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Old School Archives

How Kendrick Lamar paid tribute to Tupac on a landmark album

The reverence Kendrick Lamar has for the all-time greats is well known. As a born and bred Compton resident, Lamar has always been quick to shout out to the legendary figures who made California the new centre of the hip hop universe: Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube.

But it was an experience watching Dre and Tupac film the video for ‘California Love’ in his hometown that proved to be a vital turning point in the young man’s life. Dre’s just a perfectionist,” Lamar remarked years later while working with the producer during the Detox sessions. “I thought I was a perfectionist until I met that dude. His ear is something… I don’t know, I can’t even explain it. He hears things that the average person or musician doesn’t hear.”

When it came time to record his third official studio album, Lamar planned for the title to be a tribute to Tupac. Initially, the initials of the album were to spell out the late rappers name.

To Pimp a Butterfly was almost going to be titled Tu Pimp a Caterpillar, named for the abbreviation Tu.P.A.C. Lamar would later change his mind, although it didn’t have anything to do with Shakur.

“Me changing it to Butterfly, I just really wanted to show the brightness of life and the word pimp has so much aggression and that represents several things,” Lamar told MTV. “For me, it represents using my celebrity for good. Another reason is, not being pimped by the industry through my celebrity … It gets even deeper than that for me. I could be talking all day about it.”

The truth was that Lamar was emerging as his own legend. Good Kid, M.A.A.D City made Lamar one of the most popular and influential rappers of a generation, and his next project was going to be watched with close attention. While it could have been a fine tribute LP to one of Lamar’s influences, he instead took the opportunity to etch his own name among the legends.