Imagery has always been an instrumental narrative to Kendrick Lamar's music. Whether it's his mother's van that houses the tales of his youth in Compton on the cover of good kid m.A.A.d City or the picture of a mother breastfeeding her children as a way to discuss the origins of African-Americans in "The Blacker the Berry," there's a visual commentary that hints to a major theme in his music. Similarly, To Pimp a Butterfly's album artwork encapsulates the album's frank discussions on race, self-love/hate, and most of all, to be black in America. But in recent times, in much the same way The Roots did with Things Fall Apart and its depiction of humanity's failure in the civil rights era or Green Day's American Idiot symbolism of post 9/11 turmoil, TPAB's cover has come to be one of the most powerful and representative pieces of iconography of the Obama era.
The photo—taken by famed photographer Denis Rouvre under the direction of Kendrick Lamar and TDE CEO Dave Free (otherwise known as visual duo The Little Homies) and Vlad Sepetov—depicts a group of primarily black men and children in a celebratory display in front of the White House, with the rapper in the center holding a child. At their feet lies a white judge with his eyes crossed out, the presumption being that he's dead. According to Lamar, the photo represents, "just taking a group of the homies who haven't seen the world and putting them in these places that they haven't necessarily seen, or only on TV and showing them something different other than the neighbourhood and them being excited about it. That's why they have them wild faces on there." In another sense, the image represents the long-traveled road of bringing your kin up to that front lawn and the joyful exhale of closing the gap between literal black and white. And it's in this way TPAB cover art also symbolizes Obama's invitation of hip-hop and, by proxy, blackness into the White House.
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