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Augustus Durham

I. Augustus Durham is a sixth-year doctoral candidate in English at Duke University. His dissertation, “Stay Black and Die: On Melancholy and Genius”, takes up black studies from the nineteenth to the twenty-first century, interrogating melancholy and how the affect catalyzes performances of excellence, otherwise known as genius. He has published articles in Black Camera: An International Film Journal, Palimpsest: A Journal on Women, Gender, and the Black International, and Journal of Religion and Health.

"I Love Lucy, I Think?: The Black Feminism of Lamar’s Pimped Butterfly; or, The Making of Kendrick Dinkinesh"
With its surprise, Spring 2015 release, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly is a gesture to the black world of love in the time of chaos. The project transcends genre boundaries, evoking the sonic registers of jazz, hip-hop, and even the form of the skit, among others. However, despite the album’s acclaim, its reception has been twofold insofar as people have reasonably critiqued its overt masculinism. Even with consideration for the only feature on the album being female rapper Rapsody, the album, whether through its art or lyrics, elicited confusion for its ostensible hypermasculinity and general feminine absence.

And yet, listeners hear an intriguingly different Lamar than on previous projects, even on this selfsame album, during what I coin the “Middle Passage” of To Pimp a Butterfly—“u”, “Alright”, “For Sale? (Interlude)”, and “Momma”. With fans citing Lamar’s time in Africa, South Africa in particular, as the impetus for this paradigmatic shift, the aforementioned provocation seems apropos here. During these four tracks, Lamar invokes a being called “Lucy”, generally comprehended as Lucifer, and in these records, one hears changes in the tone of Lamar’s voice and flow as he encounters “the evils of Lucy”. But if Lamar’s stint in continental Diaspora augments his own creativity, might “Lucy” be, through a close listening of Lamar’s voice, not only Lucifer, as in “u”, but also Lucy, as in Dinkinesh, the oldest known human skeleton found in Ethiopia, as in “Momma”?

This paper addresses the silence of women on To Pimp a Butterfly by suggesting that they are actually present through hearing. By imposing a black feminist listening to the album’s “Middle Passage”, I argue that Lamar actually queers himself such that he rebukes Lucifer in order to reunite with Lucy, the mother figure he encounters after “runnin’ for answers/until [he] came home”.