Baltimore has been on fire long before the riots of 2015. From teen-pregnancy to homicides rates, the city has had the ingredients for a highly combustible substance. Whether you call it good timing or possessing the ability of foresight, Kendrick Lamar told the story of Baltimore in his sophomore album To Pimp a Butterfly, which was released a little over a month before the riots in 2015.
Kendrick Lamer is a rapper from Compton, California. Lamar has had a meteoric rise to fame since the release of his independent album Section .80 in 2011. Lamar’s versatility has endeared him to fans. During a time when hip-hop is watered down and very predictable, Lamar manages to be creative, commercially successful and still put a message in his music. TPAB, was an example of this.
TPAB was much different from his first major label release, good Kid, m.A.A.d city, in 2012. Unlike the former, the latter had fewer radio single and definitely strayed from your typical hip-hop selection of instrumentation.
Lamar has been known to challenge the norm of things, with break-neck-speed flows, intricate word-play and purposely distorting his vocals, he has established himself as one of very few standout rappers in the new millennium of hip-hop.
Growing up in Compton is not so different from growing up in Baltimore city, Lamar, made that clear on TPAB and that fact presented itself in the following tracks.
The first song on the cd is called “Wesley’s Theory.” The track is about financial responsibility and how some black people, once they get a lot of money (or make it big), spend without thinking of the repercussions.
“And when you hit the White House, do you, but remember, you, ain’t pass economics in school, and everything you buy, taxes will deny, I’ll Wesley Snipes your ass before 35.”
The track used the tax problems of actor, Wesley Snipes, as a bigger message of what happens in schools systems, primarily in lower-middle-class black communities. Lamer, being one of the few to make it out of said communities, knows that people with talent can make it, however, not being taught financial literacy can hurt you in the long run.
A 90s feel is what you’re presented track number 12 “Complexation.” The chorus opens the song, “Complexion – complexion don’t mean a thing, complexion – It all feels the same.”
Self-hate, being so prominent the black communities, was something Lamar felt needed to be addressed. Many black people are teased by other blacks for speaking proper English, or their shade of black is considered too black. Lamar, tries and succeeds in delivering the message that we are all one and that being different does not mean keep one distant.
The featured artist on the song, Rapsody, places a bow on the track with a message to everyone in the black community that concludes with, “call your brothers magnificent, call all the sisters queens, we all on the same team, blues [crips] and pirus [bloods], no colors ain’t a thing.”
The song that follows would best be described as the moment when a time bomb reaches its final ticks. Boom!
Track number 13 on TPAB, “The Blacker The Berry,” would’ve been playing in the background of the Baltimore 2015 riots.
“Six in the morn’, fire in the street, burn, baby, burn, that’s all I wanna see, and sometimes I get off watchin’ you die in vain”.
Lamar begins the song with this quote and his sentiments are accompanied by his hard-hitting flow. There were no gimmicks on this song, just an artist that was angry and, Lamar, did not hide that.
In Lamar’s first verse, he starts off by saying “I’m the biggest hypocrite of 2015, once I finish this, witnesses will convey just what I mean.” From that point on he goes on to question police brutality, but also wants people to know that he is black and not ashamed of it by using insults that have been used on black people and owning it, “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.”
The first two verses end with Lamar giving a metaphorical middle finger to everyone who takes offence to his message but also letting them know the world made him this way, “you made me a killer, [this is] the emancipation of a real n***a.”
The song features Jamaican artist, Assassin, who marries the verses of Lamar, with an equally as powerful chorus.
“I said they treat me like a slave, [cause] me black
we feel a whole heap of pain, [cause] we black
And man a say they put me [in] chains, [cause] we black
Imagine now, big gold chains full of rocks
How you no see the whip, left scars [upon]’ me back
But now we have a big whip parked [upon] the block
All them say we doomed from the start, [cause] we black
Remember this, every race start from the black, jus [remember that].”
Lamar closes the song with a complete shift of thought by returning to his sentiments of the beginning of his first verse. He explains that he is proud of what his people are but also knows the problems don’t lay in only cops or white people killing blacks but also blacks killing blacks.
“So why did I weep when Trayvon Martin was in the street? When gangbanging make me kill a n***a blacker than me? Hypocrite!”
The song showed the versatility of Lamar. His courage to dive into topics others won’t touch is to be applauded. Being so outspoken has gotten Lamar loved by many but also hated by some of his contemporaries.
All in all, Lamar was telling his story of growing up and making it out of Compton, pitfalls of success, self-hate, self-love, etc. on TPAB. But he also told the story of Baltimore and many other places that the world seems to forget about until something major happens in those areas.
TPAB, will be remembered as a legendary hip-hop album. The timing could not have been better, and the album will serve as the soundtrack to changing times in the world.