Department or Program



Through a series of close readings, this paper explores how Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 album To Pimp a Butterfly builds on a long-standing tradition of Black protest literature (including authors such as Ralph Ellison and Richard Wright, and artists such as N.W.A. and 2Pac) in order to identify, describe, and rebel against modern day systems of racial oppression in America. I first examine how the image of the violent, over-masculine, and oversexed Black Buck has been used throughout American history as a tool of power for Whiteness. Through every era of racial oppression in the United States—from enslavement to Jim Crow to modern day mass incarceration—this symbol of Black masculine violence has justified racial hatred and fear, and I describe how the particulars of the image have evolved to fit changing times in this country. I then explore how this symbol has functioned within Lamar’s own life, both past and present, from his youth growing up in Compton to his adulthood as a successful rapper, and especially how this personal history plays an integral role in To Pimp a Butterfly. I subsequently also analyze how images of Black masculine criminality directly and indirectly lead to both political and economic power for certain groups. Finally, I indicate where Lamar finds hope, both in himself and in the communities around him, for the years of struggle against racial inequality and injustice that may still lie ahead of our country.

Level of Access

Open Access

First Advisor

Pickens, Theri

Date of Graduation


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts

Number of Pages


Components of Thesis

1 pdf, 50 mp3

Open Access

Available to all.