The month of March has welcomed two socially and morally conscious hip-hop discs that hopefully maybe the vanguard of more to come from other artists. The first is the much-anticipated, long-awaited “To Pimp a Butterfly” from Kendrick Lamar. The other many of you may not be aware of, “Eat Pray Thug” from HEEMS.
Both of these discs are addressing the climate of intolerance and the “struggle” experienced every day. Both discs Kendrick’s in passionately weaves a conscious tapestry of lyrical ambrosia that hip-hop has not had since Tupac. Instead of the get money, power, pu**y, cars, bling of most rappers today (Common is an exception) we get a steady diet of the life, injustices, racism (institutional as well) experienced not just by African-Americans but South Asian Americans also. On the heels of the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Muhammad Abu-Salha, Razan Muhammad Abu-Salha, and Tony Robinson the compositions by both HEEMS and Kendrick Lamar are especially noteworthy.
“Eat Pray Thug” opened the month on March 10, 2015. HEEMS (govt. name: Himanshu Suri) formerly of Das Racist gives his listeners on his début a view of life in New York City and in many respects America post-9/11 for persons who are descendent or immigrated from South Asia. Each song tells of the struggle of being an American (he was born in Queens) who feels betrayed by the racism, discrimination, and hate-speak he has encountered, witnessed, and perceives since 9/11 by being South Asian and Muslim.
Most of “Eat Pray Thug” was recorded by HEEMS in his ancestral home of India. By admission, he “kinda got burned out” in his hometown. I can identify totally with that feeling. To focus your heart & mind and have a semblance of peace sometimes you have to leave New York and live someplace else for a time. New York will always call you home though.
The social commentary on the tracks Flag Burning, Hubba Hubba, Patriot Act (my favorite), Al Q8a, and Suicide by Cop is especially on point and relevant. Each of these songs are personal revelations and reflections of his own life. In Patriot Act, HEEMS takes on the NSA spying controversy, drone killings, and how the South Asian community attempted to reaffirm their love for the United States to people who thought of them as “Osamas.” Wow! Heavy lifting lyrically. HEEMS pulled it off in spades.
Kendrick Lamar’s sophomore effort, “To Pimp a Butterfly” (released on March 17, 2015) is the anthem to African-American youth today like Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin On” album was in 1971. That is high praise and not to be taken lightly. Kendrick paints a portrait of what is happening in the African-American community from the issue of mass incarceration (Institutionalized) to interracial relationships, slavery, and shattering the dark/light-skinned mythos (all in one song, Complexion) to addressing the “come up” from very little to abundance all whilst analogizing his life to that of Kunta Kinte in King Kunta.
Kendrick Lamar breaks down all the doors lyrically and I implore you to not become hypnotized by the riffs and beats of each song. Listen to what he is proclaiming of his Black experience on each song. An experience that is shared by many in today’s America. Like Marvin Gaye, Tupac, Biggie, early Kanye West and Public Enemy before him Kendrick relates to everyone what it is like to be a Black Man in America. He tears the scab off and lets it bleed for all of us to hear, relive, and experience with him. He speaks out politically and spiritually to everyone who listens to “Pimp a Butterfly.” Kendrick challenges us to change the paradigm of racial and economic inequality in America and then asks us how we have changed the world by doing so. Many artists tend to take a step back and revert lyrically & musically on their second album, Kendrick Lamar charges ahead and does what many true artist do-provoke thought. “Pimp a Butterfly” is a game changer in the world of hip-hop.
John Lennon once said, “My role in society, or any artist’s or poet’s role, is to try and express what we all feel. Not to tell people how to feel. Not as a preacher, not as a leader, but as a reflection of us all.” Kendrick Lamar with “Pimp a Butterfly” expresses how young and not so young Black people feel and in doing so shows us the love we should feel for ourselves and our people despite our struggle.