Not even 24 hours after headlining Hot 97’s Summer Jam 2015 event at MetLife Stadium, Kendrick Lamar visited High Tech High School in North Bergen, New Jersey on Monday for a day of interaction with some of his young fans.
In March, High Tech teacher and poetry club organizer, Brian Mooney, wrote a blog post about his course where he used the rapper’s latest body of work, To Pimp a Butterfly, to analyze Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. The next month, he posted a follow-up piece that featured responses written by his class of freshman English students. Both posts went viral, and eventually caught the attention of Lamar, who then asked his manager to contact Mooney to set up a time to visit the class.
“I was intrigued that somebody other than myself can articulate and break down the concepts of To Pimp a Butterfly almost better than I can,” RollingStone reports Lamar saying, while referring to Mooney’s original blog post. “That let me know he’s a true lover of music.”
Lamar’s day began in Mooney’s classroom, where the teacher’s poetry club students and English class met to present some of their work to the 27-year-old rapper. The first student read a poem about the struggles he faces as a dark-skinned South Asian, followed by two students who read their joint piece called “What the Media Taught Us.” Lamar laughed when the two scholars reached the line in their piece that stated, “You chose the wrong butterfly to pimp.”
“I didn’t think I made [To Pimp a Butterfly] for 16-year-olds,” Lamar said. “I always get, like, my parents or an adult saying, ‘This is great, you have a message, you have themes, you have different genres of music.’ But to get a kid actually telling me this, it’s a different type of feeling, ’cause it lets me know that their thought process is just as advanced as mine, even if I’m 10, 15 years older.”
After the performances, Lamar opened the floor for Q&A where the students asked about the evolution of the rapper’s storytelling and his collaboration with jazz saxophonist Kamasi Washington. Lamar talked about his connection with different forms of storytelling and recalled being the quiet kid in class and the first kid his elementary school teacher heard use the word “audacity.”
Following Q&A, Lamar went to meet the rest of the school’s student body and sat on a panel with education activist Jamila Lyiscott, hip-hop education advocate Christopher Emdin, the school’s assistant principal Allyson Krone and a recent High Tech alum, where they judged more student work.
After sitting in on more student essays, poetry readings, and a dance recital, Lamar ended the day by hoping on the school’s stage to perform Alright as the packed room of students repeated the chorus, “We gon’ be alright.”