This song is built primarily on a sample from "All For Myself," a track from Sufjan Stevens' 2010 album, Age of Adz. Tae Beast, Sounwave and Thundercat's foreboding beat provide the backdrop for Lamar's lyrics about political injustices in which he compares politicians to gang members: "Demo-Crips and Re-Blood-icans."
The To Pimp a Butterfly album cover is a striking image by the French photographer Denis Rouvre. It address the same juxtaposition Lamar's rhymes for this song showing shirtless black men posing in front of a White House backdrop. K-Dot explained to The New York Times the cover represents "taking the same things that people call bad and bringing them with me to the next level, whether it's around the world or to the Grammys or the White House. You can't change where I come from or who I care about."
Kendrick Lamar gives a shout on the third verse to Killer Mike, who despite not achieving huge sales, is one of the most respected lyricists in the industry. The rapper is best known these for his collaboration with El-P on the critically acclaimed albums Run the Jewels and Run the Jewels 2.
Critics wanna mention that they miss when hip-hop was rappin'
Motherf---er if you did then Killer Mike would be platinum.
Killer Mike responded to Lamar's praise by telling MTV News: "I felt like when a professional ballplayer compliments another professional ballplayer. That is a compliment; no one can understand how truly dope that is unless you're a ballplayer."
"Unless you stepped on the court and laced up your shoes and had to play against Jordan you don't understand what a compliment it is when Jordan says, 'Yeah, I like that guy, he's one of those ones.'"
This was one of a batch of beats that Tae Beast, a member of Top Dog Entertainment's in-house producer Sounwave's crew, came up with. Sounwave recalled to Spin: "That one, I just heard something in it. It was super early in the process, so it was just a little riff."
He added: "But, we go through so many different phases making the album, we didn't revisit that beat until the last leg, and Kendrick started mumbling the hook - 'It's been A-1 since day one, you ni---s boo boo' - I was like, 'Yo, that's it! Record that in your phone! Do not lose that hook!' He started laying scratches to the beat, then Terrace and I got together and started adding inserts to it."