“INSTITUTIONALIZED, I KEEP RUNNIN’ BACK FOR A VISIT.”
The words you are reading are only caterpillars compared to those of To Pimp A Butterfly, K. Dot’s sophomore album. These words only attempt to capture something: a feeling—one that describes what “u” does to the soul on the first, third and fifteenth listen. Something like, “We should’ve never gave niggas money, go back home.”
There has been mixed conversation about whether or not this album lives up to good kid, m.A.A.d city’s impact on the world of rap, but during a time where free speech is under attack more than ever, TPAB is a modern day protest record. Actually, how about we call it a race record instead. Meaning: a man vulnerably exposing the ins and outs of his psyche when faced with the reality of identity.
Music is subjective. And yes, it takes longer than a week, longer than twenty-eight days, even longer than a year to fully grasp the entity of a full project. And yes, even knowing this, every album that releases is still quickly, and most times undeservingly, rendered an instant classic. But listen, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly is one of the greatest albums ever made. Ever. It is art that transcends the artist.
This album is important for not only black people, but also for those who fail to try and understand a plight that is not theirs.
What is being black like? Everyone has ideas, but no one really wants to know. If they did, the events of the past year wouldn’t have happened.
This album is not only for black people, but for “niggas”—the most taboo word of the year. And it is so refreshing to hear a voice willing to say so.
It is ultimately necessary to have realistic representation at times like these, not someone with all the fake answers or one-sided views. Rather, someone who portrays an unwavering ambivalence towards who they are and who they want to be versus how they are perceived. Someone who accepts what they help contribute to the culture, positively and negatively. Somewho who is not afraid of the internal negativity. But, most importantly, someone who isn’t apologizing for their melanin.
What does a dollar cost? A fraction of guilt, shame, honor, wisdom—four quarters that you can’t cash out without knowing what exactly it is that you are investing in.
So let’s examine the investment that is made when To Pimp A Butterfly is purchased. The butterfly is the black man that is constantly getting bullied into lessening his authenticity for the sake of society—and that is what we call capitalism people. That’s it.
If you understand this, you understand this timeless, beautiful body of work.
“I remember you 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 Lucy 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”
– Kendrick Lamar
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