Over the past week Kendrick Lamar released his newest album To Pimp A Butterfly. I highly recommend giving a thoughtful listen to (at the very least) King Kunta, Institutionalized, Hood Politics, You Ain’t Gotta Lie (Momma said), and Mortal Man. Mortal Man includes an amazing remastered interview with Tupac that is spliced with questions Kendrick has for Tupac past the grave.
Kendrick has been known not to shy away from hard conversations and To Pimp A Butterfly is no exception.
I was listening to one of the tracks on this album titled Complexion (a zulu love), which features a black female rapper named Rapsody. This song discusses skin color politics and their affect on self love and community love. Kendrick makes several allusions to slavery throughout the song and uses imagery to illustrate and represent different skin shades. I am going to do a close reading on the following verse from Rapsody.
Keep your head up, when did you stop loving thy
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
Enforcin’ 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 daughters 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 B
I’m talkin’ days we got school watchin’ movie screens
And spike your self 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
In this verse Rapsody discusses past contempt for her skin color and her community’s internalized self-contempt. She uses pop culture references (Jay Z, Beyonce, 12 years a slave, James Bond, etc.) to address black representation in our media.
The line “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”, seems to be comparing self love and respect to the wind that keeps a kite soaring. This communicates that it is an active self love struggle, against a culture that believes black to be ugly/stupid/dangerous, that will allow a black female to soar.
The line “Call your brothers magnificent, call all the sisters queens – We all on the same team”, was especially moving to me and brought me to tears. I especially love that Rapsody addresses the controversy of divisiveness between the sexes within the black rights movement and makes it clear that there must be a strong and crucial partnership between the sexes. Lastly, Rapsody successfully discredits ideas on color blindness and it’s faux-morality when she says “blues and pirus, no colors ain’t a thing”.
Here is the full song! I hope everyone enjoys! I want to hear any thoughts you may have on the slavery allusions Kendrick makes. What do you think their poetic purpose is?