muslim people and women of color, and worse, those who are both. However, the child lying peacefully in the grass is hopeful: it reminded me of the secrets we share with nature, the serene relationship that can both heal and humble us.

Besides these magical moments, we see the intense ones. A man punches another, a stream of blood follows. A family watches their home burn to the ground. A boy showers in glistening white rain, so striking it looks like diamonds are blessing his body. A woman silently moves away from her lover. White men behind bars gaze into our eyes. A man teaches a small boy how to fight, only to be found bloody and battered in a later scene. Who did this to him?

All the while, Kendrick raps in a white, blood-stained tee; a narrator of this tale whose hands are unclean in this story.

Violence, it seems, can be found in several places, both usual and unlikely. It can be in the hood, as the news loves to remind us, or in the bedroom—rejection can feel like an attack. It is the calmness of formation, of black people equipping themselves with education, exercise or self love. It is in a boy watching a person fall off a building: trauma, violence of the mind. It is the submission and humiliation of being bitch slapped across the face.

It is the threat, but it is the action. It is in beauty so spellbinding, you are paralyzed by your own infatuation.

Featured
Photo courtesy of Mariama Diallo

Interview: Sincerely Ria Is Giving Guinean Fashion It's Flowers

And designer Mariama Diallo's NYFW debut celebrates the vibrancy and uniqueness of Guinea and its Fulani culture.

Guinea-born supermodel, actress, and activist Mariama Diallo is a face you've likely seen all over social media.

With modelling campaigns with the likes of Savage x Fenty by Rihanna, Kim Kardashian's KKW Beauty, and features in Vogue, Marie Claire, NYLON magazines, the model is commanding her space in the industry and making her way centerstage. And, Mariama's strong online presence and following has certainly made her a popular member of the global village too.

With the aforementioned achievements under her belt, the 28-year-old supermodel presented herself as an eager and excited talent within the fashion industry. Now, Mariama's talents and ambitions have attracted her to a role behind the scenes. And showing the power of intention, the role has already taken her to places she only dreamed of prior.

Debuting as the fashion designer of self-financed fashion line Sincerely Ria at this year's New York Fashion Week is but a peek into what the model has to show of herself and share with the world.

The new collection, The Oshun, celebrates not only female beauty and the many ways that it manifests itself but also the magic of womanhood. Named after Oshun, the African goddess of femininity, fertility, beauty, and love, the collection is wrapped within the warmth and divinity of its namesake. The brand follows an ethos of inclusivity, community, and the power behind being beautiful because you have decided to be. Challenging the notion that beauty is always to be accompanied by pain, Mariama and Sincerely Ria are celebrating the rejection of beauty and body standards and expectations.

The Oshun line is a nod to the opulence of Mariama's African heritage and Guinea's Fulani culture, with special attention to the use of brilliant colors, exciting designs, and stunning silhouettes. Motivated to be seen and to captivate, the emphasis on Black beauty within the clothing is certainly translated beautifully, however, stylistically available to all. Uniqueness is welcomed and encouraged. And like Mariama says herself, "You deserve to celebrate yourself unapologetically."

The line debuted at New York Fashion Week, very appropriately, on Valentine's Day of this year and love certainly was the theme. Already boasting a following of over 8,000, the brand's instagram account has shown nothing short of praise and excitement for what we've seen from Mariama, and for what's to come.

We spoke with the Guinean supermodel about the journey to Fashion Week and her love for and emphasis on community and shared experiences.

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