Kendrick Lamar’s highly anticipated new album includes a personal, if problematic, song about his transgender relatives.
In the song “Auntie Diaries,” off his new record “Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers,” Lamar raps about his uncle and cousin – depicted as two important, beloved figures in his life – who are both trans.
The response to the track has been strongly divisive: Though Lamar’s being praised for acknowledging trans people in a positive way, he’s being sharply criticized, too. Some listeners took issue with Lamar misgendering his relatives – Lamar uses both “he/him” and “she/her” pronouns interchangeably for both family members. Other criticisms point to his use of his cousin’s former name and repeated use of an anti-LGBTQ slur.
“My auntie became a man and I took pride in it,” Lamar says on the new track, saying he “grew accustomed” to his uncle’s transition as a young person.
He later says in the song that his uncle was the “first person (he) seen write a rap,” introducing him to the art form he would eventually dominate.
Lamar also mentions his “favorite cousin” and their transition and how he “still loved” them, though the relationship between the two was strained for a period because his cousin “wasn’t comfortable” around him.
When Lamar addresses his past use of homophobic language, he uses the f-slur repeatedly throughout.
“I said them f-bombs, I ain’t know any better,” he says at one point, later referencing an incident at a concert when a White fan used a racial slur onstage while rapping to one of Lamar’s songs.
Variety music critic Jem Aswad praised “Auntie Diaries” as a “powerful, genre-shifting statement on transphobia” and the evolution of Lamar’s views.
But the song was not uniformly praised among listeners. Some called it “transphobic” and “selfish” of Lamar to center himself in a story about his trans relatives while repeatedly using incorrect pronouns and a slur, while others defended it as Lamar’s reflection on his past and love for his family. Still others said that, flawed as the song is, it was meaningful to hear a rapper of Lamar’s caliber – he’s the only rapper who’s won a Pulitzer for their work – to say they support trans people.
Preston Mitchum, director of advocacy and governmental affairs at the Trevor Project, a nonprofit that works to prevent suicide among LGBTQ young people, discussed his mixed reaction to the song.
“I’m thankful he spoke in favor of love & acceptance of trans sibs – even after admitting what society did to them first,” he tweeted. “The [slur] threw me off because it isn’t his word to use. But that’s his point at the end.”
The song was released at a contentious time for trans people’s rights: According to one report as of March, states had introduced more than 200 bills aimed at LGBTQ people, particularly trans young people.
Reviews for the long-awaited “Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers” are still rolling in, but “Auntie Diaries” is already one of its most talked about songs. Lamar just announced a world tour to support the album, beginning in July.