The argument can be made that identity is one of the most important concepts for human beings. If a people live without being conscious of their identity, they will live not knowing who they
really are; they will question their beliefs and values because of this uncertainty. Unfortunately, many persons are uncertain of their identities, and instead accept those that their pressed upon them by the dominant sectors of society around them; this is particularly true for blacks in America, and around the world. On March 16
, 2015, Kendrick Lamar released his critically acclaimed third studio album named how To Pimp a Butterfly
; a social commentary on politics, the Hip-Hop industry, and most importantly, black identity in the twenty-first century. Lamar uses his album to satirize various African-American ideologies while criticizing the continued marginalization of blacks by the government via the American socioeconomic system. Firstly, it is important to understand exactly what an ideology is. An ideology can be
defined as “An organization of opinions, attitudes and values –
a way of thinking about man and
(Adorno). Ideologies may take many different forms, depending on the societies in which they are imposed. The topic of ideology was most notably explored by German philosopher and revol
utionary, Karl Marx, in “The German Ideology.”
n the text, Marx presents his critique of the ideologies expressed by his former colleagues, Bruno Bauer and Max Stirner of the Young Hegelians (Marx and Engels). This was the foundation upon which Marxism was built. In this text, Marx, along with Friedrich Engels, states that a person is who he is as an individual based upon what he contributes to society. Marx criticizes the Hegelians for maintaining an idealistic worldview. He argues that material circumstances shape ideas, and not the other way around as the Hegelians believed. Despite
claiming not to be a Marxist, Karl Marx’s impact on the ideological sphere is undeniable.
Furthermore, ideological criticism is the process of examining and critiquing rhetorical texts to identify their
“dominant ideology or ideologies”
(Foss). In addition to the aforementioned Marxism, ideological criticism has been practiced on Structuralism, Postmodernism and various cultural studies. Foss explains that in ideological criticism, one must first identify the ideograph, or the “traces of ideology in an artifact.
”The ideograph, in other words, is what indicates a particular ideology in a text. The term ideograph was first coined by renowned rhetorical scholar and critic, Michael Calvin McGee, in 1980. These ideographs are significant based on the time period, and culture in which they are used. Hence, the process of ideological criticism is to identify these ideographs in order to explain their cultural significance and relevance
– which is always larger than the words themselves
– according to what was occurring in the world, or in society, at their time of use.
It is also important to understand why Lamar’s album is rhetorical; its context must be
explored. On August 9
, 2014: Michael Brown, an 18 year old black male was shot and killed by Darren Wilson, a white police officer (NBC). This quickly sparked rioting in Fergusson, Mississippi the following day, and again on November 24
. This was a particularly volatile situation due to the.Kendrick Lamar deviates from what would be considered the norm for a 21st century hip-hop artist in almost every aspect. He does not spend his time rapping about gold chains and women in the same way that someone like Juicy J or Wiz Khalifa would. He stays true to his Compton roots, providing social commentary and insights into black culture and the world
around him; according to Andrews, he would likely be classified as a “Conscious MC” in the
same manner that Common would. Like Common, Lamar openly makes references to the Black
Panthers as seen in “The Blacker the Berry” and i
s clearly anti-gangsta rap. Lamar is arguably the most prominent conscious MC since Tupac Shakur, who was
known for his frequent use of the acronym THUG LIFE: The Hate U Gave Lil’ Infants Fucks Everyone. This acronym represents a lot of what Lamar raps about: the Lumpen
– from a Marxist point of view
– or the black male in the streets.
THUG LIFE represents “the mentality of young Black men on the street in order to survive the harsh realities of living in a racist society”
(Andrews). Lamar regularly identifies with the thug because both the thug and the bad guy are the products of the societies in which they were marginalized.
To Pimp a Butterfly has received critical acclaim, and explores black identity and ideology from both a positive and negative perspective. At a time when it seems like the world isclamoring for a black revolution, Lamar intelligently steps outside of the “system” and openly
criticizes it, while criticizing blacks in the same way a father would; he is holding all parties accountable in an effort to provoke thought and increase social consciousness. Whether Lamar is the next Tupac, and whether or not what Lamar raps about sparks a new Black Power movement, the avenues he explores remain authentic to the genre and explore the black identity in such a way that this album means something instead of being just another hip-hop album. Tomorrow may not see the reemergence of conscious hip-hop, but as indicated by this album’s commercial and critical success, people are listening; maybe,just maybe more people will listen to the meaning and not just the words, as well