This racially ignited track opens Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly album. The title references the African American Wesley Snipes, who served a three-year jail sentence for willful failure to file federal income tax returns from 2010 to 2013. Lamar is critical of the way America targets successful African-American entertainers like him who slip up financially.
The song features an intro and bridge by '70s funk music pioneer George Clinton. He introduces the track's extended metaphor about the pimping of successful black artists by the entertainment industry. The album title comes from Clinton's intro:
When the four corners of this cocoon collide
You'll slip through the cracks hoping that you'll survive
Gather your wind, take a deep look inside
Are you really who they idolize?
To pimp a butterfly
Clinton was suggested as a collaborator by Flying Lotus, who co-produced the track. Lotus recalled: "When I played him that beat he asked me who I imagined on it. I laughed and said 'George Clinton.' I never thought it would actually happen. That's already a dream come true."
Flying Lotus additionally brought in bassist Thundercat, best known for his work alongside the producer. He voices the pre-hook,which borrows the a phrase from the infamous "Rick James" episode of Chappelle's Show - "We should have never gave you niggas money."
The song opens with a sample from Boris Gardiner's 1974 blaxploitation number "Every Ni--er Is a Star" off the soundtrack of the 1974 Calvin Lockhart-directed film of the same name.
Dr. Dre supplies a voice message in which he offers wisdom to Lamar regarding the fact that it's easy to get success but it can just as quickly become irrelevant.
The song entered the Hot 100 in the week following To Pimp A Butterfly's release. George Clinton had previously charted 14 times on the US singles chart with various incarnations of his Funkadelic and Parliament groups. He'd also made one prior solo chart appearance on the tally when he featured on Ice Cube's "Bop Nation," which peaked at #23 in 1994.
To Pimp A Butterfly was the first US #1 album with the word 'pimp' in its name. The previous highest-charting LP with a mention of "pimp" was Pimp C's Pimpalation, which peaked at #3 in 2006.
Previous chart-topping albums with 'Butterfly' in the title were Mariah Carey's Butterfly and Bob Carlisle's Butterfly Kisses (Shades of Grace) - both in 1997.
This is one of Lamar's favorite tracks on To Pimp A Butterfly. He explained to MTV News: "First off, the lyrics is me going back to the feeling of what I wanted to do when I got signed. These are actually real thoughts…"
"The overall theme of the record, why I love it so much is because it talks about something we weren't taught in school when we get this money…," he continued. "So, you mean to tell me the moment I become successful and I get this money - and I don't know how to manage my money - that you're gonna throw me back in jail for taxes?"
Technically, To Pimp A Butterfly isn't the full title of the album - the rest is hidden in braille inside the record's booklet. The bumps translate to "A Blank Letter by Kendrick Lamar.," which makes sense, given that the rapper's good kid, m.A.A.d city album was billed "a short film by Kendrick Lamar" on its cover.
Speaking to Pigeons and Planes
about his preconceptions of working with Kendrick Lamar, George Clinton said: "I knew 'Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe
' and thought it sounded silly as hell when I first heard it. It's a hit record but you have to wonder, 'Why the f--k is it a hit record?'"
"But you know, after I met him and talked with him I realized it's just his era of communication, and he had a lot of other stuff to say" he continued. "He was saying things in brand new metaphors that I knew was going to f--k people up."