The rapper who sparked controversy on Fox News with his BET Awards performance will close this year's Essence Music Festival Sunday night.

kendrick lamar photo
Kendrick Lamar

Sunday night, Kendrick Lamar will close the Essence Music Festival in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. It’s a time slot that has been punishing in recent years as such party-friendly hitmakers as Earth, Wind & Fire and Lionel Ritchie struggled to hold audiences that had seen the artists they came for—often Charlie Wilson or Mary J. Blige—and had to go to work in the morning. Presumably, the hope is that the critical and commercial success of Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly will draw an audience specifically for him.

Lamar made news with a controversial performance of his new single, “Alright,” atop a graffiti’ed police car on the 2015 BET Awards. Controversial for Fox News, anyway, where the panel on The Five roundly scolded it, including, “This is why I say that hip-hop has done more damage to young African-Americans than racism in recent years … This is exactly the wrong message.”

The problem for Rivera and the other panelists was the lyric, “We hate the po-po / Wanna kill us dead in the street fo sho.” According to Rivera, to “conflate what happened in this church in South Carolina with these tragic incidents involving excessive use of force by cops is to equate this racist killer with these cops.” 

It’s pretty obvious that no one on the show—Rivera, Eric Bolling, Kimberly Guilfoyle, Greg Gutfeld, and Dana Perino—got past the visuals and the line to read the lyrics or even listened to the rest of the song including the chorus, which repeats the line "We're gon' be alright." (Watch this and you'll understand why The Daily Show job could burn out Jon Stewart and its writers)

Slate.com’s Derreck Johnson hears a far more nuanced and ultimately positive message in the song:

“Alright,” the fourth single from the critically lauded and certified gold To Pimp A Butterfly, is an anthem that details the daily rigors of living as a young black man in modern-day America. It’s about facing the seemingly never-ending stresses of poverty, racism, police brutality, and unjust death and banding together as a community to rise above it all.   

The video for “Alright” dropped Tuesday night and in one day racked up more than 1,844,000 views. Director Colin Tilley’s video is visually remarkable and matches the emotional complexity of Lamar’s song.

Essence.com recently asked Lamar questions from readers.