Kendrick Lamar came to musical prominence in the year 2012 with the release of his platinum album, “G.O.O.D. kid M.A.A.D. city”, and in March he released his third studio album “To Pimp a Butterfly.” Opposed to making the melodies the number one priority, Lamar decided to make the message more prominent. Although this was unpopular with the overall listener, this decision was extremely popular with musical critics.
The album’s goal was to highlight the modern day struggles of African Americans. He combines the powerful samples of many famous funk songs, giving the album a unique sound. In a couple of the songs, Lamar identifies that every black man or woman has the potential for success and to not be put down by today’s modern day society.
In the break-out song, “King Kunta,” Lamar outspokenly says that he feels like the rap game has made rappers turn on each other and they try and put each other down. In the song he refers to Kunta Kinte who was an enslaved man from Africa whose legs were cut off as a punishment, and Lamar alludes to this event when he says “Everybody wanna cut the legs off him.” The song “Wesley’s Theory” is an allusion to Wesley Snipes who was arrested for willful failure to file federal tax returns. His point is that he feels that America targets successful Black entertainers and he feels that society views him as “Uneducated but I got a million dollar check.” One of the more commercial songs by Lamar was “i” which spoke more on the importance of self-love and how self-love directly relates to gaining the respect of others. The song explicitly states that to understand “you can’t do that (gain the respect of others)—without loving yourself first.” “i” had a positive sound, which was different compared to the rest of the album, but the overall message seems to be complemented.
One of the most powerful songs on the album is “Mortal Man,” which Lamar wrote after he visited Nelson Mandela’s jail cell. It ties together the whole message of the album; with Lamar directly speaking about societies need to crucify those who lead new movements. He talks about the consequences of his own success and the influence that he has gained, Kendrick struggles with how he should use this influence and the answer to his question is this album. The outro of this song is a dialogue between Tupac and Lamar where they talk about how they each struggle to find a way to parlay their message in a constructive form. Kendrick claims to have been spoken to by Tupac in his sleep so it is somewhat significant that he has an actual conversation with him on the album.
Kendrick Lamar has made a monumental album that has given society a view into how he views the world. He has successfully made his message available to all his fans and listeners and has proven that it is possible to use his influence in a positive means. Lamar made the suffering of blacks today seen by the whole of America. He has proven that he isn’t just another rap star, but a powerful social activist.