Why Is Kendrick Lamar’s Album Titled “To Pimp a Butterfly”?


Photo by Dan Garcia/The Early Registration
Photo by Dan Garcia/The Early Registration

At first read, you may have been confused when you found out that Kendrick Lamar titled his new album To Pimp a Butterfly. After all, how does someone “pimp a butterfly” and what can that even mean? Well let us venture one possible (and likely) answer.

To Kill a Mockingbird” is a Harper Lee Pulitzer Prize winning novel about Tom Robinson, an innocent black man who is accused of a crime (raping a white woman) which he did not commit. Not that this topic ever left popular American discourse, but given the racial tension in America in the last few years, this subject is especially topical. Kendrick Lamar is also no stranger when it comes to talking about race. In fact, To Pimp a Butterfly‘s single ‘The Blacker the Berry’ (which also gets its title from a popular novel about race) deals with racially-charged topics. And given the structural similarities between “To Kill a Mockingbird” and To Pimp a Butterfly, it is almost obvious that the two are related.

So who is the butterfly? Well, to understand this, you need to know the significance of the mockingbird in the 1988 novel. In “To Kill a Mockingbird”, the character Atticus Finch tells two young boys that if they are going to shoot their new air riffles outside, they can shoot all the blue jays they want, but never kill a mockingbird. It is a “sin to kill a mockingbird”, Finch explains, because all they do is sing their hearts out for us.

Kendrick, like a mockingbird, sings (or raps) his heart out for us. As an artist, he gives us the gift of music, telling the most personal of stories through his lyrics. In the context of the novel, Robinson (the innocent black man) was the mockingbird, and killing him was sinful because he was innocent and not the type to ever hurt anyone. Sure, Kendrick is not being killed (in a literal sense). But he would likely argue that he is being “pimped”, pimped by the industry. As a popular musician he likely has A&R reps, music executives and more, that want to pimp him out to a mainstream popular audience, to make all the money possible. And like a butterfly, Kendrick went from being a caterpillar in Compton, to breaking out of his cocoon in the past few years by blossoming into a butterfly of rap and hip-hop.

We can’t wait to see Kendrick float like a butterfly on this next LP.

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