Kendrick Lamar draws inspiration from To Kill A Mockingbird ‘s: The rising artist aims his powerful social commentary at a new generation

Alex Devas, Staff Writer

Known for his unique style of merging his life problems into songs, Kendrick Lamar has achieved a great deal of success in the rap genre with plenty more to come after the release of his album To Pimp a Butterfly. 

Born in Compton, California, the birthplace of many other prominent rappers, Lamar was influenced by both the city’s rap culture and gang life. At an early age, he began writing poems and stories, which later transitioned into lyrics. Lamar’s rap career began at the age of sixteen when he produced his first mix tape and signed a recording contract.

From then, he went on to make three more albums, each one more prominent than the previous. His first album, Overly Dedicated, was released in 2010. Talking about gangster rap and street crime, this song provoked rapper Dr. Dre into working with Lamar. He produced Section.80, his second album, a year later, which received positive reviews and boosted Lamar’s popularity.

The year 2012 was when Lamar became one of the most well known rappers in the industry. Lamar released his highly anticipated album, Good Kid M.A.A.D City, which debuted at number two on the Billboard charts. Nine months after its release, it was certified as platinum with over one million copies sold. Lamar later went on to perform songs from this album on Saturday Night Live and on The Late Show with David Letterman.

After this album release, Lamar became a sensation. Every rapper wanted him by their side when performing. He joined Kanye West on his tour in 2013 and was the only rapper to be featured in Eminem’s album, The Marshall Mathers LP 2. Lamar also received many musical nominations and awards in the following years. He won five awards at the BET Hip Hop Awards and received seven nominations at the 2014 Grammy Awards.

Lamar’s fourth album, To Pimp a Butterfly, was recently released on March 16 , a week earlier than expected.  Lamar has stated that To Pimp a Butterfly is a play on Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird as both works focus on racial discrimination. The title is also supposed to refer to all rap artists who get used strictly for money as soon as they begin to become something beautiful that people can appreciate.

Despite his prominence as a rapper, it would be unfair to put this album in the rap genre. Lamar combines rap, jazz, funk, and soul into one album that focuses on the struggles that he and other African Americans face. From problems in politics to ones in the human body, he merges many styles of music to help him better portray his message.

The first song, “Wesley’s Theory,” features the legendary George Clinton and singer Thundercat. Setting the tone for the album, this song talks about how successful African American artists are treated unfairly by the music industry. “u,” another song on the new album, expresses the negative thoughts that always affect him. This is a contradiction to “i,” a song he released as a single, which talks about expressing and redeeming yourself. The most popular song on Lamar’s album is the song titled, “The Blacker the Berry.” It portrays the racial self-hatred that African Americans face.

Throughout the album, Lamar uses historical references to highlight the struggles of African Americans today. One song, “King Kunta,” is about the 18th century slave who had his right foot cut off because of his attempted escape. Lamar references this to highlight the differences between the high and low classes in society. Another song, “How Much a Dollar Cost,” makes a reference to the bible. In this song, a drug addict begs Lamar for only one dollar.  He initially says no, and then, the man asks him if he had ever read Exodus 14, a story in the Old Testament of the Bible. This is the famous story of how Moses helped the Israelites escape slavery from the Egyptians. Remembering how much Moses had given up to help others, Lamar feels sympathy for the man in his state of desperation.

Compared to his two previous albums, To Pimp a Butterfly has a more central focus on the message he is trying to get across to listeners. However, this can be more of a negative than a positive to a large portion of those that enjoyed some of those prior works. Despite the fact that the album has been receiving rave reviews from the general public, To Pimp a Butterfly is not made to appeal to everyone. If you are a listener looking solely for a catchy rhythm and beat, then this album is probably not the one for you.

To Pimp a Butterfly effectively uses its lyrics and Lamar’s fame to portray the struggles both he and other African Americans face.