Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly album was made specifically to empower and educate listeners on prevalent Black issues in society. For a conscious rap album, the piece garnered positive critical attention while also topping charts. The Grammys awarded him “Best Rap Album of 2015” for the piece; but gave “Album of the Year” to Taylor Swift. Recently, renowned Black artists, like Solange and Frank Ocean, have pulled their works from Grammy evaluation because they feel the people making the decisions on awards are not appreciating Black work. Granted the judges did grant Lamar that award in 2015, they were still critiqued harshly for not appreciating Black work the preceding and subsequent years.
Even though Lamar has transformed gangsta rap into a medium that has received positive critical attention, the genre as a whole still gets wrongfully persecuted. Critics often blame gangsta rappers for inciting violence in their community by using suggestive and harsh lyrics. However, those critics need to “acknowledge that gangsta rap crudely exposes harmful beliefs and practices that are often maintained with deceptive civility in much of mainstream society, including many black communities” (Dyson 177). Simply, most rappers reflect the community they are within through their lyrics. Often times, in regards to Kendrick Lamar, hip-hop and rap artists are merely “privileged persons speaking for less visible or vocal peers” (Dyson 177). Thus, through their music, these artists are reflecting the physical and mental conditions of their community members. It is problematic that critics blame the oppressed for their oppression because that mentality defers critical attention from the people in power leading the government. By focusing only on gangsta rappers, critics are choosing to be “oblivious to how their [conservative politician’s] rhetoric of absolute opposition to gangsta rap has been used to justify political attacks on poor black teens” (Dyson 184). Granted gangsta rap and hip-hop has aided in sexual misconduct and misogynistic discourse, it is still unethical to chastise a genre for exposing the social injustices that have occurred long before it’s origin.
Thus, by unpacking, analyzing, and linking scholarly evidence to Kendrick Lamar’s themes of institutional racism and Black self-esteem within the album To Pimp A Butterfly, I argue that Kendrick Lamar is a modern Black leader.