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I Gave a Kendrick Lamar Presentation in Class the Other Day...

December 22, 2017

Jason Hewitt ’20

To Pimp a Butterfly Album Cover
This is Kendrick Lamar's "To Pimp a Butterfly," which is the album my class presentation was based on. Photo credit: itunes.com

Yes, you read that title correctly. Specifically, I gave a presentation with one of my classmates on Kendrick Lamar's 2015 Grammy-winning album, "To Pimp a Butterfly." It STILL blows my mind to believe that I gave a presentation on a hip hop album (especially a Kendrick Lamar album) in an academic setting a few weeks ago. The fact that I was able to do this while sparking deep and thoughtful conversations throughout the entire presentation speaks volumes to how Oberlin College allows students to be creative with their work. It is a crazy story, so let's backtrack to how this wonderful opportunity came to me.

The class this presentation occurred in was Intro to Comparative Literature, which was taught by Professor Jed Deppman. He ran the class by having us read certain texts for different units and allowing students to lead the class in discussion for those specific units. Different students would present something to the class every day, and we would just talk about the topics associated with the presentation. There were four units: Literature in Theory, Literary Translation, North-South, East-West, World Literature, and Literature and the Other Arts. The unit I presented the Kendrick album in was Literature and the Other Arts. 

In the beginning of the semester, Professor Deppman gave out a scheduled sign-up sheet for everyone to write their names on. There were two names assigned to each presentation, and the students could decide if they wanted to work with the other person assigned for that day or by themselves. I decided to sign up for the very last day of presentations. Yes, I was that guy, but hey, save the best for last, right? 

The other person, whose name is Ben, signed up for the same day as I did. Ben and I didn't really strategize or prepare anything for the presentation until we talked to each other in class a few days before the presentation. He noticed that I had a shirt from Kendrick Lamar's recent "DAMN. Tour" over the summer, and we started talking about how great Kendrick's music is. We went on and on about how all of his work are brilliant pieces of art. We both agreed that "To Pimp a Butterfly," the politically charged album Kendrick came out with in 2015, was his best album. Then Professor Deppman came up to us and asked about our presentation. The topic we had to cover for our presentation is music, so he gave us some examples of what we could cover. Then he said that nobody else in the class had covered lyrics yet. The light bulb came to us. I asked Ben, "What if we presented 'To Pimp a Butterfly' to the class?" He smiled and said that was a good idea. Boom. I told him that this presentation was about to be something special.

"To Pimp a Butterfly" is my favorite album to ever come across my ears. There hasn't been an album that has affected my life and the way I listen to music more than this album in particular. So presenting the album to other college students is something that I had always dreamed of. I knew Oberlin would be a place where I could be creative with my ideas while working with others with ideas that were just as creative as mine, but never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined presenting "To Pimp a Butterfly" of all topics, especially in a class as academically rigorous as this one.

Ben and I initially prepared for the presentation by sending out an email to the class. In the email, we asked the students to listen to the album over the weekend before the presentation on Monday. Then, we found a New York Times article that focused on the question: "Is music a form of literature?" We based our initial argument off of that idea, because contemporary artists such as Kendrick Lamar are not as respected in a literary setting as other authors and poets are, and that is very unfortunate. We continued to develop this argument by using other articles we went over in class and incorporating those into our presentation. Eventually, we had enough material to have a class discussion for over two hours. Luckily, the class was only an hour and fifteen minutes long. We finished preparing. We were ready.

Monday arrived. Was I knowledgeable on the subject? Absolutely! I'm a Kendrick Stan for crying out loud! I felt prepared for the presentation itself. I read all the articles we were going to use at least five times. I knew what we were going to discuss in class. I even knew what I was going to say. I still felt a little nervous, though. I eventually came to the conclusion that this nervousness happens to most people if not everyone before a presentation. I relaxed a liitle bit and got something to eat. Now that I had a full stomach, I felt more confident than ever.

I began my walk from North campus to Peters Hall, where my comparative literature class was located. I put my headphones in as I started walking. Guess what was playing? "To Pimp a Butterfly," of course. The excitement was building. I could not believe that this was happening. "I'm presenting this album to a college class. That's WILD," I thought to myself. I smiled during the entire walk to class. That never happens. 

I walked into the classroom, and I talked to Professor Deppman before class started. Then Ben walks in with these impressive-looking speakers. He then looked at me and asked, "We gotta give the class the full experience, right?" I laughed, nodded, and shook his hand. We were going to play some songs from the album for the class. It was about to go down in this classroom today. The other students walked in and noticed the speakers as well. Most of them listened to the album over the weekend as we requested, and they enjoyed it. Quite a few of the students were already Kendrick fans, so that led me to believe that our class conversation was going to be even better than I had previously imagined. 

Class started, and we started the presentation with the argument from the New York Times article. From there, we led a very interesting and wonderful class discussion. The students talked about how sampling in hip hop is similar to how authors use the work of other authors in order to create their own work. We also discussed the racial undertones of the album and how well it reflects American society. We listened to a few of the songs and talked about "To Pimp a Butterfly" as a literary work. It was a dream come true for me. The presentation became a success, and I walked out of class satisfied with giving my fellow classmates a wonderful learning experience at Oberlin College.

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