We hope you got a hold of an album copy of ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ by Kendrick Lamar when it was showcased online just for a 24-hour period before the original release date of March 23, which is still not far away. Also, the album is on Spotify for your listening pleasure.
However, we are not here to speak about the album–that would be an immense task that I would not be able to handle alone in one article. Hence we breakdown the maze of words that is known as Kendrick Lamar’s songs. We already covered “King Kunta“, “Complexion (A Zulu Love)” and “The Blacker The Berry“. We are just about to embark on another Kendrick track that goes by the name “Immortal Man”–which is the last song of ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ album, and contains the most interesting outro to a song we have ever seen. We will not be discussing the full song meaning here, we may in a future article, but we are ready to ponder upon the fictional conversation that takes between the late great Tupac Shakur and Kendrick Lamar, at the end of “Immortal Man”.
Listen to Tupac and Kendrick’s Dialogue in “Mortal Man”
The conversation is not very cryptic, unlike some of Kendrick’s songs. However, it’s worth taking a peek at the mind of Kendrick and Kendrick’s imagination of Tupac Shakur.
Breakdown of Tupac Shakur and Kendrick Lamar’s Dialogue in “Mortal Man”
Remember the bits and pieces of narration by Kendrick at the end of each song in the album? “I remember you was conflicted, misusing your influence” Remember these lines? Well, they are a part of a much bigger picture, which Kendrick reveals at the end of the “Mortal Man”. It’s worth taking a look into it, because it continues to the conversation later on with Tupac.
“I remember you was conflicted
Misusing your influence
Sometimes I did the same
Abusing my power, full of resentment
Resentment that turned into a deep depression
Found myself screaming in the hotel room
I didn’t wanna self destruct
The evils of Lucy was all around me
So I went running for answers
Until I came home
But that didn’t stop survivor’s guilt
Going back and forth trying to convince myself the stripes I earned
Or maybe how A-1 my foundation was
But while my loved ones was fighting the continuous war back in the city, I was entering a new one
A war that was based on apartheid and discrimination
Made me wanna go back to the city and tell the homies what I learned
The word was respect
Just because you wore a different gang colour than mine’s
Doesn’t mean I can’t respect you as a black man
Forgetting all the pain and hurt we caused each other in these streets
If I respect you, we unify and stop the enemy from killing us
But I don’t know, I’m no mortal man, maybe I’m just another n*gga”
This is the full story, of which bits and pieces were perfectly connected to each song on ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’–essentially a journey through his life and his personal experiences. After this narration of the ‘poem’, Kendrick turns towards Tupac.
Other than that, now that I finally got a chance to holla at you, I always wanted to ask you about a certain situa–, about a metaphor actually, you spoke on the ground. What you mean ‘bout that, what the ground represent?
Kendrick speaks of he “finally got a chance” to speak to Tupac. I wonder if Kendrick considers ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ as a portal through which he reached out of Tupac Shakur. If this album doesn’t, I don’t know which does. Anyway, Kendrick starts the conversation off with a question about ‘the ground’.
The voice of Tupac echoes;
“The ground is gonna open up and swallow the evil. That’s how I see it, my word is bond. I see and the ground is the symbol for the poor people, the poor people is gonna open up this whole world and swallow up the rich people. Cause the rich people gonna be so fat, they gonna be so appetising, you know what I’m saying, wealthy, appetising. The poor gonna be so poor and hungry, you know what I’m saying it’s gonna be like… there might be some cannibalism out this mutha, they might eat the rich.”
‘The ground’ is Tupac’s metaphor for poor people. He believes the poor will rule the world one day, and he phrases it as ‘ground is gonna open up and swallow the evil’. So essentially the rich are the ‘evil’. The rich have been feeding off of the poor for so long that they are so fat and getting fatter and the poor are getting poorer and hungrier. One fine day, the poor will cannibalize the rich. This emphasizes on a change of powers in the world. The world is dominated by the capitalists, according to many philosophers. One day the shift will happen.
Kendrick throws another question at 2Pac;
“Aight so let me ask you this then, do you see yourself as somebody that’s rich or somebody that made the best of their own opportunities?”
“I see myself as a natural born hustler, a true hustler in every sense of the word. I took nothin’, I took the opportunities, I worked at the most menial and degrading job and built myself up so I could get it to where I owned it. I went from having somebody manage me to me hiring the person that works my management company. I changed everything I realised my destiny in a matter of five years you know what I’m saying I made myself a millionaire. I made millions for a lot of people now it’s time to make millions for myself, you know what I’m saying. I made millions for the record companies, I made millions for these movie companies, now I make millions for us.”
Tupac was born and raised in the underbelly of the world (in the literal sense of the meaning of these words) and rose to fame with his musical talents and his keen interests on the errors of the ‘system’, which eventually lead to his murder (RIP Tupac Amaru Shakur)! He rose from the gutter and made millions of dollars for everybody associated with him. And it was no luck. He wasn’t handed anything on a silver platter. Being a black rapper and fighting the system was much harder work back then, and he did it and paid for it with his life. It is safer to say that his efforts have paved the way for rappers such as Kendrick Lamar to openly rap about anything today! He says he made everybody rich, and now it’s time to ‘make millions for us’. I wonder if ‘us’ means the African American community. He wants to give back to the society that made him, he wants to show them a way out of the hell holes they live in?
Kendrick asks a side question;
“And through your different avenues of success, how would you say you managed to keep a level of sanity?”
“By my faith in God, by my faith in the game, and by my faith in all good things come to those that stay true. You know what I’m saying, and it was happening to me for a reason, you know what I’m saying, I was noticing, sh*t, I was punching the right buttons and it was happening. So it’s no problem, you know I mean it’s a problem but I’m not finna let them know. I’m finna go straight through.”
Tupac isn’t believed to be a religious person–at least not a devout to one religion. He believed in ‘One God’ for everyone, which clearly has a descendant upon Kendrick’s beliefs as well (from Hollowverse.com). Tupac Shakur knew the game well. He knew how the system operates. He saw how everything the authorities did, had a hidden agenda to keep their rivals down. So he started fighting it. He was ‘punching the right buttons’, Tupac says. And it his knowledge of the game, cost him his life and a great artist to the world.
“Would you consider yourself a fighter at heart or somebody that only reacts when they back is against the wall?”
Tupac has an epic response;
“Sh*t, I like to think that at every opportunity I’ve ever been threatened with resistance it’s been met with resistance. And not only me but it goes down my family tree. You know what I’m saying, it’s in my veins to fight back.”
Tupac doesn’t want violence. He fights back because he was being contained–they were all being contained and restricted and Tupac had the right tools to fight back. His family tree is the African American community. They have been oppressed for centuries and they all have ‘fight’ in them, which only needs a spark like Tupac to ignite. Tupac, Kendrick, and all other African Americans whose generations have been oppressed and suppressed have the fight in the genetically.
Kendrick Lamar brings the conversation to modern times;
“Aight well, how long you think it take before n*ggas be like, we fighting a war, I’m fighting a war I can’t win and I wanna lay it all down.”
“In this country a black man only have like 5 years we can exhibit maximum strength, and that’s right now while you a teenager, while you still strong or while you still wanna lift weights, while you still wanna shoot back. Cause once you turn 30 it’s like they take the heart and soul out of a man, out of a black man in this country. And you don’t wanna fight no more. And if you don’t believe me you can look around, you don’t see no loud mouth 30-year old muthaf*ckas.”
The fight has been going on for centuries–every time the Blacks ending up losing. So how far does the present generation willing to see it through? Tupac says it is a job left to the young. The energy it takes and the sacrifices you will have to make are too much to handle once you are past 30. Once you are past 30, you have a family to worry about, a job to worry about, a social persona to maintain and a thousand other commitments. Tupac believes the fight is for the younger generation. He believes a Black man can fight and shout for a maximum 5 years, before they will see him as a threat and take him out. This may have been drawn from his life as his musical career began effectively in the early 1990s and his death took place in 1996–a little over 5 years in the spotlight.
“That’s crazy, because me being one of your offspring of the legacy you left behind I can truly tell you that there’s nothing but turmoil goin’ on so I wanted to ask you what you think is the future for me and my generation today?”
Kendrick’s music and personal life is heavily influenced by Tupac Shakur, and he is not hiding it. He calls himself an ‘offspring’ of Tupac.
“I think that n*ggas is tired of grabbin’ sh*t out the stores and next time it’s a riot there’s gonna be, like, uh, bloodshed for real. I don’t think America know that. I think American think we was just playing and it’s gonna be some more playing but it ain’t gonna be no playing. It’s gonna be murder, you know what I’m saying, it’s gonna be like Nat Turner, 1831, up in this muthaf*cka. You know what I’m saying, it’s gonna happen.”
Tupac believes the next generation of fighters is going to be a lot serious. America thinks Blacks can only rob stores and riot in the streets. But that misconception alone will be the fall of America, when the African Americans start fighting for real for their rights. He says it is going to end up in bloodshed. Nat Turner was a slave who led a rebellion against the masters and freed Southampton, Virginia. It will be a massive bloodshed-who’s blood? Human blood. Tupac strongly believes it is going to happen.
Kendrick is mortified;
“That’s crazy man. In my opinion, only hope that we kinda have left is music and vibrations, lotta people don’t understand how important it is. Sometimes I be like, get behind a mic and I don’t know what type of energy I’mma push out, or where it comes from. Trip me out sometimes.”
Music is the universal language and the tool these two rappers fight with.
Tupac speaks for the last time;
“Because the spirits, we ain’t even really rappin’, we just letting our dead homies tell stories for us.”
This is not a 2015 song, this is not a Tupac song. This is a story as old as slavery. This is a story that dates back to the first African American slave, and the first African American who was ripped of his rights or beaten down or murdered. These are the stories of the dead ghosts of their ancestors. All those souls live in them. And once a generation comes an artist who has the ability to spit out a few more stories than an average person. Also this is a conversation imagined by Kendrick. Tupac Shakur is long gone. So Kendrick has been, in fact, telling a story by a ghost. Feeling trippy yet?
Anyway, that brings to the shrilling conversation Kendrick Lamar has with Tupac Shakur. But, Kendrick speaks once more before the song ends. Kendrick reveals the meaning behind ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’. He reveals it to his ‘homie’ Tupac.
“I wanted to read one last thing to you. It’s actually something a good friend had wrote describing my world. It says:
“The caterpillar is a prisoner to the streets that conceived it
Its only job is to eat or consume everything around it, in order to protect itself from this mad city
While consuming its environment the caterpillar begins to notice ways to survive
One thing it noticed is how much the world shuns him, but praises the butterfly
The butterfly represents the talent, the thoughtfulness, and the beauty within the caterpillar
But having a harsh outlook on life the caterpillar sees the butterfly as weak and figures out a way to pimp it to his own benefits
Already surrounded by this mad city the caterpillar goes to work on the cocoon which institutionalizes him
He can no longer see past his own thoughts
When trapped inside these walls certain ideas start to take roots, such as going home, and bringing back new concepts to this mad city
Wings begin to emerge, breaking the cycle of feeling stagnant
Finally free, the butterfly sheds light on situations that the caterpillar never considered, ending the internal struggle
Although the butterfly and caterpillar are completely different, they are one and the same.”
After revealing the thinking behind the album title, he asks Tupac one last question;
“What’s your perspective on that?
Tupac is no longer there to answer his question. Who has the wisdom to riddle the butterfly? Tupac, maybe, but he is gone. He never was there in the first place. But his wisdom lives on. Riddling the ‘butterfly’ is a question left out to our generation. Who can solve it?
And that ends “Mortal Man” and ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ album as well.
Best. Outro. Ever!
What do you think of the song “Mortal Man” and this conversation between Kendrick and Tupac? Do you believe I have misinterpreted something? Make sure to point them out in the comments. Also, make sure to leave your opinion on the dialogue. And share this with your friends.