by Albert Phillips
I just finished muting out the world for a few hours as I played this new Kendrick Lamar album on repeat. I didn’t do it because I wanted to; I did it because I had to. All new-school (and some old school) Hip Hop fans have been waiting on this project since late 2012. To Pimp A Butterfly juxtaposes funk, jazz, black culture, depression, relationship struggles, and spoken word in a superb rhythmic fashion. The 27-year-old rapper from Compton, California released a body of work that’s sonically different from anything ever released. No, that’s not an overstatement. He managed to successfully tap into Erykah Badu, Outkast, Jesus, and the inner trappings of his uncombed mind to manifest his latest, spontaneous work of art.
I found myself wanting to relentlessly debate every so called Hip Hop fan that negatively critiqued this album. I swear it tore into my soul for a few days. However, I had to realize that every human being shares different, unique experiences which can alter the way they receive messages, including music. I find most classical music to be as dry as chapped lips, not because it’s not good music, but because my mind can’t internalize the significance of it. I love Kendrick for the same reason I love the late African History scholar Dr. Yosef Ben-Jochannan. They both are rigorous and methodical in their approach to presenting the world with new ideas and reshaping false realities. Simply put, I respect the grind.
When I was nine, my father had me sitting on the living room couch watching Haile Gerima’s Sankofa. I swear that flick freaked me out a little back then. It made me see slavery and African culture in a new light. Before then, I probably didn’t care much about my heritage. Years later, I was introduced to linguist Dr. Ernie Smith. Some elders put me on with him. In his lectures, he discussed the roots of African American language and one time he debated some guy from an organization in Washington D.C called Positive Kemetic Visions about the usage of the word “Nigger.” In his rebuttal, he argued that the word was derived from Kemet or ancient Egypt, saying all the black people were respectfully calling each other that back in the day. As you could imagine, most people shunned his analysis and didn’t even attempt to hear him out. Consequently, he became an outcast to many “conscious” folks in the black community.
Let’s fast forward to 2015. In the middle of defusing some sort of scuffle on stage while performing, Kendrick brings back up a topic I wondered about since I heard Dr. Smith. Addressed to Oprah but conveyed to his fans, he rapped about the word” Nigger” in relationship to the word “Negus.” N-E-G-U-S — definition, royalty.” In essence, he said racism perpetuated the former over the latter. Man, imagine if brothers in gangs and misguided young people in urban neighborhoods started using Negus instead of other derogatory terms to engage one another. The ramifications of black people unapologetically acknowledging the greatness in other black people would cause a power shift in America. I don’t know Kendrick, but I think he knows that. That’s why he put it in the song.
Wrapping up the album, Kendrick interviews West Coast legend Tupac Shakur. The jazzy undertone of the interview had me listening to it with my eyes closed the second time I heard it. I would have done it on the third listen, but I was driving, and the aftermath wouldn’t have been pretty. The whole interview was incredible and thought-provoking, but my most treasured part was when Tupac referenced Nat Turner. I hit pause and ran it back. I had to let that marinate in my soul for a minute. I needed that.
I can’t debate people about whether they like Kendrick or if he dropped his second classic album. I think everyone is entitled to their opinion – no matter how deeply flawed and kooky it may be. Due to how culturally sound my family and community has groomed me to be, I can only tilt my hat and respect him for this album. It was right on time – for me at least.