High Tech High School in North Bergen, New Jersey got quite the treat on Monday: Kendrick Lamar came to visit.
Teacher Brian Mooney used Lamar’s album To Pimp a Butterfly in his freshman English class to accompany Toni Morrison’s novel, The Bluest Eye, which is about a young black girl who desperately wants blue eyes.
“I was listening and I was like, wow, there are just so many themes that are the same,” Mooney, who is part of a program that explores the use of hip hop in education, said.
“The main character that my students spoke about, Pecola Breedlove, she’s experiencing internalized oppression,” Mooney explains. “And so Kendrick is speaking to that same concept with the song ‘Complexion.’ He’s speaking to that same idea of pushing back against the dominant narrative that there’s this mythological norm that is considered good and beautiful and valuable.”
The students responded to his method of teaching, writing poetry, rap lyrics and essays inspired by both the book and the album. Mooney then wrote a blog post about it.
“It just took off, and it went across the Internet, and Kendrick Lamar got it and read it,” Mooney says. “His manager reached out to me and said, ‘I want to come visit your school.’ So we made it happen.”
Check out the video below:
Lamar says Mooney’s blog post was fascinating. “I was intrigued how somebody can — other than myself — can articulate and break down the concepts of To Pimp A Butterfly, almost better than I can,” he said.
“Something even — for me — even bigger than mentoring is really listening,” he says. “And when I do that, we have a little bit bigger connection than me being Kendrick Lamar and you being a student. It’s almost like we’re friends, you know? Because a friend listens and we learn off each others’ experiences.”
So, the famous rapper Kendrick Lamar spent his day listening to students present the work they did with Mooney, from readings to dance numbers. Then, as a grand finale, the rapper grabbed the mic and did what he does best: he performed “Alright,” a track from To Pimp a Butterfly.