Kendrick Lamar Just Made A Powerful Statement About Mass Incarceration at the Grammys

February 16th 2016

Lucy Tiven

Kendrick Lamar just made a powerful statement about race and the criminal justice system during Monday's Grammy Awards. Lamar began his performance, a mash-up of "The Blacker The Berry" and "Alright," with a chilling statement about mass incarceration.


Lamar, dressed in a prison uniform, lead a chain gang of backup dancers to the stage, while caged musicians performed behind him in prison cells.

Over two million of America's 320 million citizens were behind bars in 2015, and mass incarceration disproportionately affects the African American community. A third of Black men are likely to spend time in prison during their lifetime.

The performance was an ode to Lamar's heritage — both his hometown of Compton, California (a city just outside Los Angeles) as well as his African ancestry. Lamar used tribal imagery behind him as he performed the Black Lives Matter anthem "Alright." The performance ended with the word "Compton" printed across a map of Africa.

Lamar also addressed his own conflicted relationship with wealth and the music industry, profiting off the systems that often exploit Black lives and experiences.


"I'm the biggest hypocrite of 2015," Lamar cried out. "I'm African-American, I'm African, I'm black as the moon, heritage of a small village."

Lamar was nominated 11 Grammy's on Sunday, including best album for "To Pimp a Butterfly." 

Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that "To Pimp a Butterfly" was nominated for 11 Grammy's. In fact, Lamar himself was nominated 11 Grammy's, which included seven nominations for "To Pimp a Butterfly," and four in other categories.