The Importance of Social Responsibility in Music

Let’s get something straight, I used to hate rap. I hated how ignorant rappers seemed, I hated the lyrics, and I hated the lifestyle it portrayed. But, luckily enough for me I was reintroduced to the genre through a different lens during my second year at McMaster University.

My housemates that year almost exclusively listened to hip-hop and I was essentially forced to listen to what they were listening to (thanks to the exceptionally thin walls of our student house). Over time, I really began to appreciate the genre as an under-appreciated art form. The first album that really opened up my ignorant ears was definitely ‘good kid, m.A.A.d city’ by Kendrick Lamar. It tells the story of a young black man growing up in Compton who is struggling to escape a life full of peer pressure, drugs, and gang violence. And while I must admit I can’t relate on a first person basis with the content of the album it certainly provides an interesting perspective into a lifestyle that I never lived. The album told a story, a tragic story told through the use of urban poetry and music.


I began quickly to fall in love with the catchy beats and hooks of rap / hip-hop. I began listening to different artists and further refining my musical tastes, delving deeper into the genre as a whole. I did, however, keep selective artists on my favorite list; naturally Kendrick remained on that list. So when I heard that he was soon releasing a new album following up ‘good kid, m.A.A.d city’ I was far beyond excited. Eventually said album came out and it was titled ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’. It was different in every way from his previous work, and at first it seemed like a strange change of direction to take. But just as before I began to understand the album, and it quickly became one of my favorite albums of all time. Featuring great lyrics and great jazz influenced music it was hard to not fall in love with ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’.

The album is more or less about the struggle that come along of being a successful artist. Kendrick speaks of his rise to stardom, and how his success has affected his life. He feels like he needs to be doing something more for the black community; he needs to have something to say. The album again takes a story format which I will not get into detail about here, but the content of this tale is extremely thought provoking, even from an outsider perspective. I made me think, “Isn’t this what music is all about”?

Good music to me should tell a story, or make you feel a certain emotion. One of the most important things music can do is teach you. ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ taught me about social responsibility in all aspects of life, for all aspects of life. Of course, there have been other forms of “socially conscious” music before, but this is one of the first times that I really appreciated it. There is, of course, a time and place for fun songs, but when you reach a certain point in your artistic career I think it is important to take time to really have something to say, and Kendrick really did that with ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’, he had a message for society and took the opportunity to speak to the public. This is something that’s important, and music is a great medium to convey important ideas. I hope everyone can appreciate that.



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