From Compton to Congress: The Barbarians Inside the Gates—An Exploration of ‘Black Subjectivity’ in Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly

in Subjects Barbarian, Monstrous, and Wild
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This essay explores dynamics of resistance, reappropriation, cooption, and complicity in a reading of Kendrick Lamar’s hip-hop album To Pimp a Butterfly (2015) alongside Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book Between the World and Me (2015). Situating it in a contemporary American context rife with racial profiling, tension, and inequality, Bluijs reads Lamar’s album as an investigation into processes of interpellation, examining the positioning of the black gangster as a barbaric figure by a dominant civilized, or civilizing, discourse. Even reversing this opposition—positing global capitalism as a barbaric system run by gangsters of another sort—Lamar finds himself in a bind; no matter how such a system is tagged, it runs through him and, in this sense, he remains its product. Thus, through To Pimp a Butterfly, Bluijs explores the risks and possibilities of trying to redirect interpellating, internalized discursive forces into new, productive, and community-oriented directions.

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