Hip Hop, Homage and the Experience of a Transnational Poet: The Poetry in Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly.


Hip hop has had its detractors, yet it has also proven to be one of the more intellectual and complex music genres. My exposure to the language of rap and the culture surrounding it served as precursors to my appreciation and love for poetry, philosophy, history and politics. In 2015 Kendrick Lamar released To Pimp a Butterfly, an album that brought these disciplines to the popular imaginary. This album will serve as the primary text for this dissertation. In the lyrics of his albums[1], a deep transnationalism and pan-African solidarity is often present. It is the purpose of this paper to discuss his lyrics as poetry. This paper primarily offers a twenty first century response to Stéphane Robolin’s call for South African scholars to continue studies on black transnational transactions, between black South Africa and black America (89). My argument is twofold: to further scholarship on hip hop as a form of poetry, and to reveal a twenty first century pan-African solidarity enabled by transnationalism in hip hop. I argue that the latter is a practice of ‘stereomodernism’, according to Tsitsi Jaji’s formulation of the term (14).

I will firstly look at the scholars who have made similar claims to the ones that are being made here. After which I will analyse the album through three lenses, as a political piece, as a transnational piece and as a confessional. Then I will look at three songs from the album as poetry, these songs being, ‘How Much a Dollar Cost’, ‘Complexion (a Zulu love)’ and ‘The Blacker the Berry’. These songs have been chosen as they all specifically reference South Africa or South African cultures, revealing the transnational conversation of the album. While looking at these three songs I will also be attempting to prove a thesis that 2006’s South African national poet laureate, Keorapetse Kgositsile, put forward, that certain forms of hip hop are poetry by any standard (Phalafala 313). The argument of this paper is thus to show when discussing issues of the poetry in hip hop and the transnationalism of the genre, Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly is an album that must be placed in the discussion.

Terminology of Hip Hop

I will be using the term hip-hop to refer to the culture from which rap music developed, which exists today. Hip hop culture is in the tradition of 1960s and 1970s black power movements (Sajnani 306-307). When using the term rap, I will be referring to the act of creating poetry to a rhythm with the intention of making music. As this is what rap stands for: rhythm and poetry. In much of the literature the term is also used as such. Therefore, ‘hip hop’ will refer to a culture while ‘rap’ will refer to a form of music.

When referring to Lamar’s community I will use the term ‘African American’ because that is how Lamar identifies in ‘The Blacker the Berry’. This points to the black transnational reality that is depicted in To Pimp a Butterfly. When using the term ‘transnational’, I refer to the concept as Robolin defines, “by transnationalism, I mean to emphasize those engagements, transactions, exchanges, circulations, migrations, and practices that exceed the boundaries of nation-states” (5). Robolin also argues that black spatial expression is better understood when it is placed within a transnational framework (9). It is for this reason that I will be reading the three songs from Lamar’s album through a transnational framework. While doing so there will also be a mindfulness payed to W.E.B Du Bois’ theory of ‘double consciousness’. He put this idea forward as “a peculiar sensation… this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of … One ever feels his twoness, -an American, a Negro … two unreconciled strivings” (Du Bois 16-17). The album has an awareness of this theory and that plays a role in the meaning of the text.

The transnationalism of the album is underpinned by a ‘stereomodern’ practice. Jaji defines stereomodernism as “a useful heuristic for analysing texts and cultural practices that are both political and expressive, activated by black music and operative within the logic of pan-African solidarity” (14). While this paper is analysing songs as poetry, I am ultimately aiming to reveal pan-African solidarity fostered by Lamar’s music.  It is in part for this reason that the term ‘song’ will be used rather than ‘poem’ when discussing Lamar’s work written down on paper. While the songs can be seen to be poems when written down the term ‘song’ is used to point to the stereomodernism that I am analysing.

Lamar draws from various intellectual sources. Two sources that cannot go unmentioned are black rights activist, Malcolm X and hip hop icon Tupac Shakur (Marcoux 192-212). Tupac has a presence on the album as Lamar clearly found him very influential. His presence on the album is fitting for this paper as he was also a published poet having released a poetry collection called The Rose that Grew from Concrete in 1999.

The analysis of this project will be done by placing large extracts of the lyrics written out so that the reader can see the poetry as self-evident and to prove the point made by Kgositsile that certain rappers create poetry by any standard (Phalafala 313). I have taken the lyrics from a website by the name of Genius. The website creates a space for users to analyse lyrics by placing the lyrics on the website (Genius | Song Lyrics & Knowledge)[2]. This paper will undertake the analysis by firstly looking at hip hop’s position in the academic space. After this I will analyse the album in its entirety, looking at the political commentary and the text as a ‘confessional’ in terms of Mikhail Bakhtin’s use of the term. I will then analyse three songs from the text that specifically further the pan-African solidarity, those songs being ‘How Much a Dollar Cost’, ‘Complexion (a Zulu love)’ and ‘The Blacker the Berry’.

I do want to address the fact that I am a white male writing about an album that deals for the most part with black issues. While writing about these issues what is being attempted is to analyse what is written in Lamar’s work and what meaning he creates in them without claiming that meaning for myself as the author. As it is important to note that much of To Pimp a Butterfly is about Lamar’s experience as a black man in America and to claim any of that experience for myself as a scholar would miss much of the meaning that comes from the album.

It is bigger than Hip Hop

Hip hop has a complicated history with criticism. Some critics claim it to be the height of objectification, sexism, materialism, violence, etc (Powell 247). Watching various forms of music videos from the genre does lead to an understanding of these opinions, with many music videos including imagery of woman that to describe as less than objectification would be untrue. In these videos also exists the potential glorification of violence (Zhang, Dixon, et al. 787-797). There are opinions that further this by emphasising the negative effect of rap as Lakeyta Bonnette states, “we know that gangsta rap leads to more violent and nihilistic behavior and attitudes but how does political rap impact political attitudes?” (Bonnette 165). This question posed by Bonnette is interesting to think about as it is in an article where she discusses political rap in a positive light, her quote above does reference James Johnson, which suggests that this is one of his thoughts. She, however, does not challenge the notion of ‘gangsta’ rap’s negative influence, at the same time she also does not address the fact that many songs that are in the genre of ‘gangsta’ rap are also politically laden.

Christopher Schneider did some fascinating work in 2010 on how the image of hip hop was developed by the media through following the development of the use of the term ‘bitch’ in the genre. While doing so Schneider also argues that often when hip hop albums have parental advisory stickers on them it correlates to as he calls it “questionable lyrical content” amounting to misogyny, profane language, the glorification of violence and drug use (36-56). These types of lyrics can be problematic. The major issue is that this is the type of hip hop that finds its way into mass media more easily than socially conscious hip hop. One of the worst perpetrators of this over the last year was a rapper by the name of Lil Yachty who in a song called ‘iSpy’ said the following line, “I’ma send a model home with her neck throbbin’”. As an advocate for the goodness of hip hop this line is painful because of the misogyny within it. Yet this is a song that plays on the radio, while other more meaningful songs are at times left to the wayside. Schneider deals with the way in which certain songs are portrayed by the media and which songs bring in the most money (36-56). Schneider while arguing that the term ‘bitch’ increased in media popularity as it increased in use in hip hop, he does seem to also argue that hip hop is a positive art form that the media misunderstands (36-56).

Some critics of rap music turn to much deeper historical roots to place a critique on the artform, as Damon Sajnani reveals:

Critics of rap culture do a fine job of showing that every staple of minstrel show- characters, themes, dances and melodies- have been redeployed virtually unchanging in rap minstrelsy […]. They lament that performances of these stereotypes reinforce racism and they are genuinely confused that Blacks would voluntarily choose to act out these roles (314).

The critique comes through the racial history of minstrel, a show which had actors in blackface performing various derogatory stereotypes of African American peoples (Sajnani 303). Sajnani argues that if the above is true it is then because the stereotypes are what pervades the US-American imaginary and not because they are indicators of black ideas of blackness (314). This is an option that I cannot comment fully on due to my position as a white person in South Africa, however I would challenge the notion of rap culture as a modern minstrel as Lamar is an example of a rapper who is putting forward a culture that honours the tradition of hip hop and that is a tradition where music was used, for among other things, as an educational tool as Catherine Powell posits. “Rather than simply discounting rap as a corrupted form of cheap culture, it should be recognized that, for better or worse, rap is an educational medium capable of affecting the values and attitudes of many of our young people” (257).

Powell’s discussion on hip hop focuses on its educational potential. Another helpful response to the critique that Sajnani brings forward in terms of minstrel could be that that is not what many rap artists do, rather they intend to serve as an outlet as Queen Latifah says that she finds rap to be “a creative outlet … and sometimes it can become like a newspaper that people read with their ears” (Powell 252). Thus, rap artists rather than playing into modern day minstrel are rather expressing themselves and bringing to light situations that they experience. It could be that critics of rap rather misunderstand the meaning of the music as Cheryl Keyes states “during my study of rap music, I discovered that people who reacted negatively to this music often were unable to decode its language” (231). Powell would probably argue that decoding rap music’s language is an important part of using it as an educational tool as she claims, “as educationalists we cannot afford not to tap into some of rap’s vitality and bring it into the educational setting where it can inspire and motivate our youth to stay in school and receive relevant educations” (257). Powell’s belief may have been proven true as a study that was published in 2014 suggests. The study looked at the influence that rap music had on at-risk youth, the study found that through rap music the youths could express emotions and shed light on situations that they experienced, which according to the study without the use of rap they may not have been able to do (Crawford, Marcus R. et al. 254-255).

Added to this certain educationalists or scholars, despite the criticism of rap, have taken the genre of music seriously as Keyes elucidates:

Some dismiss its cultural significance, positing that the music lacks artistic value and is little more than a commercial fad, while others share the view that rap is representative of a degenerate urban black youth culture […]. Despite these views, some academics in the fields of sociology, political science, literary criticism, religion, and cultural studies began seriously questioning the significance of rap, thus mollifying its somewhat ominous appeal in the media (223).

What becomes clear through this is that there is a variety of things that can be learned from rap music. Two key elements being the knowledge of experience and the history that lead to the rise of hip hop. Hip hop has roots in a variety of different forms of expression in African American culture, one of which is the poetry that developed in the 1960s and 70s, this poetry developed as a form of resistance to oppression (Kopani 210). Many of these writers intentionally used English (the language of the oppressor) with the intention of liberation (Kopani 210). It is thus through language that this poetry and eventually rap would in part develop, using an African philosophy as Baruti Kopani suggests, “according to African Philosophy man has, by the force of his word, dominion over things. He can change them make them work for him and command them” (205). Bringing the practices within hip hop back to an African context suggests that there is a transnational dialogue taking place. Many rap artists seem to contribute to the field of black transnationalism. As Jaji states, “music has quite literally rehearsed transnational black solidarity emerging simultaneously in literature, film, and other cultural domains” (10). If one is to then write about rap or hip hop, one must pay reference to transnationalism and its theorists. It is also a field that Robolin states needs more research specifically in the South African context:

Without proposing the abandonment of ongoing literary history vis-a`-vis black South African writers—scholarship on black transnationalism in South Africa must continue—I am suggesting that we do not fail to consider the mutuality of the black transatlantic literary and cultural transformation that took place across the 20th century. There is a great need for more fully multivalent [at least bi-directional] analyses of black transnational transaction (89).

A prime example of this transaction is Kgositsile, who lived in America during the Black Arts Movement (Phalafala 307). He also had an influence on hip hop’s development as he was the source of the name for The Last Poets, who are often cited as early influencers on hip hop (Phalafala 307). Scholarship on Kgositsile has been undertaken by Phalafala in 2017, Robolin in 2012, and Jaji in 2014. Kgositsile is a thinker who supports the notion that rap can be a form of poetry as he states when speaking about hip hop’s heritage:

When rap started in the States … if you go back to the 1920s, they were consciously attempting to reclaim that African tradition. And today the more serious rappers, the ones that the industry will not try to promote to shove down people’s throats all over the worlds, is still trying to do that, and when you read it on the page, it is poetry by any standard.  (Phalafala 313).

It is here where the contribution of this paper to the scholarship enters. I will be looking at the heritage of hip hop and literature in relation to Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly. This text has been chosen because it furthers the transnational conversation by often referring to South Africa, the three songs that pay specific mention to South Africa and its cultures will be analysed here. Lamar’s work heavily supports Kgositsile’s quote above, as when seen on a page it does prove to be poetry.

This paper, therefore, aims to add to the scholarship in two ways. One is by answering Robolin’s call to continue studies on black transnational transaction. Her call being transnationalism in the twentieth century, here it is being looked at in the twenty first century context. The second is to support arguments made by Powell, Keyes, Kgositsile and the like that rap is an important form of poetry with educational benefits. The argument is then that Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly is a key text that needs to be placed in this academic dialogue.

Roots and Politics

Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly is an incredibly political text with a deep historical background.  A helpful lens then becomes to view the album as in the genre of political rap. What is meant by the term political rap?

Bonnette argues that for a song to be termed political it needs to reach the following criteria, matching the first as well the second or third:

  1. 1. Display political references in the lyrics, such as directly referencing a political leader, political office/institution, political activity, political events or political position.
  2. Make reference to a social problem or issue and discuss it in the lyrics, therefore raising awareness about specific issues or disparities nationally or globally by discussing those issues in lyrics.
  3. Advocate a solution to injustices or problems in society either through violent or non-violent means. (164).

Many of the songs on Lamar’s album do meet every criterion. Certain songs, however, do not meet the first criterion, but this should in no way illegitimate the album as anything other than political rap. One of the reasons for this is because To Pimp a Butterfly is in a way a musical novel as every song follows a cohesive narrative and builds on from one another. There are various pointers from any text that should direct one to the genre that it encapsulates, one of the pointers in Lamar’s text is the cover. The cover has a group of African American men holding money and alcohol, many without shirts on. What is interesting is that amidst this scene is a baby in the middle who is also holding money in the form of the US Dollar. This scene could be a reference to the baby as a butterfly or caterpillar and the reality of where and how the baby could grow up, resulting in him potentially becoming pimped (‘Mortal Man’). Here the critique that Sajnani points to may be something that viewers might bring up when looking at the cover, however, Keyes suggestion that many who critique rap music cannot understand the language that it is coded with again proves that type of critique as illegitimate. This is because of what turns this scene political, its backdrop, which is the White House. It must also be noted that no women are depicted on the front cover of the album, this could be because Lamar is commenting mainly on the experience of black males living in America. On top of this, almost every song points to a social problem and discusses it in some way in the lyrics. Two songs that display this politicization areAlright’ and ‘For Free?’. ‘Alright’ references the relation between black persons and the police in America with the line “and we hate po-po/ they wanna kill us dead in the streets for sho’”. Then ‘For Free?’ references Uncle Sam in an explicit commentary on the experience of a black male in the context of the slave history in America through the imagery of male genitalia.

In the album, Lamar comments on political issues in an incredibly nuanced way rather than stating blatant political statements he uses a personal narrative to create his political commentary. Lamar creates a cohesive story throughout the album in various ways, one of which is with a recurrent prose existing in the album that he builds on throughout the album. This prose ties the album together and makes it into a cohesive whole rather than a collection of songs (like many other albums). The prose is as follows:

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 mine’s

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

With this Lamar suggests a few things, one is that To Pimp a Butterfly is telling a cohesive narrative that is also deeply personal. In this narrative, certain deep historical realities are brought forth with songs like ‘The Blacker the Berry’, ‘King Kunta’, ‘For Free?’, ‘Wesley’s Theory’, ‘Momma’ and ‘Complexion (A Zulu love)’. When stating that these tracks bring out the history of what Lamar is speaking into, the history of the African American people is what is being referred to. That history as most know has its beginning with the Atlantic slave trade, where many African peoples were forcibly taken from their homes and sold into slavery where they worked on various farms in the Americas. This refers to the term African Diaspora as used by Jaji:

For the purpose of clarity I use ‘[the African] diaspora’ in what, in an American academic context, is the familiar usage, designating black populations descended from Africans transported to the Americas and other parts of the global North during the transatlantic slave trade (4).

Lamar pays reference to this deep history while also dealing with modern political issues as well as personal issues. This makes the job of a scholar attempting to assess his work challenging because there are many angles one could take in terms of analysis of the album and it places him in a rich history of literary tradition. That tradition is of black writers in the western context writing to their histories. With the focus on the African American condition, slave heritage cannot be avoided, and he deals with that history in many ways. This leads him to be writing in a similar field as authors like Toni Morrison, as there are courses that discuss the two writers together. With one course, created by American English teacher, Brian Mooney, focusing on Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and To Pimp a Butterfly together, as they deal with similar issues (bemoons.wordpress.com)[3]. This course is relevant as Lamar reveals a knowledge of Morrison’s novel with the line, “blue-eyed devil with a fat-ass monkey”, in ‘Wesley’s Theory’. In the novel The Bluest Eye, Morrison points to the psychological damage that the media obsession with certain images of beauty, one of which being blue eyes, has on young African American girls (bemoons.wordpress.com)[4]. To Pimp a Butterfly with the track ‘King Kunta’ also references Alex Haley’s Roots: The Saga of an American Family. Kunta Kinte is a character in the novel who has a part of his foot cut-off (Haley 326-327). There is a plethora of other African American authors that Lamar fits into the same tradition as. Two that I want to point to are, Malcolm X and Du Bois. These two thinkers seem to be very informative for the album that Lamar created.

Malcolm X, an African American thinker who heavily influenced the Black Power Movement, had an influence on the album through the violent imagery that Lamar uses (Marcoux 192-212). Throughout the album, Lamar adopts a tone that is reminiscent of black power thinking. One of the many ways he does this is by using audio of Tupac that states the following:

The ground is gonna open up and swallow the evil, that’s how I see it, my word is bond. I see–and the ground is the symbol for the poor people, the poor people is gonna open up this whole world and swallow up the rich people. ‘Cause the rich people gonna be so fat, they gonna be so appetizing, you know what I’m saying, wealthy, appetizing. The poor gonna be so poor and hungry, you know what I’m saying it’s gonna be like… there might be some cannibalism out this mutha, they might eat the rich.

Here a similar form to Malcolm X’s form of seeing how issues should be resolved is in a sense revived (Marcoux 175-234). One may be asking why would Tupac referring to poor people being violent towards the rich be like Malcolm X’s thinking. There are two reasons for this, firstly it is the violence in Tupac’s above statement and secondly, it is important to note Lamar and Tupac’s backgrounds, both having come from difficult and poor backgrounds. With this background could come an awareness of poverty lines, thus when Tupac refers to poor people in his mind he is more than likely referring to a people grouping that he sees as mainly black. The context of the album dealing mainly with issues of being a black man in the United States further suggests this. Therefore, the album situates itself partly in the tradition of the black power movement, which was informative to the early hip hop movement of the 1980s (Powell 250).

Du Bois’ theory of double consciousness must have been heavily influential on To Pimp a Butterfly. Lamar is aware of this in the album and this is shown in a variety of ways, one of the main ways that this paper focuses on is the pan-African solidarity that Lamar creates by referencing South Africa and South African cultures in relation to the African American society that he knows. The two songs that open the album also bring an acute awareness to the double consciousness of an African American, those two songs are ‘Wesley’s Theory’ and ‘For Free?’, ‘Wesley’s Theory’ references Du Bois’ concept directly with the lines, “we should’ve never gave niggas money/ go back home, money, go back home”. The reference to Du Bois comes through the idea that as an African American Lamar must deal with the reality that he is always seen through the “eyes of” (16-17). He furthers this through the above line claiming that the white American’s in power want to go so far to push African American’s out of the country. The title of the song, ‘Wesley’s Theory’, is also a reference to another line in the poem “I’ll Wesley Snipe your ass before thirty-five”. This is a reference to the actor Wesley Snipes who was convicted in 2008 of tax evasion and was still battling his case in 2013, he experienced great opposition from the internal revenue service (IRS) being treated unfairly, he argues, due to his race (Wood)[5]. The IRS is an agency in the United States that is responsible for collecting and ensuring tax. Lamar’s reference is more than likely suggesting that as a black man he is more likely to be convicted of crimes than his white counterparts.

‘For Free?’ brings across the same idea, through the imagery of the black male genitalia. While doing this Lamar critiques the relationship between woman and men in his society, however rather than put all the onus on the community he rather intelligently places the blame on the system that allowed those relationships to develop. Thus, Lamar has a deep scholarly field that he is conscious of and is writing in to.

While having a deep literary tradition, Lamar also pays respect to the deep musical roots of the African American people. Naturally, he is aware of his hip hop heritage, which he references frequently as will be shown. While respecting this, he also pays homage to a musical genre that like hip hop was used as a form of defiance, that genre being jazz (Jaji 7). He pays homage to this by in almost every song having a heavily jazz-infused sound. This jazz infusion may seem like a small influence however, it reveals that Lamar is conscious of his musical heritage which then suggests he too has knowledge of his literary heritage meaning that in To Pimp a Butterfly he is in part paying homage to his predecessors in each field. Lamar is conscious of the history that he is writing into, with a heavily political text, there is, however, another layer to the text that a concept from Bakhtin brings to light.

Lamar’s Confessional

There are a variety of ways to interpret Lamar’s text, two ways being its political commentary and its transnational solidarity, however, another helpful way to listen to the album is as a confessional as theorized by Bakhtin.

This comes to light when thinking about the idea of a butterfly. Bakhtin states the following when discussing the confessional, “in a biographical novel (especially autobiographical and confessional), the only essential change in the hero himself is this crisis and rebirth” (17). The album deals with many issues, one of the key ones being racial issues, however, one must confess that the album is also overtly religious at the same time. The key passage that addresses this is the prose that Lamar repeatedly says throughout the album and builds on, the closing lines at the end of ‘For Sale?’ are a key example for this, “the evils of Lucy was all around me/ so I went runnin’ for answers/ until I came home”. These closing lines are important for a couple of reasons. One is that ‘For Sale?’ is the eighth song on a sixteen-song album, in the story of the album it is a turning point with the next song being ‘Momma’. The album has a big shift from ‘Momma’ onwards, the first eight tracks are sexually explicit and contain profane language, while the second eight tracks change this, with those tracks having far fewer profanities and deal more overtly with issues of God and faith. There is also a shift musically, while the jazz influence is still present, the first eight tracks have a messier musical arrangement, while the second eight tracks seem to be more polished in terms of their sound, until ‘Mortal Man’.

The track just before ‘Mortal Man’,i, arguably has the most so-called radio-friendly sound, but while doing so it retains a deep meaning and addresses the idea of the album being confessional. It does so with the line, “I done been through a whole lot/ trial, tribulation but I know God”. That line is very similar to the idea of a confessional that is displayed by Bakhtin, this meaning that Lamar has experienced crisis but because of his knowledge of God has experienced rebirth (17). It is also important to note that ‘i’ is the second last track on the album, this song takes a moment to attempt to help others with lines such as “lift up your head and keep moving”. This song “is full of optimism, confidence, self-efficacy, and self-empowerment.” (Sule and Inkster 497). It is at this point in the album that Lamar has journeyed through his struggles in the first eight songs of the album and come to a point of faith, then after having reached that point he went through a variety of difficulties, much of which will be discussed in the three songs that will be analysed, however by this point in the album it seems that he has come to a point where he feels comfortable to take his faith and teach others.

He in a sense experienced a rebirth, which he addresses in a line of poetry that he states towards the end of ‘Mortal Man’ (the end of the album):

The caterpillar is a prisoner to the streets that conceived it

Its only job is to eat or consume everything around it, in order to protect itself from this mad city

While consuming its environment the caterpillar begins to notice ways to survive

One thing it noticed is how much the world shuns him, but praises the butterfly

The butterfly represents the talent, the thoughtfulness, and the beauty within the caterpillar

But having a harsh outlook on life the caterpillar sees the butterfly as weak and figures out a way to pimp it to his own benefits

Already surrounded by this mad city the caterpillar goes to work on the cocoon which institutionalizes him

He can no longer see past his own thoughts

He’s trapped

When trapped inside these walls certain ideas take roots, such as going home, and bringing back new concepts to this mad city

The result?

Wings begin to emerge, breaking the cycle of feeling stagnant

Finally free, the butterfly sheds light on situations that the caterpillar never considered, ending the internal struggle

Although the butterfly and caterpillar are completely different, they are one and the same.

This passage reveals a couple of things, one is that Lamar is clearly be a poet with imagery like this. Another is that it furthers the idea of the album as a confessional and the journey that Lamar experiences. The poem can be seen to be the story that Lamar is telling through the album. He begins as the Caterpillar and through his faith in God, he becomes the butterfly. This is revealed in an answer that Tupac gives in ‘Mortal Man’ when Lamar asks him how he remains sane throughout all his successes, his reply opens with “by my faith in God”. At the end of the album, Lamar reaches the point that he is finally free to shed “light on situations that the caterpillar never considered, ending the internal struggle”.

This line reveals two things that the album is a confessional according to Bakhtin’s idea and that Lamar uses the framework of a confessional to shed light on situations that are experienced by a black male in the United States. Through that Lamar makes allowance for himself to comment on societal issues through a personal lens.

There are then three layers that I am looking at Lamar’s text with, it as a political text, the transnational dialogue the album has and the album as a confessional. What will now be discussed are three songs from the album that all make specific reference to South Africa or South African cultures. In these songs, Lamar keeps the confessional element, while also dealing with serious societal issues.

It Will Cost You a Spot in Heaven

The song ‘How Much a Dollar cost’ tells the story of Lamar encountering a homeless man at a petrol station in South Africa. The song has much to be analysed, what it essentially is, is the retelling of what Lamar claims to be a true story (iJOE Entertainment)[6]. While retelling the story it pays reference to a couple of biblical stories as well as Jesus’ teachings. ‘How Much a Dollar Cost’ is going to be analysed now looking at its homage and how it represents Lamar’s experience. While doing this what the name of the song comes down to and the ultimate potential meaning of the song will be addressed. The first extract creates a transnational transaction:

How much a dollar really cost?

The question is detrimental, paralyzin’ my thoughts

Parasites in my stomach keep me with a gut feeling, y’all

Gotta see how I’m chillin’ once I park this luxury car

Hopping out feeling big as Mutombo

“20 on pump 6”, dirty Marcellus called me Dumbo

20 years ago, can’t forget

Now I can lend all my ear or two

How to stack these residuals tenfold

The liberal concept of what men’ll do

“20 on 6”, he didn’t hear me

Indigenous African only spoke Zulu

My American tongue was slurry

Walked out the gas station

A homeless man with a semi-tan complexion

Asked me for ten rand, stressin’ about dry land

The above extract is from the first verse of the song, which setups up the story and the big question of the song which it answers with the story. Here Lamar begins by looking at himself critically which he does throughout the song. While doing this he also he setups a transnational conversation while also suggesting a commentary on ‘othering’. This is done with the lines “indigenous African only spoke Zulu/ my American tongue was slurry”. These lines suggest that he ‘othered’ the person he speaks to because can only speak another language and he suggests that he felt ‘othered’ by the person because of his American accent. There is a suggestion that they both feel ‘othered’ by each other. The reason this is suggested is because of the line preceding these two lines “he didn’t hear me”, the breakdown of communication leads to the ‘othering’. This commentary is quite interesting considering that much of To Pimp a Butterfly comments on racism in America, despite this Lamar finds ways to comment on prejudice between different peoples of the same race with these lines (he explores this idea further in ‘Complexion (A Zulu Love)’). Lamar continues the transnational discussion with the line, “asked me for ten rand, stressin’ about dry land” by equating ten rand with one dollar.

Lamar’s critique of himself in this verse comes clear after the line which comments on the homeless person asking him for ten rand. As the beginning of the verse states that the title question of the song makes him feel guilty to his gut. Just after this, however, he begins to discuss his luxury car and how he deserves it. All this complete with reference to an American basketball player, Dikembe Mutombo, and to the famous Disney elephant Dumbo. The story then continues with Lamar responding negatively towards the homeless person, while the homeless person disputing everything that Lamar accuses him of. For example, Lamar states “contributing money just for his pipe, I couldn’t see it.” To which the person responds, “my son temptation is one thing I have defeated/ listen to me, I want a single bill from you/ nothin Less, nothin’ more.” The claim that the person makes of having defeated temptation becomes an important reference towards the end of the song. Lamar then wants to leave but he finds the stare of the person contagious until the song leads to this extract:

‘Cause now I’m starin’ back at him, feelin’ some type of disrespect

If I could throw a bat at him, it’d be aimin’ at his neck

I never understood someone beggin’ for goods

Askin’ for handouts, takin’ it if they could

And this particular person just had it down pat

Starin’ at me for the longest until he finally asked

“Have you ever opened up Exodus 14?

A humble man is all that we ever need

Tell me how much a dollar cost”

In this extract, Lamar addresses a feeling that many get when confronted by someone asking for money, the feeling of confusion and agitation. The first five lines of the above extract bring that feeling across vividly. While doing this he turns the lens of critique ultimately on himself.  He does so by showing his anger, while the person he is speaking to remains calm throughout the dialogue. While Lamar shows the anger that he feels towards this person, he also addresses his intrigue by finding that his ‘stare is contagious’ before the story being told leads to the above lines. This intrigue becomes more intriguing for the reader and for Lamar when the person asks, “have you ever opened up Exodus 14?” Here the song pays reference to the biblical story of God using Moses to part the Red Sea, during the exodus of the Israelite’s from Egypt. The line, “A humble man is all that we ever need”, suggests that the person is identifying with the God who split the Red Sea while doing so the person also suggests that they worked through Moses to create the miracle rather than Moses doing so. Here is where Lamar critiques himself again as in the lines preceding the person saying this, Lamar has shown himself to be prideful in this situation with lines such as “I never understood someone beggin’ for goods/Askin’ for handouts, takin’ it if they could.”  Lamar in these lines places himself as the better person (or rather sees himself as the better person) and that image that he has of himself is crushed with the homeless person’s claim that “a humble man is all that we ever need.”  Once this has been crushed Lamar critiques himself further with the final verse:

Guilt trippin’ and feelin’ resentment

I never met a transient that demanded attention

They got me frustrated, indecisive and power trippin’

Sour emotions got me lookin’ at the universe different

I should distance myself, I should keep it relentless

My selfishness is what got me here, who the fuck I’m kiddin’?

So I’mma tell you like I told the last bum

Crumbs and pennies, I need all of mines

And I recognize this type of panhandlin’ all the time

I got better judgement, I know when nigga’s hustlin’, keep in mind

When I was strugglin’, I did compromise, now I comprehend

I smell grandpa’s old medicine, reekin’ from your skin

Moonshine and gin, nigga you’re babblin’, your words ain’t flatterin’

I’m imaginin’ Denzel but lookin’ at O’Neal

Kazaam is sad thrills, your gimmick is mediocre

The jig is up, I seen you from a mile away losin’ focus

And I’m insensitive, and I lack empathy

After the person has called him to be humble, Lamar reacts with anger rather than humility and he describes himself doing so expressively. During this response Lamar references his own experience, he plays the role of rapper who was poor and then made it with the line, “my selfishness is what got me here, who the fuck I’m kiddin’?” because of this he feels entitled to his money and as he feels that the person is guilt tripping him and not understanding that Lamar knows what he is doing because he has seen it before he feels that he must not give his money to the person.  He then plays this role further with the lines, “I got better judgement, I know when nigga’s hustlin’, keep in mind/ when I was strugglin’, I did compromise, now I comprehend.” Here he tells of his past where he used to struggle stating that he came from a background of poverty that he had to fight his way out of and he had to hustle like the person talking to him at times to get things he wanted. It is suggested that he at times hustled to gain access to drugs and alcohol (the song ‘u’ earlier in the album supports this suggestion). This is further suggested by the lines “I smell grandpa’s old medicine, reekin’ from your skin/ moonshine and gin, nigga you’re babblin’, your words ain’t flatterin’.” With these lines, Lamar states that he knows what alcoholism looks like and that he sees the person as a person who is after alcohol. These lines have a couple of deeper suggestions, one is that Lamar hints that his grandpa was an alcoholic and that may have had an impact on him as he recognizes the smell of various alcohol’s as his “grandpa’s medicine”. The second is that he is again critiquing himself because the person claimed earlier that he has defeated temptation and it later becomes evident that the person could not have been an alcoholic because of who he is. This would suggest that Lamar placed the perceived alcoholism on the person, which again critiques the idea of ‘othering’ and critiques Lamar for ‘othering’ the person. While doing this Lamar manages to put references to various black American pop culture icons in Denzel (most likely a reference to Denzel Washington) and Shaquille O’Neal (an American basketball player who played Kazaam). These references further the ‘othering’ done by Lamar as they are American references while he is angry with a person in South Africa who could only speak Zulu. The critique of Lamar’s own ‘othering’ becomes clear at the end of the story which happens in the second half of the final verse:

He looked at me and said, “Your potential is bittersweet”

I looked at him and said, “Every nickel is mines to keep”

He looked at me and said, “Know the truth, it’ll set you free

You’re lookin’ at the Messiah, the son of Jehovah, the higher power

The choir that spoke the word, the Holy Spirit

The nerve of Nazareth, and I’ll tell you just how much a dollar cost

The price of having a spot in Heaven, embrace your loss, I am God”

The person that was asking Lamar for ten rand reveals himself as Jesus in this extract. Here there are many references to the biblical telling of Jesus, some being Jesus’ claimed as the Messiah and as God (Luke 2:11-14), Jesus coming from Nazareth (Matthew 2:23) and the Holy Spirit (John 15:25). Here it should be clear that Lamar deals with deep theology and the idea of a triune God, which suggests that he is calling the person who was speaking to him the Christian God. This revelation of Jesus coming at the end of the story is reminiscent of another biblical story where two of Jesus’ followers encountered Jesus while walking to Emmaus from Jerusalem. They have a conversation regarding the Messiah without recognizing him till the end of the conversation when Jesus breaks bread in front of them (Luke 24:13-33).  Lamar’s critique of himself becomes clearer after this as he places himself in the same position as the two men who were blind to Jesus directly in their presence. His critique of himself becomes scathing as he had responded to this person in great anger and in a manner, which suggested he was claiming to be self-righteous during the encounter. While he was angered and self-righteous acting as if above a homeless man, it turned out that the homeless man according to what is Lamar’s faith is far above him in every respect. Therefore, Lamar has critiqued his own ‘othering’ by showing himself to be in the wrong as he assumed to know the person who was asking him for money and that he thought he knew exactly what he was doing but that idea was all his own doing by placing the person as the ‘other’ rather than listening to him and seeing him as a fellow human being.

Then the final two lines reveal the answer to the question of ‘How Much a Dollar Cost’. That answer is according to the world within the song that a dollar costs a spot in heaven. While this song comments on ‘othering’, the closing line opens a whole new thematic within the song and that is generosity. Lamar brings the idea of how much generosity will really cost you. With the closing lines it is suggested that rather than generosity being financially costly, it is too costly not to be generous as it will cost you a spot in heaven. After this track, Lamar remains in South Africa with the track ‘Complexion (A Zulu Love)’.

“Call your brothers magnificent, Call all the sisters queens”

This song was chosen because through it Lamar does a couple of things, one of the main ones being that he furthers the transnational solidarity that he has with South Africa by referencing the Zulu culture. This harks back to a tradition in hip hop to pay mention to the heritage of African American peoples, this reference is reminiscent of one of the fathers of hip hop, Afrika Bambaataa and the Zulu nation. The Zulu nation was a group of young African American people who all had a mutual enjoyment of dancing, graffiti and other elements of hip hop. Bambaataa, attempted to have a positive influence through the creation of the group (Keyes 229-231). In the song Lamar also tackles colourism and racism, something is done through the way he tackles these issues though that is rather interesting. The address of colourism begins with the hook, which repeats a couple of times during the song:

Complexion (two-step)

Complexion don’t mean a thing (it’s a Zulu love)

Complexion (two-step)

It all feels the same (it’s a Zulu love)

This verse is addressing the fact of colourism. One could argue that it is addressing the attitudes between different races, however, in the context of the album and the song, this does not seem to be the case. Lamar does address racism in his own verse this, however, he is more addressing biases between black people. What is interesting about this verse is that it is by the artist Pete Rock, which means that in this song Lamar relies on a variety of black voices to bring the message across (something he does throughout the album). On top of this the phrase ‘a Zulu love’ is mentioned twice, in seeming reference to complexion. Through this Lamar creates an awareness that the tone of his skin comes from a heritage rooted in Zulu culture or at least he uses Zulu culture to represent the fact that he is only in America due to the African diaspora as theorized by Jaji, Lamar addresses this further in his own verse in the song.

In the second verse of the song Lamar takes the first verse of the song and builds on it, where he raps:

Dark as the midnight hour, I’m bright as the mornin’ Sun

Brown skinned, but your blue eyes tell me your mama can’t run

Sneak (dissin’)

Sneak me through the back window, I’m a good field nigga

I made a flower for you outta cotton just to chill with you

You know I’d go the distance, you know I’m ten toes down

Even if master’s listenin’, I got the world’s attention

So I’mma say somethin’ that’s vital and critical for survival

Of mankind, if he lyin’, color should never rival

Beauty is what you make it, I used to be so mistaken

By different shades of faces

Then wit told me, “You’re womanless, women love the creation”

It all came from God then you was my confirmation

I came to where you reside

And looked around to see more sights for sore eyes

Let the Willie Lynch theory reverse a million times with…

In this verse Lamar tells a short love story between a black slave and a white woman, placing himself as the slave with the line, “I’m a good field nigga” and the woman is probably white with her eyes being blue, this is another reference to Morrison’s text The Bluest Eye. While discussing this relationship Lamar’s faith comes into play, “a woman is woman, love the creation/ It all came from God, then you was my confirmation.” At this point it seems that Lamar is addressing multiracial relationships, however, he flips this by referencing the Willie Lynch theory, which suggests that to control the slave population an owner must divide them (Mathis 1). Here colourism comes into play again, this verse ends on that line, which then leads again to the hook being repeated. After this Lamar uses a female rapper by the name Rapsody to have the final full verse:

Let me talk my Stu Scott, ‘scuse me on my 2pac

Keep your head up, when did you stop? Love and die

Color of your skin, color of your eyes

That’s the real blues, baby, like you met Jay’s baby

You blew me away, you think more beauty in blue green and grey

All my solemn men up north, 12 years a slave

12 years of age, thinkin’ my shade too dark

I love myself, I no longer need Cupid

And forcin’ my dark side like a young George Lucas

Light don’t mean you smart, bein’ dark don’t make you stupid

And frame of mind for them bustas, ain’t talkin’ “Woohah!”

Need a paradox for the pair of dots they tutored

Like two ties, L-L, you lose two times

If you don’t see you beautiful in your complexion

It ain’t complex to put it in context

Find the air beneath the kite, that’s the context

Yeah, baby, I’m conscious, ain’t no contest

If you like it, I love it, all your earth tones been blessed

Ain’t no stress, jigga boos wanna be

I ain’t talkin’ Jay, I ain’t talkin’ Bey

I’m talkin’ days we got school watchin’ movie screens

And spike yourself esteem

The new James Bond gon’ be black as me

Black as brown, hazelnut, cinnamon, black tea

And it’s all beautiful to me

Call your brothers magnificent, call all the sisters queens

We all on the same team, blues and pirus, no colors ain’t a thing

This verse is interesting for many reasons. It references Morrison’s The Bluest Eye once again with the line, “Keep your head up, when did you stop loving thy/ color of your skin, color of your eyes.” While referencing Morrison, ‘Keep Ya Head Up’ by Tupac is also referenced. Tupac’s song is one of the better examples of a male rap artist attempting feminism. By the term feminism here what is meant is that there is an intentional attempt to bring awareness to issues that are primarily experienced by women. Added to this, this song comes before ‘The Blacker the Berry’, which references a term that has its roots in colourism in regards to women. This would suggest that Rapsody’s verse is an intentionally feminist verse. While attempting a form of feminism this song also references fictions that are deep within pop culture to address the colour of skin. As she states:

All my solemn men up north, 12 years a slave

12 years of age, thinkin’ my shade too dark

I love myself, I no longer need Cupid

And forcin’ my dark side like a young George Lucas

Light don’t mean you smart, bein’ dark don’t make you stupid

Here Rapsody addresses the psychological battle that a young black woman must overcome living in America, where many of the films that have black representation are like 12 Years a Slave, while the heroes that a 12-year-old would want to look up to are all typically white, thus she must overcome that and realise that the colour of her skin does not determine her worth. In this verse Rapsody has overcome that and is now telling others to do so too with the lines:

The new James Bond gon’ be black as me

Black as brown, hazelnut, cinnamon, black tea

And it’s all beautiful to me

Call your brothers magnificent, call all the sisters queens

We all on the same team, blues and pirus, no colors ain’t a thing

Again, she references a white protagonist in James Bond but believes that he will be black. She then again moves the gaze onto colourism using various shades of consumables to reveal this stating that it is all beautiful to her. Here the idea of black is beautiful is brought out, which is in the tradition of the black power movement. What is interesting about this verse is that while addressing the issues of a black woman in the United States Rapsody calls on the listener to “Call your brothers magnificent, call all the sisters queens/ We all on the same team.” With this line, Rapsody encourages positive relations between black men and woman. This line becomes more interesting when looking at the context that ‘The Blacker the Berry’ addresses.

The Biggest Hypocrite of 2015

In discussing ‘The Blacker the Berry’, one must address the historical context that Lamar had as his background while creating To Pimp a Butterfly. This background influences the meaning of the album in its entirety, however, the angle that was taken earlier was intentional, as in this song Lamar addresses the context yet he keeps the magnifying glass on himself.

I would like to pay mention to the history of the phrase “the blacker the berry”. The term has been used in African American culture for decades, having an early use in literature in a novel of the same name by Wallace Thurman written in 1929. The Blacker the Berry (the novel), tackles issues of racism and colourism against a black woman during the 1920s in America. This text takes place before the major feminist movements, however, there are feminist sentiments in the text with the protagonist being a female and the story of the novel following her difficult journey. Lamar placing ‘Complexion (A Zulu love)’ just before this song suggests that he has an awareness of the necessity for a feminist awareness to colourism and racism. While doing this he retains a gaze on his personal experience and this song deals with his current reality. That reality is that at the time of the songs writing black men were the most likely to be killed by police officers.

The first verse of the song starts with the following line, “I’m the biggest hypocrite of 2015”. This line is layered with meaning in terms of the context of the song that it is in.

In 2015, 1134 deaths came at the hand of United States Police and in the statistics for these deaths, it was found that young black men were nine times more likely to be killed by police than other Americans. The shocking statistic in this is that 25% of the black victims were unarmed and black people who were killed were found to be twice as likely to be unarmed compared to their white compatriots as revealed in an online post by The Guardian in December of 2015[7].

On top of these statistics, many police shootings have been caught on tape, for example, Eric Garner, Laquan McDonald and Walter Scott who was shot eight times by an officer. These shootings took place in 2014 the year before the release of this song. Added to this the officers who committed the shootings have not seen any jail time, with only one of the officers being found guilty of murder (latimes.com)[8].

This context reveals that the belief that black bodies are criminalized in the United States is a logical conclusion. The literary tradition that the song is in posits this belief. This song posits this belief with lines such as, “you hate my people, your plan is to terminate my culture” and “you sabotage my community, makin’ a killin’.”

The song’s name itself ‘The Blacker the Berry’, also pays homage to Tupac’s ‘Keep Ya Head Up’, with the following line, “some say the blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice/ I say the darker the flesh, then the deeper the roots.”  As stated earlier it also homages a deeper literary tradition, however, this line puts forward a positive way of looking at the colour of his skin, which is something that hip hop seems often to fight for. Lamar continues this tradition with reference to this line in his song when he writes, “the blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice/ the blacker the berry, the bigger I shoot.”  The difference here is that he refers to an act of violence rather than a mental image like Tupac.

Another line that pays homage to an iconic rap song, puts this specific song in the genre of ‘gangsta’ rap, which for the analysis of this song is important. When Lamar writes the following, “Six in the morn’, fire in the street”. A simple line but a potent one, this line is a reference to Ice-T’s song by the name of ‘6 in the Mornin’’, which is a song that tells the story of the protagonist evading the police starting with the line, “6 in the Morning, police at my door.”  This reference becomes important when looking at the deeper meaning of the song as it addresses the experience of a black man in America and Lamar discusses the potential faults in the way that he handles that experience, which is where the line, “I’m the biggest hypocrite of 2015, becomes important again.”

It is here where extracts of this song enter, beginning with:

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

And this is more than confession

I mean I might press the button just so you know my discretion

Here Lamar addresses what I have said earlier the belief that black bodies in the United States are criminalized and seen as lesser. This line is almost Fanonian in nature as it speaks of the mental ill that this criminalization has created, Lamar then with the line, “I want you to recognize that I’m a proud monkey”, violently attacks the perception of himself and his skin colour that history has taught him which makes the Fanonian sense stronger. Frantz Fanon argued for a violent method of over-throwing colonial powers in the colonies, he argued that this needs to be done to address in part the psychological situation of the oppressed (27-84). The Fanonian sense then comes through the violently psychological attack of the lyrics. Lamar creates a violent tone with the lyrical content and feeling of the song while addressing the systemic violence against his people he also recognizes the violence committed by his community in the following lines:

It’s funny how Zulu and Xhosa might go to war

Two tribal armies that want to build and destroy

Remind me of these Compton Crip gangs that live next door

Beefin’ with Pirus, only death settle the score

So don’t matter how much I say I like to preach with the Panthers

Or tell Georgia State “Marcus Garvey got all the answers”

Or try to celebrate February like it’s my B-Day

Or eat watermelon, chicken, and Kool-Aid on weekdays

Or jump high enough to get Michael Jordan endorsements

Or watch BET cause urban support is important

So why did I weep when Trayvon Martin was in the street when gang banging make

Me kill a nigga blacker than me?


Lamar does a couple of interesting things with these closing lines. Firstly, what makes it relevant to the South African context is his reference to the wars between the Xhosa and Zulu peoples. By doing so he furthers the transnational dialogue of the album. This reference also suggests something more to the song, as he compares these tribal wars to gangs in Compton where death is the only thing that can settle the score. This is interesting when thinking about the tradition of hip hop as there has been a long tradition of transnational identities a key example again being Afrika Bambaataa. Bambaataa, like Lamar and Tupac, attempted to create a new and positive sense of identity for black people in America (Keyes 229-231). This reference furthers the pan-African solidarity that Lamar has undertaken throughout the album. The song earlier addressed the systemic violence against black people in America. Now the narrative is flipped as Lamar refers to violence from his community against his community. While addressing this, he does not place judgement but rather places himself as the perpetrator of the violence in his community.

His closing statement of “hypocrite!” is explained throughout the song. The lines above are helpful where Lamar refers to ways that he as a black man in the United States tries to affirm his blackness. He does so by celebrating February, Black History Month in America, and doing other activities which may be seen as inherently black. He also tries to affirm his blackness by weeping like his community did when Trayvon Martin (an innocent black teenager) was killed and the guilty party was acquitted (not a police officer but rather a  neighbourhood watchmen) (CNN)[9]. He calls himself a Hypocrite though because while judging the white community for the evil they have done to his people, he has committed acts of evil against his community. This is revealed when he says, “when gang banging make me kill a nigga blacker than me?”

Lamar when speaking about this song, claims that he is writing about his experience he is not trying to claim a moral truth but he is rather dealing with his own demons (MTV)[10]. Which is where the brilliance of the song comes from, he is attempting to deal with anger that he feels towards those who have oppressed him but from that oppression, an anger against his neighbour has developed. While he is trying to fight against oppression with his poetry, he finds that he too can be oppressive. Therefore, he is the biggest “hypocrite of 2015”.


This paper revealed that To Pimp a Butterfly positions itself as a key text to modern discussions on the poetry and transnationalism that exist within hip hop. It was proven that while hip hop has received at times deserved negative criticism, it too has a deep transnational and pan-African rhetoric. I have shown that certain rappers create poetry in their work within the aforementioned rhetoric. Lamar was put forward as an example of a rapper whose work is poetry that articulates pan-African solidarity. This was shown in an analysis of the album which revealed its nature as a political text that takes the form of a confessional within long-standing black transnational transactions. I demonstrated that in ‘How Much a Dollar Cost’ Lamar creates a commentary on ‘othering’ while providing a testimony to his faith. Lamar furthers the commentary on ‘othering’ by focusing on colourism in ‘Complexion (a Zulu love)’. He then presents his biggest self-critique in ‘The Blacker the Berry’. I showed that this is done by commenting on the criminalization of black bodies in America. Lamar also turns the lens of critique onto himself during the song. Through the analysis of these songs, Lamar’s album was found to be an example of hip hop as poetry that contains black transnational transaction in the twenty first century.




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[1] Section.80. good kid, m.A.A.d city. To Pimp a Butterfly. DAMN.

[2] https://genius.com/

[3] https://bemoons.wordpress.com/2015/03/27/why-i-dropped-everything-and-started-teaching-kendrick-lamars-new-album/

[4] https://bemoons.wordpress.com/2015/03/27/why-i-dropped-everything-and-started-teaching-kendrick-lamars-new-album/

[5] https://www.forbes.com/sites/robertwood/2015/11/30/wesley-snipes-sues-irs-over-abusive-17-5m-tax-bill-false-promise-of-fresh-start/#436a16ec13ae

[6] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=73JhSvRWskc

[7] https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/dec/31/the-counted-police-killings-2015-young-black-men

[8] http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-police-deaths-20160707-snap-htmlstory.html

[9] http://edition.cnn.com/2012/05/18/justice/florida-teen-shooting-details/index.html

[10] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BwXlimryKJM.


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