Digest: October 2017
day, I was scrolling through various sites on the internet about
universities, like many of my sixteen-year old peers do. As I was
looking at information about Harvard, I saw a link about a rapper,
named Kendrick Lamar, whose album would be archived in the Harvard
Library. The name of the album was To Pimp a Butterfly, and it was
made in 2015. I was rather surprised, because this album had gotten
so much cultural significance in a span of less than two years!
saw various reviews of the album, with many critics hailing it as a
“masterpiece”. Honestly, I never had a good impression of hip
hop, due to the unnecessary profanity in songs. However, I gave this
album a chance. The album cover was very intriguing, with various
black people celebrating in front of the White House alongside a
white man lying down as if he was dead. It seemed very lengthy too,
with 16 tracks and the time length being almost 79 minutes. Thus I
assumed that it would be a dense album before investing my time in
listening to it.
giving this album a listen, I was shocked. In a good way, of course.
I realised this was not an album dishing out tracks, but it is an
experience. A very cohesive experience for a person to embrace the
perspective of a black person and view their struggle. It is dark and
desolate, yet cathartic and empowering.
for example the song “Alright”,
a track that has garnered attention as a protest song in the “Black
Lives Matter” movements. The first lyric itself is a reflection on
the struggle of black lives, saying ‘all
my life I has to fight’.
However, the chorus is very uplifting, with Pharrell, an artist
featured on the song, repeatedly saying ‘we
gon’ be alright’.
It is such a song where the empowerment roots from pain. In other
words, it is a perfect protest song.
are many moments of optimism. The title of the song song “King
Kunta” comes from the name of a fictional slave. However, Kendrick
emphasises on the “king” part of the title and empowers himself
with his success as a black man in the industry. He has done that
similarly on the song “i”, where the chorus joyfully repeats “I
love myself” as well as lyrics to be carefree about what brings you
down and what people think about you. He even gives an acapella about
what the definition of a black man really is.
are many moments too where the opposite topics are being said. The
introductory track, Wesley’s
(referencing Wesley Snipes, an actor who faced imprisonment due to
tax fraud), is about how black people are targetted due to success.
The first verse is from the perspective of a successful black man,
and the second is from the perspective of capitalist society that
brings him down. Very good usage of narrative skills, indeed!
is the polar opposite of the song ‘i’.
The first half consists of manic screams and another repetitive
chorus saying “loving
you is complicated”.
The “you” that he is referring to, in fact, is himself. Kendrick
has a defeatist attitude on the track, calling himself a failure and
that no ones needs him in the world. On the second half, he becomes
intoxicated in alcohol and starts reasoning why he’s in such a
depressed state. Kendrick seems to be the most pensive when he is
drunk: an excellent representation of irony. I love how this song is
about depression due to lack of self-confidence, a topic that is
rarely covered in hip-hop.
are also various concious topics about God, Lucifer and hypocrisy.
Blacker The Berry”
is an aggressive cut about him being “the biggest hypocrite of
2015”. This is shown where he contradicts celebrating black pride
with racial self-hatred. This amplifies the chaos in the album.
but what about the profanities? Well yes, the language tends to be
very abrasive, with all the songs having many cusses. However, the
cusses are used as a form to liberate the aggression Kendrick
accumulated inside him. He also emphasises on the usage of
African-American Vernacular English alongside various slangs of their
heritage that other races don’t even know. It feels like an
immersion into the psyche of Kendrick, which is why he seems more
descriptive and convincing than his contemporaries.
the part that resonated with me the most are the two poems written by
the rapper and a friend of his. The first poem is rolled out on
selected tracks in chronological order, and Kendrick recites what he
says from beginning till the part which introduces the subject of the
track. It is the last track where he finally recites the whole poem,
and he suddenly understates the poem into something a person could
relate to. Very antithetical, but then he says this because he is
supposedly saying this piece to 2Pac, a rapper who is an inspiration
to him and who actually died many years back. Obviously it was
staged, but it is a very intriguing piece as it is like a
mentor-to-student moment. After a conscious question-answer session,
Kendrick then introduces the written piece, where he talks about the
evolution of a caterpillar into a butterfly and uses it as a metaphor
for a black person’s life and that being a prisoner on the street
and flying free are the same thing in the current times. However,
2Pac doesn’t reply, thus meaning that Kendrick can’t get all the
answers to everything.
is a very conceptual album. I realised it is a “modern classic”
because there are so many vital topics relevant in the current
scenario. No matter how chaotic, contradictory and challenging it is,
it will stand the test of time, because it’s an allegory to the
chaotic, contradictory and challenging world we’re in after all.