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We continue our serialized analysis of To Pimp a Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar with Part 2 of the album’s fifteenth track, “i.”

“i” is the narrative conclusion of To Pimp a Butterfly, the apex of Kendrick’s teachings on self-love and self-acceptance.

While the studio single version of “I” we examined in our last episode could’ve easily acted as the album’s narrative climax, Kendrick chose instead to use a staged “live performance” on the album. For those of us that were familiar with the studio single, hearing of the live version was at first a somewhat jarring experience. Of course, Kendrick knew this would happen. His using a live version is a strategic, self-referential appropriation, the reasons for which become clear when the performance comes to a halt after a fight breaks out in the crowd, and Kendrick recites a spoken word piece that puts an end to the scuffle.

The statement “Kendrick Lamar, by far, the realest negus alive” at the end of the spoken word piece is the album’s exclamation mark, the moment of triumph, the one-liner in the movie that signals the hero has finally conquered the villain. Kendrick, who’s battled the schemes of Uncle Sam, the sins of Lucy, and his own suicidal thoughts, is now triumphantly self-affirming, crowning himself king and believing it. He has embraced his leadership role and his words had a tangible effect on the crowd full of Compton natives, symbolically breaking up a fight through the power of music with an empowering, positive message.

In this way, Kendrick’s story becomes universal. The principals of self-respect, love for others, and realness he preaches can be applied to all of our lives, no matter our circumstances. It’s truly a powerful thing. Through these principles, Kendrick is able to unite the world around our common struggles of self-doubt, lonesomeness, and feeling lost in the world while offering some very valid practices that can help us overcome these struggles. It’s one of the reasons why To Pimp a Butterfly is so effective. It’s at once deeply personal yet extremely universal. Kendrick is somehow able to make relatable his own circumstances, circumstances very different than the majority of us, but he conveys his story in such a way that we all feel a connection.

It’s truly a powerful thing.

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