South Africa's Influence On Kendrick Lamar's ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’

Ahead of its 11 GRAMMY nominations, we look back at the many South African influences on Kendrick Lamar's classic album.

To Pimp A Butterfly album cover.

Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp A Butterfly was hailed as a classic as soon as it dropped. The 16-song record follows the Compton rapper through several poignant explorations of race issues and social injustice, backed by ambitious jazz, retro funk & soul production.

One thing not many people are aware of though, is its inspiration.

Kendrick’s mentioned that his first trip to Africa— a 2014 visit to South Africa during which he travelled to Durban, Johannesburg and Cape Town—was a huge influence on TPAB.

Ahead of the album’s 11 GRAMMY nominations this weekend, including nods for Album Of The Year and Best Rap Album, we look back at the South African influences on K. Dot’s unparalleled album and musical style.

“I Felt Like I Belonged In Africa”

“I remember he took a trip to Africa and something in his mind just clicked. For me, that's when this album really started” —Sounwave, To Pimp A Butterfly co-producer.

In a new interview with the GRAMMYs, Kendrick and his TPAB collaborators go off on the effect the 2014 trip to South Africa had on the album.

“I felt like I belonged in Africa,” says Lamar. “I saw all the things that I wasn't taught. Probably one of the hardest things to do is put [together] a concept on how beautiful a place can be, and tell a person this while they're still in the ghettos of Compton. I wanted to put that experience in the music.”

“The idea was to make a record that reflected all complexions of black women. There's a separation between the light and the dark skin because it's just in our nature to do so, but we're all black. This concept came from South Africa and I saw all these different colors speaking a beautiful language.”

The Ghost of Mandela

“You wanna love like Nelson, you wanna be like Nelson. You wanna walk in in his shoes but you peace-making seldom”

TPAB’s 12-minute-long closing track “Mortal Man” sees Kendrick dropping several mentions and aspirations towards the spirit of Nelson Mandela.

The track also samples a drum pattern from Fela Kuti‘s “I No Get Eye for Back,” off 1975’s Alagbon Close. The direct sample comes from South Carolina tenor saxophonist Houston Person’s 1977 cover of the Fela track.

“The ghost of Mandela, hope my flows they propel it”

A Black Lives Matter Anthem Inspired By South Africa

In an interview with MTV, Kendrick reveals that “Alright”—a song that’s become an anthem for the Black Lives Matter movement and sang across protests against police killings of blacks—was also inspired by his time in South Africa.

The “We Gon’ Be Alright” chant was sparked from witnessing people’s struggles in the country. "They struggle ten times harder and were raised crazier than... I was," Kendrick mentions. "Going out there really inspired me. I wrote a lot of records out there. Just going to South Africa and being able to move around out there like I did. That was a turning point."”

“How Much A Rand Cost”

TPAB’s “How Much A Dollar Cost” also follows a “true story” set in South Africa, he tells MTV. In it, a homeless man “who only [speaks] Zulu” asks him for 10 rand. Kendrick denies him thinking he’s looking for drug or booze money. Then, after a wave of guilt and rapping bars about the selfishness of his success, the homeless man reveals himself to be God.

“Untitled 2” & Cape Town

And finally, last month, to cement the influence of South Africa on his current sound, Kendrick shouted out “Cape Town” several times during his performance of unreleased track “Untitled 2” on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.


Interview: Wavy The Creator Is Ready to See You Now

The multidisciplinary Nigerian-American artist on tapping into all her creative outlets, creating interesting things, releasing a new single and life during quarantine.

A trip canceled, plans interrupted, projects stalled. It is six months now since Wavy the Creator has had to make a stop at an undisclosed location to go into quarantine and get away from the eye of the pandemic.

The professional recording artist, photographer, writer, fashion artist, designer, and evolving creative has been spending all of this time in a house occupied by other creatives. This situation is ideal. At least for an artist like Wavy who is always in a rapid motion of creating and bringing interesting things to life. The energy around the house is robust enough to tap from and infuse into any of her numerous creative outlets. Sometimes, they also inspire trips into new creative territories. Most recently, for Wavy, are self-taught lessons on a bass guitar.

Wavy's days in this house are not without a pattern, of course. But some of the rituals and personal rules she drew up for herself, like many of us did for internal direction, at the beginning of the pandemic have been rewritten, adjusted, and sometimes ditched altogether. Some days start early and end late. Some find her at her sewing machine fixing up thrift clothes to fit her taste, a skill she picked up to earn extra cash while in college, others find her hard at work in the studio, writing or recording music.

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