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America Eats Its Young: An Examination of To Pimp A Butterfly

An examination of To Pimp a Butterfly

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Scene:

It’s poetry night in a smoky, dimly lit coffee shop. Among the crowd, there are beatniks, afro-centrics, and hippies. They are all sitting silently in anticipation of the next performer. Slowly, a man of short stature with twisted hair approaches the stage, flask in hand. As he gazes out into the audience, he softly commands the crowd to snap to his beat.

“1…

2…

3…

I am Kendrick Lamar…and this is… “To Pimp A Butterfly”

Ok, obviously none of this happened, but this is how I imagined the album. Actually, let me go ahead and do away with the word “album” because it’s so much more than that. “To Pimp A Butterfly” is an experience. An emotional experience meant to be consumed all at once, not skimmed through and given a quick once-over. It’s hard to digest. Sometimes EXTREMELY uncomfortable to listen to but when is truth ever comfortable?

Kendrick Lamar’s new “album” is an examination of the black man in America. This album expands the viewpoint of the man we see in GKMC, taking him out the hood to observe the world at large.Throughout this…review/breakdown/dissertation or whatever we shall call it; I shall make references to images, videos, and even songs from other artists that came to mind throughout listening.

First, let’s focus on the album cover. This image is pretty powerful to me. It follows the same trend of expressing a major theme in Kendrick Lamar’s music – innocence.

Kendrick has been using the phrase since good kid, mad city since his first LP. This reference is often used because Kendrick doesn’t believe anyone is inherently evil. It’s an issue of nature vs. nurture and being a product of one’s environment. He’s the kid watching cartoons in front of the TV while eating a big bowl of cereal. As he looks outside, he sees a world of gang violence but knows he’s safe at home. Being raised in a good home is one thing but how do those values hold up against the environment you live in?

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I’m sure you knew this was coming. Illmatic has one of the most iconic album covers of all time. We see Nas, aged 7, fixed over the backdrop of Queensbridge projects. Nas has stated that this is the age where he began to pay more attention to his surroundings. Much like Kendrick, Nas also lived in a nice home that was in contrast to his environment outside.

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“Two of my uncles, just two of them. To the far right, that’s my grandpa and a baby bottle next to a 40-ounce next to a gang sign, holding a kid. It’s not just music to me. This is a story about the youth and the people that they call delinquents in my city. You look in the background and you see a picture on the wall of me and my pops. And the eyes blanked out, that’s for my own personal reasons — you’ll probably hear about that in the album, but that photo just says so much about my life and how I was raised in Compton and the things I’ve seen just through them innocent eyes. You don’t see no one else’s eyes, but you see my eyes of innocence and trying to figure out what’s going on.“-Kendrick Lamar

That quote sums up why I love Good Kid MAAD City’s album cover so much. With the omission of the crip sign being thrown up, this seems like a happy family. I’m sure this wasn’t framed intentionally (don’t think he knew he would be a rapper as an infant) but you also see the 40 on the table close to the baby bottle. This unintentionally funny photo is a clash of a happy home and the temptations that lie beyond it.

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Also, as stated, the eyes are very important in the portrayal of innocence. Kendrick’s two family members’ eyes are blocked out. As we listen to the album, we discover it’s because they’ve already lost their innocence.

So it can’t be a coincidence that To Pimp a Butterfly‘s album cover shares the similar theme.

The eyes of the adults are either black or darkened.

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We can still see the eyes of the kids.

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And the judge’s eyes are crossed out.

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This could either be a Looney Tunes cartoon reference or maybe they’re crossed out because he never possessed innocence. He’s paying for the sins of his forefathers.

Which is likely why he suffered this fate.

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Let’s just pretend he was crushed by an Acme anvil. Yep, I like that better.

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“My innocence been dead
So the next time I talk about money, hoes, clothes, God, history all in the same sentence
Just know I meant it, and you felt it
Because you too are searching for answers
I’m not the next pop star
I’m not the next socially aware rapper
I am a human motherfucking being, over dope ass instrumentation”

To me, this pretty much sums up the broad theme of To Pimp a Butterfly. Kendrick is a good kid trapped in a dangerous city. His innocence is killed because he’s hardened by the harsh realities surrounding him. Now conflicted (Made bold for emphasis, duh. We’ll get to this later) with balancing that life back home with the new world he’s now discovered.

Speaking of loss of innocence, peep Kendrick’s eyes during his performance of “i” on SNL.

Now, let’s actually get into the album.

This album kicks off with Wesley’s Theory, a funk-laced track featuring George Clinton. (Can I just salute whoever dug up this snippet? What a way to start an album.)

If this album’s cover art was a motion picture, this would be the soundtrack. Kendrick is describing kicking in the doors and bringing all of his homies with him. Now let’s go back to the cover art. What sticks out? I’ll give you a hint. It’s dead center. Closer. Look closer…

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This appears to be the result of a game of “Capture the flag” to me. The enemy troops have swarmed in and captured Lady Liberty’s baby. The baby represents purity and innocence. Kendrick and the homies have now captured him. They win.

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I’d also like to note that this isn’t the same baby Kendrick is holding in the album booklet.

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This symbolizes Kendrick’s belief that black people could also be pure and innocent. A violent temperament isn’t the natural state of the black man.

What you want you? A house or a car?
Forty acres and a mule, a piano, a guitar?
Anything, see, my name is Uncle Sam, I’m your dog
Motherfucker you can live at the mall

I can see the dollar in you
Little white lies with a snow white collar in you
But it’s whatever though because I’m still followin’ you
Because you make me feel forever baby, count it all together baby
Then hit the register and make me feel better baby
Your horoscope is a gemini, two sides
So you better cop everything two times
Two coupes, two chains, two c-notes
Too much and enough both we know
Christmas, tell ’em what’s on your wish list
Get it all, you deserve it Kendrick
And when you get the White House, do you
But remember, you ain’t pass economics in school
And everything you buy, taxes will deny
I’ll Wesley Snipe your ass before thirty-five

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After listening to this album a few times, you’ll discover that nothing is ever said in vain. The phrase “I can see the dollar in you” is very important. You will see why later.

Kendrick’s description of Uncle Sam/America is also something I take away from the album cover. The system is rigged for African-Americans and this is his way of taking it back and getting what he’s earned. During Dr. Dre’s intermission, he tells Kendrick that “The hardest part is keeping it”.

Which leads to one of the most interesting tracks of this album…

“For Free?”. After my first listen, I was trying to decide if I thought this spoken work tirade was corny or genius.

And then I heard the last line:

“Oh America, you bad bitch, I picked the cotton that made you rich and now my dick ain’t free”

In a very broad sense, this line sums up one side of the title. The capitalistic system that once profited from the labor of a race is the same one that keeps it captive.  If Kendrick is the butterfly that matured from a caterpillar and flew away then the cocoon is the hood. Which leads right into “Institutionalized”. (Skipping “King Kunta”. This track is a detour away from the overall narrative).

remember u was conflicted, misusing your influence…


“Institutionalized” is the account of Kendrick returning to the hood and bringing those friends out of it with him. Although he’s in a new world, he feels the need to remain connected to his old one. Survivor’s guilt, maybe? (SPOILER ALERT!)

Let’s take a look at the lyrics of this song before the beat change:

What money got to do with it
When I don’t know the full definition of a rap image?
I’m trapped inside the ghetto and I ain’t proud to admit it
Institutionalized, I keep runnin’ back for a visit
Hol’ up, get it back
I said I’m trapped inside the ghetto and I ain’t proud to admit it
Institutionalized,I could still kill me a nigga, so what? [Kendrick]
If I was the president
I’d pay my mama’s rent
Free my homies and them
Bulletproof my Chevy doors
Lay in the White House and get high, Lord
Who ever thought?
Master, take the chains off me! [Anna Wise and Bilal]
The hood is Kendrick’s prison. Although he’s a famous, wealthy rapper, he can’t stop himself from going back even though he’s aware he could be trapped there. So for better or worse, he keeps in touch with his old homies and tries to take them outside of the hood. Bring them into his world. The story about his homies trying to hit a lick at the BET Awards was funny. We all have that one homie or cousin who would try to pull a stick-up at your job’s Christmas party if he could. This feeling of being trapped by the hood causes an inner conflict within.

remember u was conflicted, misusing your influence

sometimes i did the same…

“These Walls” starts off as a groovy track about sex, but the last verse reveals it to be one of the darkest songs of the album. The first two verses are about walls of an ummm…vagina. The last verse reveals that this was a plot for revenge against the killer of his homeboy. Whether this story is true or not (I think it’s just his imagination at work, once again: survivor’s guilt) it’s quite sinister.

remember u was conflicted, misusing your influence

sometimes i did the same

abusing my power, full of resentment

resentment that turned into a deep depression

found myself screaming in a hotel room…

The reason why I think Kendrick’s anecdote in “These Walls” is a work of his imagination is because of “u”. While this song isn’t necessarily enjoyable, I personally think it’s one of the most important songs of the narrative. I know a lot of people really don’t like Kendrick’s voices and inflection changes, but he uses them masterfully here. For the first minute, he’s rapping in this high pitched voice then switches up. While berating himself in the mirror, we learn that he feels like he failed his friend by not visiting him while dying in the hospital. He also blames himself for the pregnancy of his teenage sister. Ultimately, Kendrick feels like a failure for having influence. He can reach millions of people worldwide but couldn’t help those closest to him back home.

I’d like to take a break to point out how awesome the sequencing of this album is. To go from “These Walls”, where he’s reflecting on the death of his friend to “u”, which sheds light on the guilt he feels, is amazing. But it gets better, here comes the, for lack of better words, gospel anthem “Alright”. Thank you, Pharrell for allowing that “Presidential” sample to get flipped again but, I digress. Kendrick has never shied away from his spirituality. “Faith”, “Kush and Corinthians”, and even “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe” are all examples of this.

But at this point of the album, this track was needed. “u” made me depressed, so I can only imagine how Kendrick felt living it.

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Completely unrelated, but the Black Messiah album cover came to mind the first time I heard this song. This means absolutely nothing, just though I’d share.

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What you want, a house or a car
40 acres and a mule, a piano a guitar
Anything, see my name is Luci, I’m your dog
Motherfucker you can live at the mall

Does this last line look familiar? Well, it should. It’s identical to a line that we saw in “Wesley’s Theory”. Uncle Sam is replaced with Luci here because Luci is…wait, let’s just go to the next track and find out who Luci might be.

remember u was conflicted, misusing your influence

sometimes i did the same…abusing my power, full of resentment

resentment that turned into a deep depression

found myself screaming in a hotel room

I didn’t wanna self-destruct

the evils of Luci was all around me…

So I went runnin for answers…

During “For Sale?” it is implied that this Luci is none other than Lucifer. What makes this track works so well is that the melody is so pleasant. The temptation isn’t presented as some dark force, but rather is sweet and welcoming.

This is how Luci presented herself in “Alright”. The devil is a little voice in the back of his head asking if he wants that house or car. Replacing Uncle Sam with Luci in the same bar is pretty much-saying money is the root of all evil.

“How Much A Dollar Cost” is a parable about putting wealth before morality and humanity. After hopping out his luxury car (The same one Luci asked him if he wanted?) and being approached by a homeless man, he later finds out that he was speaking to Jesus Christ himself. One of the biggest conflicts Kendrick expresses on this album is managing his new-found wealth.

On Institutionalized, he says “My niggas think I’m a god, truthfully all of them spoiled”. He must adapt to not himself changing but those around him changing. Certainly, his reaction to this homeless man wouldn’t have been as harsh if he wasn’t hopping out of a luxury car. So the dollar, which is the root of all evil, is causing him to fight his internal battle with Lucifer. He’s warned at the end “How much a dollar cost? A spot in heaven, embrace your loss”.

remember u was conflicted, misusing your influence

sometimes i did the same…abusing my power, full of resentment

resentment that turned into a deep depression

found myself screaming in a hotel room

I didn’t wanna self-destruct

the evils of Luci was all around me…

So I went runnin for answers…

Until I came home

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“Momma” is about Kendrick returning home to escape temptation and fame. Much like before, when he was that kid eating cereal and watching cartoons, home is his safe haven from the crazy world he lives in. Home is also a broad way of speaking of Compton in general. The world and its temptations are inviting him to become a different man but he must return home to center himself.

“I know if I’m generous at heart I don’t need recognition. The way I’m rewarded? Well that’s God’s decision. That line’s for Compton’s school district. Give it to the kids, don’t ask how it’s distributed”.-Kendrick, “Momma”

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Although this song comes before “How Much A Dollar Cost” I feel like this line is a direct response. An older, wiser, Kendrick is returning to his old hood to spread wisdom and charity.

remember u was conflicted, misusing your influence

sometimes i did the same…abusing my power, full of resentment

resentment that turned into a deep depression

found myself screaming in a hotel room

I didn’t wanna self destruct

the evils of Luci was all around me…

So I went runnin for answers…

Until I came home

But that didn’t stop survivor’s guilt

Going back and forth trying to convince myself the stripes I earned

or maybe how A1 my foundation was

but while my loved ones was fighting a continuous war back in the city

i was entering a new one…

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“i can see the dollar in u”

This line really didn’t have any significance to me until “How Much a Dollar Cost”.  In “Wesley’s Theory” Kendrick spits this line to himself from the perspective of Uncle Sam then he lists all the things that should be acquired with his new-found wealth.

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Clearly, this isn’t Kendrick’s song, but Cole speaks of the same struggle. He actually flat out says, “I might have been better off broke”. While I’m not a millionaire, I could only imagine how difficult it is to come from an impoverished area and becoming a millionaire in a short amount of time. Of course, you have to get your family out the hood, but how far does that family extend? Which friends are coming with you? Should you even keep those friends with you?

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This is a perfect time to repeat the line “My niggas think I’m a god, truthfully all of em spoiled” on “Institutionalized”. While I’m sure Kendrick is fighting not to let money change him, it’s certainly changing those around him.

Kendrick goes into full Sly Stone mode here. “You ain’t gotta lie to kick it, my nigga. You ain’t gotta lie. You ain’t gotta lie. You ain’t gotta try so hard.” With new-found fame comes tons of people trying to impress the rich guy, I’m sure. So when he returns home, he’s telling those around him to just be themselves. Be proud, but the bragging and boasting aren’t necessary. This message of self-love leads right into “i”.

Have I mentioned how much I really didn’t like “i” when it came out? I wrote it off as an half-assed, feel good radio single. Boy, was I wrong. Much like “For Free?” and “For Sale?”, “u” and “i” are two opposite ends of the same spectrum. “u” was the cry for help and “i” is overcoming those issues. What I love about “i”  is that this album version has an entirely new energy. He’s performing the SNL version that features a live band, back-up singers and sounds really aggressive. I think the message was lost in the feel-good single version. What makes this version so brilliant is that we know Kendrick is back home during his performance. Much like the release of the single, the crowd isn’t listening so he stops to talk to them. After his speech, he spits a pretty nice freestyle about the origin of “nigga” (which I had to do some fact checking on). Just like the “Every nigga is a Star” opening, he’s calling all niggas royalty.

To me, this segment pretty much predicts how the message of the album will be received. No one was really listening to “i” when it came out. No one still really cares. It’s not an easy listen by any means. It’s not cool. It won’t make you want to party, but it’s still very important nonetheless.

So what is the message?

Well, there really isn’t one. Not to say this album doesn’t deliver, but “To Pimp A Butterfly” is so broad, so abstract, that you can get different messages from it. If you take anything from this album, I think Kendrick achieved his goal.

One of the most important messages Kendrick asks on this album is “When shit hit the fan, is you still a fan?” Personally, this question hit me hard. Let’s just say I wasn’t a big fan of Kendrick’s statements about Ferguson, Mo.

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If there’s one thing I hate from fellow African American men, its respectability politics. It’s not up to the oppressed to appease the oppressor. It’s not up to us to forgive their wrongdoing. However, instead of being mad at Kendrick, these comments made me more curious. It made me pity him even. Kendrick is a guy from Compton and he grew up with a lot of gang members. I’m sure he doesn’t think they’re bad people, just misguided. So when I saw his comments, they really confused me.

Even on “Blacker the Berry”, he calls himself a hypocrite. Although I loved the track itself (he’s rapping his ass off on this one), I was still taken aback by the last line.

It’s funny how Zulu and Xhosa might go to war
Two tribal armies that want to build and destroy
Remind me of these Compton Crip gangs that live next door
Beefin’ with Piru’s, only death settle the score
So don’t matter how much I say I like to preach with the Panthers
Or tell Georgia State “Marcus Garvey got all the answers”
Or try to celebrate February like it’s my B-Day
Or eat watermelon, chicken, and Kool-Aid on weekdays
Or jump high enough to get Michael Jordan endorsements
Or watch BET cause urban support is important
So why did I weep when Trayvon Martin was in the street?
When gang banging make me kill a nigga blacker than me?
Hypocrite!
This guilt goes back to what he feels in “u”. By being an associate of gang members, he feels partially responsible for his friend’s death. So he feels that it’s hypocritical to feel anger when a white man kills a black man when he’s seen so many deaths of black men by other black men.

Watch as he gets visibly choked up talking about this internal conflict. (Watch that entire interview, if you have a few minutes to kill)

remember u was conflicted
Misusing your influence
Sometimes I did the same
Abusing my power, full of resentment
Resentment that turned into a deep depression
Found myself screaming in the hotel room
I didn’t wanna self destruct
The evils of Luci was all around me
So I went running for answers
Until I came home
But that didn’t stop survivor’s guilt
Going back and forth trying to convince myself the stripes I earned
Or maybe how A-1 my foundation was
But while my loved ones was fighting the continuous war back in the city
I was entering a new one
A war that was based on apartheid and discrimination
Made me wanna go back to the city and tell the homies what I learned
The word was respect
Just because you wore a different gang color than mines
Doesn’t mean I can’t respect you as a black man
Forgetting all the pain and hurt we caused each other in these streets
If I respect you, we unify and stop the enemy from killing us
But I don’t know, I’m no mortal man, maybe I’m just another nigga

After Kendrick gives you the full poem at the end, you can hear him balling up a piece of paper and saying “that’s all I got”. This is very important to me. Kendrick is saying he doesn’t have all the answers and he never will. He repeats the word conflicted over and over and over. At first, I had no clue why, until it all wraps up. This album isn’t meant to be a sermon but more of a conversation. Through Kendrick’s personal experiences, he hopes to spark the mind that wants to make the change.

I used that line intentionally because a rapper before Kendrick said something similar. This line was spoken by Tupac. Can I stan for a minute? Having an interview with Tupac was BRILLIANT! BRILLIANT! Who even thinks of that??? Not only was it brilliant, but his words continue to be meaningful and relevant.I won’t run through the interview at length, but Pac talks about a range of topics from oppression and rioting to building your own brand as an entertainer(de-pimping of the butterfly, for lack of better words).

“We ain’t even really rapping, we letting our dead homies tell stories for us.”-Tupac

How ironic was this line? Using an interview with Tupac speaking on issues he’s facing is still relevant today in present times. While we can appreciate how far we’ve come, we still must realize we really haven’t progressed that much. That’s what makes this interview a stroke of brilliance.

After this line, Kendrick takes back over and reads a piece that was the inspiration behind the title of the album. He eagerly waits for Pac’s response but he’s already gone.  So when Kendrick asks “what you think about that?” I feel as if he’s not only talking to Pac but all of us, sitting in that same smoky coffee house on poetry night.

Then the album closes on that cliffhanger.

So what do I think of To Pimp a Butterfly?

First, I must say I love this album’s blackness. It’s black as hell. Unapologetically black even. It opens with “Every Nigga Is a Star” for crying out loud. It’s a mixture of jazz, funk, and everything that hip-hop itself was founded upon. Who else can get George Clinton and Ron Isley on the same album in 2015?

Between King Kunta and “Complexion” (Rapsody kinda kills Kendrick on here), blackness, well the audacity to be proud of one’s blackness, is a main theme.

So what made me choose to name this analysis America Eats Its Young?

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I’ve posted this picture several times while breaking down this album. If Kendrick told me that this album had no influence on him, I would probably have to call him a liar. This is the cover art of Funkadelic’s America Eats Its Young. Outside of bringing George Clinton in on To Pimp a Butterfly sessions, I think there are bigger influences here.

Take a look at the tracklist. Does anything stand out?

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Yes, “Miss Lucifer’s Love”. Just like “For Sale?” this song has a sweet harmony. Towards the end, “she just wants to satisfy is repeated over and over”. The personification of Lucifer as a female isn’t saying the devil is a woman, but it’s to present this damning figure as irresistible and desirable. This is why Luci told Kendrick “If Sherane drove you crazy, you ain’t got nothing on me”.

Another thing to take from America Eats Its Young is its album cover. It’s a dollar bill. This is why I kept repeated the line “I can see the dollar in you” throughout this piece. Because how much does missing a spot in heaven cost? Just a dollar.

But that’s the reason why I chose this title in a broad sense. The real reason why is the name of that album itself: America Eats Its Young. That’s an incredibly bold statement.

Let me give you an excerpt of the Pac interview that stuck with me the most

Aight well, how long you think it take before niggas be like,We fighting a war, I’m fighting a war I can’t win and I wanna lay it all down? -Kendrick

In this country a black man only have like 5 years we can exhibit maximum strength and that’s right now while you a teenager. While you still strong or while you still wanna lift weights, while you still wanna shoot back. ‘Cause once you turn 30 it’s like they take the heart and soul out of a man out of a black man in this country. And you don’t wanna fight no more. And if you don’t believe me you can look around, you don’t see no loud mouth 30-year old muthafuckas. -Pac

When I say America Eats Its Young, I don’t mean literally. America eats away at the soul of the African-American man, taking away his youth-his innocence. When Pac said “In this country, a black man only have like 5 years we can exhibit maximum strength and that’s right now while you a teenager” this spoke to me directly. With cops killing innocent men all over the nation, I can only speak for myself when I say its left me mentally exhausted. Years prior, I attended protests, marched etc. Now? I’m showing signs of apathy. How many times have we heard our elders accuse our generation of “stirring up trouble”? A protest is an act of youthful exuberance but the oppressor wants to do everything he can to kill this fire that burns inside.

The easiest literary connection to make to this title would be To Kill a Mockingbird. Which, I see. A Mockingbird represents innocence, so the murder of one is a heartless act.

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After listening to this album, I actually thought of Manchild in the Promised Land. The title itself is powerful, much like To Pimp A Butterfly. By the age of 10, Claude Brown was already committing a crime and was shot as a result of that. That’s the environment, cocoon for the sake of the album’s name, he was raised in. Crime was a way of life because of poverty. Through these experiences in this environment, one which is nearly impossible to escape, a boy grows into a man. Unfortunately, it is far before he’s ready to mature.

This leaves the black man stuck as a caterpillar, unable to mature,  with only his knowledge of the environment surrounding him. In Kendrick’s poem, this is what he speaks off when he says “but while my loved ones was fighting a continuous war back in the city”. There’s no time to focus on the outside world when you’re literally fighting for your life daily. So this child is forced to mature into a man, far before he’s ready in order to make it to the Promised Land. That is Promised Land is America. The American that lies outside of the ghetto.

But every once in a while, a butterfly flies away from his cocoon, where the other caterpillars were unable to develop. He now feels that it’s his obligation to return to the hood and provide wisdom to his old friends. In “Black Boy Fly”, which may have been the foreword to To Pimp a Butterfly in hindsight, Kendrick speaks of being jealous of NBA shooting guard Aaron Afflalo and The Game. Now he’s one of the few who was able to fly out of the hood. He hopes to share the outside world with the people still entrapped by the hood so hopefully one day they would want to experience it also.

But similar to the parallel made to Manchild in the Promised Land, Kendrick’s was also a manchild. As wise and smart as he may be, he’s still limited due to the environment he was raised in. He was forced to survive in his environment, so school became a lesser priority. He mentions how he failed economics and how he’s “uneducated…with a million dollar check”. This is another way America eats its young. As previously stated, Dr. Dre said: “Anybody can get it, the hardest part is keeping it”. Kendrick didn’t have these money management experiences growing up.

Nas said it best. “Americans blacks are the teenagers of the world”. This is quite an accurate description. Wealth in America is kept because those who inherit it know how to manage it. It’s generational. The walls that enclose the majority of the African American community are built as a barrier of entry to the elite class. The African American community as a whole has been unable to develop its human capital due to the effects of post-slavery America and “separate but equal” resources. The divide built a wall around a community and left them with little resources.

This is what Kendrick speaks of in “Wesley’s Theory”. He sheds light on the struggles of managing money and paying taxes because he’s never had guidance in these areas. Since these things aren’t being taught in these schools, a man could very well be right back in the hood which he came if he doesn’t manage his money well. For instance, I was lucky. I had the luxury of attending a school that offered a special program for a select group of students. So in 5th grade, I took an economics class that revolved around balancing a checkbook, setting up a bank account, playing a fake stock market, etc. Not everyone has this opportunity. Everyone isn’t able to attend a school that cares about enrichment instead of standardized testing. But I’ll stop my tangent here before this turns into a socialist manifesto.

The dollar is also significant because it ties Kendrick back to the hood financially. He speaks of buying his mom a house, trying to keep in touch with his old friends but where does that end? On “u” he even makes the comments that “you and a couple block boys are beefin”. The struggle is that as he progresses as an artist he feels the need to stay real. By flying out the hood he feels obligated to give back. How far does this extend? How cool are you with the ones you were once cool with? The dollar and the temptations of frivolous spending are another way that America Eats Its Young. Not having the maturation to save, invest and spend wisely.

I think it’s safe to say that he got the message.

screenshot-www.re-tox.com 2015-04-24 12-28-08

So, in closing To Pimp A…wait…I just realized that I haven’t actually discussed the music yet.  That’s kinda the whole point of this, right?

What makes To Pimp a Butterfly work so well is that everything is calculated precisely. There’s only one rap feature on this album and honestly, that’s all that’s needed. With a core group of Thundercat, George Clinton, and his in-house TDE producers, he was able to craft a sound that pulled inspirations from many different genres. Mostly what I love about this album is that it features Anna Wise and Bilal heavily. These are two artists from two totally different worlds but they sound as if they’re in a trio with Kendrick. Kendrick uses every featured artist as if he’s the conductor and they’re in his ensemble. His true masterstroke was allowing each line of his poem be the narration for the next song. Seriously, with this new wave of spoken word on rap albums happening right now, how many poems can you recite from them? Even one line? But Kendrick repeating “I remember u was conflicted” sticks with the listener. It made me wonder how the hell this thing would wrap up.

Personally, this album never feels like there’s one thing out of place sonically even though the sounds are totally different. “These Walls” doesn’t sound like the funk track and “Hood politics” doesn’t sound like the hood track but rather they’re all different pieces to the same puzzle.

So to bring this up again …

I’m not the next pop star
I’m not the next socially aware rapper
I am a human motherfucking being, over dope ass instrumentation

and that’s what this album is to me. This album is very Machiavellian to me. No, not in the literal sense but in the way that Pac was able to make many different types of records while staying true to himself.

It’s too early to say what impact this album will have if any. To be quite honest, I’m glad it took me so long write this because I really wanted to gauge the response weeks afterward. While most hype has died down, I think this will be a very important album years from now. With everything going on in America currently, it serves as a time capsule of a specific area. So yes, I think Kendrick was right when he made the statement that he hopes this album will be taught in college courses for years to come. Kendrick doesn’t have the answers and doesn’t try to act as if he does, but hopefully, the conversation about this album will help us find some.

So what does this album mean to me personally? It means pride. Pride in my fellow man. Pride in where I was raised. Sure, it’s not the black man’s fault that the odds are against him, but let’s unify to try to defeat that. Don’t allow your spirit to be broken. Don’t let that fire in you extinguish. The messages of depression and mental illness in the black community stuck with me the most. These are trying times but we must never allow ourselves to be broken and lose faith. America does eat away at the soul of the man, but this should serve as a reinforcement of one’s values and beliefs. I don’t think there was a better time to release an album like this.

baltimore download

What does it mean to you? Let’s spark up the conversation.

Now I leave you with an untitled track that Kendrick performed on the last episode of Colbert. It ties into the album perfectly.

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