High School I am Poems

Kendrick Lamar Blows Teens' Minds, Hears Their Poetry at NJ High School

Kendrick LamarKendrick Lamar's 'To Pimp a Butterfly': Track by Track »

In March, High Tech teacher and poetry club organizer Brian Mooney had written a blog post about using the rapper's critically acclaimed recent album To Pimp a Butterfly to analyze Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye. The next month, he posted a follow-up featuring responses written by his freshman English students. Both posts went viral, eventually reaching Lamar, who asked his manager to reach out to Mooney and set up a visit.

"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, " Lamar explained during a break, referring to Mooney's original blog post. "That let me know he's a true lover of music."

He was even more impressed by the students. "I didn't think I made [To Pimp a Butterfly] for 16-year-olds, " he continued. "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."

Lamar's day began in Mooney's classroom, where the teacher's poetry club and English class met their guest and displayed some of their work. The first student read a poem about the struggles he faces as a dark-skinned South Asian, and two others followed with a joint piece called "What the Media Taught Us." Lamar laughed when they reached the line "You chose the wrong butterfly to pimp" and big-upped both works. "They got heart, they got intellect, they got punchlines, " he said, visibly moved.

After another performance, Lamar took questions from the class, the students asking about topics as specific the evolution of the rapper's storytelling and as deep as his collaborations with jazz saxophonist Kamasi Washington. Lamar spoke to the connections between different forms of storytelling and recalled his years as the quiet kid in the back desk: In elementary school, he was the first kid his teacher had ever heard use the word "audacity, " and at that point she predicted he would someday become a writer. Up front, the kids formed a circle and began to rhyme over a beat playing off Mooney's cell phone.

Kendrick Lamar takes part in a slam poetry session with Brian Mooney, left in glasses, and students at High Tech High School. Karsten Moran/NYTimes/Redux
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