Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly is a masterful tour de force, not just in hip-hop but for music in general, and is easily an early contender for album of the year. Production-wise, free jazz coexists with funk and spoken word. Lyrically, it’s an indestructible and complex epic that offers raw, unbridled assessments on institutionalized racism, black culture, identity politics, and the idea of finding empowerment in an otherwise oppressive society.
In the past, the Compton MC has mentioned how autobiographical his music is — the heady subject matter of his songs often pulled from his own dark, personal experiences. In a new interview with MTV, however, Kendrick revealed just how dark his thoughts were, noting that he struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts while recording TPAB.
In the interview, Kendrick talked about the difficulty of balancing his two different lives — one that’s constantly on the road touring as a global hip-hop icon, the other that’s still very much in tune with his humble beginnings. He also discusses how he’s constantly hit with “survivor’s guilt,” and the feeling of powerlessness when he can’t be there for his family and friends who are still striving to get out of Compton. “This is how an artist deteriorates,” he confesses.
“Psychologically it messes your brain up. You living this life, you know what i’m saying, but you still have to face the realities of this … I gotta get back off that tour bus and go to these funerals,” K-Dot explains, as he reflects on the many friends he’s lost to the rough Compton streets.
Kendrick described TPAB as his form of therapy, but also notes that it’s meant to be a statement of leadership. By understanding himself better, by dancing with his demons, he hopes to be able to help others back at home. “How can I use it [my leadership]? For better or for worse?” he said. “Money or celebrity, how can I use it? How can I pimp it? Can I pimp it negatively, or can I pimp it in a positive way? Positive for me is showing what I go through, what I’ve been through … but that I still love myself at the end of the day.”
Below, watch the full interview.
In a previous in-depth discussion with MTV, Kendrick revealed that TPAB was originally supposed to be titled Tu Pimp A Caterpillar, as a homage to Tupac.