Date of Award

Fall 12-5-2017

Degree Type



English Language and Literatures

Director of Thesis

Anne Gulick

First Reader

Esther Richey


This paper explores the aesthetic and lyrical achievements of musician Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 To Pimp A Butterfly, the political context of these achievements, and the manner in which the critical discourse surrounding the work has handled the artistic and political tensions within the work of Lamar. The paper first frames To Pimp A Butterfly beside the criticism that surrounds it, and questions the value and appropriateness in viewing the work as a piece of political protest art. The paper goes on to examine the techniques by which the piece builds a sense of tension and confusion in regards to its artistic and political implications. Lamar’s lyrics are given close readings beside theoretical frameworks developed by the Henry Louis Gates Jr. and W.E.B. Du Bois to further articulate the concepts of misdirection and internal tension. The paper concludes that the aesthetic and thematic clashing of the personal, artistic, and political in To Pimp A Butterfly purposefully works as an emotionally affective and politically effective work of art.

First Page


Last Page



© 2017, Jacob Sillyman