Kendrick Lamar’s third and latest album To Pimp A Butterfly was released in mid-March 2015 to much acclaim. Lamar, who is known to release concept albums, had the best of the best on this one; Dr. Dre was the executive producer, with Flying Lotus, Pharrell Williams, Knxwledge, Sounwave, Terrace Martin, Thundercat and several other hip hop producers also contributing to the production of the album.
Currently, the single “King Kunta” is doing the rounds on radio. It’s an undeniable track. The musical elements and Kendrick’s vocal attitude combine in a way that will get even the whitest white girl to “move her bodaaay.”
But what is the song really about? As mentioned above, Kendrick Lamar is known for releasing concept albums. One of the strongest themes on To Pimp A Butterfly is that of black oppression and oppressive structures.
According to Genius:
Kunta Kinte was an 18th century slave in Virginia whose story is the basis of the novel Roots: The Saga of an American Family by Alex Haley. Kinte is known for having his right foot cut off because of his attempts to escape his plantation.
Kinte is an archetypal rebellious slave; he kept his own name, rejecting the slave name imposed on him by his plantation owner, and refused to integrate into slave society. The ultimate loss of his foot came only after four attempted escapes; offered the choice between losing his foot and being castrated, Kinte chose to have his foot amputated, symbolically refusing to be emasculated by his captors. In this sense, Kinte is a powerful symbol of black resistence against oppressive institutions, a recurring theme of To Pimp A Butterfly.
Kendrick presents Kunta Kinte’s name as a “King Kunta” to contrast the lowest and highest levels of society, and provide a feeling of empowerment similar to ‘i’. In addition, the sentiment illustrates Kendrick’s personal growth from being in the hood, to the present day as a major voice in hip hop.
Then, if you look at the hook of King Kunta:
“Bitch where you when I was walkin’?
Now I run the game got the whole world talkin’, King Kunta
Everybody wanna cut the legs off him, Kunta
Black man taking no losses
Bitch where you when I was walkin’?
Now I run the game, got the whole world talkin’, King Kunta
Everybody wanna cut the legs off him”
If you want to see how deep Kendrick can go when it comes to social commentary and voicing feelings of anger, have a listen to The Blacker The Berry, the second single from To Pimp A Butterfly, below: