Journalists, fellow rappers, hipsters, nerds, gang-bangers, college students, black people, white people. When Kendrick Lamar releases an album, they all pay attention. Kendrick has achieved a level of critical acclaim and relevance that is usually beyond the reach of a rap star. He is not only one of the most successful rappers around, he is also one of the most political, infiltrating the political sphere like Tupac Amaru Shakur once did. His work is even reviewed in the feature sections of European newspapers. His voice matters, because he doesn’t just reproduce prejudices about black people that sell well. He is unpredictable and fearless as a MC. He is an intellectual.
To Pimp a Butterfly is Kendrick’s next step in liberating himself from the various pressures of the music industry. Kendrick abandons all the conventional recipes for making it big as a rapper. By doing that he shows how patronizing and degrading the Hip Hop machinery can be, as just another predictable capitalist enterprise reproducing racial stereotypes and minimizing critical thought. Kendrick keeps finding his own authentic path in all of this, reinventing the script of what a Hip Hop artist can be. Right now, his chosen path is to use his relevance to talk about racism. Songs like Hood Politics or The Blacker the Berry are a slap in the face of those who proclaimed a “post-racial” America:
“Came from the bottom of mankind
My hair is nappy, my dick is big, my nose is round and wide
You hate me don’t you?
You hate my people, your plan is to terminate my culture
You’re fuckin’ evil I want you to recognize that I’m a proud monkey
You vandalize my perception but can’t take style from me“
Upset by the endless series of police killings of young unarmed black men, Kendrick tackles racism by turning prejudices about African Americans into themes of empowerment. He thereby addresses the deep-rooted instinctive racism that still exists. The album cover shows that America can’t hide from this problem, it can’t render the discrimination of blacks invisible. What has changed is merely the language to express racist sentiments. Kendrick sees this and counters it with an equally gutsy answer, reinstating what seemed to be long gone: songs of sincere social protest.
The marketplace of mainstream Hip Hop only tolerates one or two political artists at a time. The applaudable thing about Kendrick is that he knows this, but he simply doesn’t care. His indifference towards fame and money is what grants him freedom. He takes a stand against Hip Hop that insults people’s intelligence and doesn’t sugarcoat anymore that what he is producing is evangelist black liberation music. To Pimp a Butterfly is a truly inspiring masterpiece.
Hence: screw the system, reinvent your own script of life, find your freedom, fight for justice, love thyself. Hail king Kendrick.