Wesley's Theory was released on Kendrick Lamar’s third studio album, To Pimp A Butterfly, in March 2015. The song was inspired by Wesley Snipes being sent to jail for not paying his taxes. With this track, Kendrick Lamar raised a serious issue about African American rappers and their financial education.
He pushes the issue of the consumerism and tremendous debt that spreads throughout black entertainers.
Kendrick introduces us to a young rapper who makes his way out the hood and by getting signed to a label, much like he has in his own life.
“Hit me! When the four corners of this cocoon collide you’ll slip through the cracks hopin’ that you’ll survive gather your way, take a deep look inside. Are you really who they idolize? To pimp a butterfly.”
Gaining riches, the rapper becomes selfish and forgets his origins, thus getting “pimped” by the music industry. Unknowingly, the spends nearly all his money buying materialistic items that he essentially cannot afford or does not need. Succumbing to industry pressure and the stereotypes placed on many hip hop artists, a voice speaks to the artist, stating: “Pay me later, wear those gators... I can see the borrow in you, I can see the dollar in you. Little white lies, but it’s no white-collar in you.”
Throughout the rapper’s career, "Uncle Sam" continues to encourages the young rapper to buy any and everything that pleases him.“What you want? You a house or a car? Forty acres and a mule, a piano, a guitar? Anythin', see, my name is Uncle Sam, I'm your dog”
His critique illustrates that in often American society, the worth of a person is measured by dollars and potential profits, and even your credit score can determine your success.
Lacking the financial knowledge, the young man spends carelessly. When the rapper continues to be urged to buy these material things, the overall beneficiary becomes the institutions that promote profit and not the individual or his community-- perpetuating a damaging cycle of wealth and loss without any personal or communal progress.
“The overall theme of the record, why I love it so much is because it talks about something we weren’t taught in school when we get this money… So, you mean to tell me the moment I become successful and I get this money — and I don’t know how to manage my money — that you’re gonna throw me back in jail for taxes?”
The example of Wesley Snipes in the song demonstrates that if you aren’t wise about spending your money the "man" will target you. Kendrick also got a message from Dr. Dre explaining that gaining success is the easy part, but it’s maintaining it is more difficult.
This track informs not only young rappers, but all African Americans, about the importance of money management.
There are many financial education programs available in our own city to help educate communities about wealth, finance and investment. Organizations such as Justine PETERSEN, a micro-lender and credit building institution, provide micro-loan alternatives to entrepreneurs as well as free credit counseling. Other micro-lenders, like Kiva Zip, provide options for person-to-person lending and 0% interest loans for small businesses. Additionally, the United Way organizes the annual Money Smart Week, a coalition of financial institutions that band together to provide financial workshops and education. Last year's schedule included more than 200 free classes and events to help people learn about personal finance management are offered during Money Smart Week.
Here at On the Money, we urge you to take advantage of what the community offers and you won't be left as vulnerable as the young rapper discussed on this track.