If you’ve listened to To Pimp a Butterfly through to the final, 12 minute track, “Mortal Man,” you already know how much Kendrick Lamar feels he owes to Tupac Shakur, who died 19 years ago yesterday. On that track, he stages a fantasy interview with the late rapper, interweaving his own questions with samples from an interview that actually took place on Swedish radio in 1994. And yesterday, the homepage of Tupac’s website changed. It now opens onto a short but resonant memorial letter from Lamar:
I was 8 yrs old when I first saw you. I couldn’t describe how I felt at that moment. So many emotions. Full of excitement. Full of joy and eagerness. 20 yrs later I understand exactly what that feeling was. INSPIRED. The people that you touched on that small intersection changed lives forever. I told myself I wanted to be a voice for man one day. Whoever knew I was speaking out loud for u to listen. Thank you. K.L.
As Pitchfork notes, it just so happens that the initial title of To Pimp a Butterfly was Tu Pimp a Caterpillar, abbreviated as TuPAC. The album ends as a bridge between the living and the dead, through the shared experiences of being a black man in a too-slowly-evolving America, and of bearing the weight of vocalizing the experiences of oppression — and catalyzing resistance — for the public.