Continuing with my three part series on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly here is an analysis of the remaining songs. Complexion (A Zulu Love)- This song is about how someone’s skin shouldn’t define a person, whether they are black or white. The song has Kendrick imagine himself as a “field slave” in the 1800’s talking to a “house slave.” He references the Nazi theories and how they wanted to create a perfect Aryan race. Kendrick expresses how all races should be united rather than divided and how light skin people and dark skin people have always been divided and reiterating “complexion don’t mean a thing.” The song means that history shouldn’t dictate the future of America, that we may be racially divided now but we don’t have to be in the future. The final verse of the song Kendrick says “Barefoot babies with no cares. Teenage gun toters that don’t play fair, should I get out the car? I don’t see Compton, I see something much worse. The land of the landmines, the hell that’s on Earth,” meaning Compton is an embodiment of the evils that plague the world. The Blacker the Berry- The name of the song itself is a reference to Wallace Thurman’s novel The Blacker the Berry: A Novel of Negro Life. This is Kendrick’s most aggressive song on the whole album. The intro to the song describes the daily struggles of African-Americans. The song tackles the issues of black on black crime, and crime in general. Kendrick says “So why did I weep when Trayvon Martin was in the street, when gang-banging made me kill a brother blacker than me.” The song talks about how African-Americans went from being whipped to owning whips (expensive cars). The song is a direct message to racists and how they will try to put him down, but they can’t. The lyric “That’s what you’re telling me penitentiary would only hire me” which is in reference to a New York Times study where they said it’s more likely for a young African-American to go to jail than get hired someplace. Kendrick claims racism is based off someone’s own personal insecurities, that he is the master of his own fate, and that people are racist because they envy what he has. He references Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, and the Black Panthers, who were advocates in the Civil Rights movement. The song uses stereotypes of African-Americans to enforce Kendrick’s ideas of racism and that the people who are racist are insecure and envious, he says “I know you hate me just as much as you hate yourself. Jealous of my wisdom and cards I dealt.”
You Ain’t Gotta Lie (Momma said)- This song mostly talks about one’s insecurities and that people will lie to impress another person. Kendrick says “I could see your insecurities written all over your face.” He also tries to move himself away from the stereotypical mainstream image of rappers and hip hop artists, i.e., talking about smoking weed, drinking, and shooting people just to appeal to their listeners, which, in turn, leads into a story where he goes back to Compton and tells his friends they don’t have to lie to impress him.
i- The song i is the complete opposite of the song u. While u is about depression, i is about self-worth and self-discovery. He talks about growing up in Compton and his “Trials and tribulations” how the Devil wanted to take him, but he escaped. While the other songs are depressing and tackle a lot of social issues, i is upbeat and happy. The song still talks about issues in Compton like gang violence, police malevolence, and the use of drugs like cocaine and lean.
Mortal Man- Kendrick Lamar’s longest song on the album, with a runtime of 12 minutes, features a fictional interview with Tupac Shakur. The interview is long as it uses old interview clips from when Tupac was alive. He recites a whole poem about pimping a butterfly at the end, and the whole album closes with Kendrick asking Tupac for his thoughts on the poem, however there is no reply from Tupac, showing that he is only talking to himself through his music.
I hope you enjoyed my deconstruction of Kendrick Lamar’s album To Pimp a Butterfly, I hope it helped you to understand his music and see it in a different light.