Home Joseph Rowan Deconstructing Kendrick Lamar’s ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’

Deconstructing Kendrick Lamar’s ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’


By Joseph Rowan  / LifeAtStart.com Reporter

On March 15th, 2015, Kendrick Lamar released his highly anticipated album To Pimp a Butterfly.

This was his third studio album and was his second critically acclaimed among the three. The topics of his raps are focused on racial inequality, self-worth, black-on-black violence, police brutality, gang violence, and depression.

On this album Kendrick Lamar drastically changed his music style. He went from having mainstream music that tells a story, to funk and neo-soul with politically aware lyrics. He uses his music as a platform to voice his opinions and to talk about controversial topics in the United States.

In his song The Blacker the Berry, Kendrick Lamar says “ Why did I weep when Trayvon Martin was in the streets, when gang-banging made me kill a brother blacker than me,” which references the killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman and the prevalent gang violence in Compton where Kendrick is from. To Pimp a Butterfly is a commentary on the fractured racial landscape and the racial inequality in America.

Ever since the album was released many African-Americans have died by the hands of police officers, some noticeable people who died in police custody are: Freddie Gray who had his spine broken while in police custody, Alton Sterling who was shot outside a gas station for selling CD’s, and Michael Brown who was shot dead in the middle of the street by Officer Darren Wilson, and when he was found not guilty sparked the Ferguson riots. Many people have criticized Kendrick for his views on the Ferguson riots, Kendrick stating that the neighborhood was already a “situation” and the shooting of Michael Brown should’ve never happened.

While To Pimp a Butterfly focuses on racial problems, it also focuses on Kendrick’s mental state and his soul. Some topics Kendrick mentions are family, depression, heartbreak, suicide, and paranoia. In the song u Kendrick raps about a time he broke down in a hotel room and smashed a mirror in the bathroom.

Kendrick Lamar likes to talk about social issues in his music and in interviews. When asked about the Michael Brown incident he said “When we don’t have respect for ourselves, how do we expect them to have respect for us?” He also stated the meaning of the album was not only as a social commentary but as a way to “Take (his) celebrity [status] and doing good with it. On a deeper level, how the industry treats artists, how they pimp artists out.”

Meaning that the artist has great potential and in turn is like a butterfly and the music industry is using them, aka “pimping” them. He expands on the concept of “pimping” artists out during his fictional interview with Tupac Shakur during the song Mortal Man. In my next article I’ll be doing a song analysis.

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