Kendrick Lamar stopped rap fans in their tracks when he shared the stark, gripping album cover for his upcoming sophomore studio album. It's a clinic in contrasts, the logical extreme of a socio-political agenda TDE's been pitching from time: If we could link up every gang, and niggas is willing to share the pain, we'd put the White House lights out today.
While TDE confirmed to FADER that the concept was conceived entirely by Kendrick and manager Dave Free, they tapped renowned French photographer Denis Rouvre to bring the vision to life. Rouvre's background lends even more context to the weighted image: since 1992, Rouvre has split time shooting portraits of world famous celebrities including Kirsten Dunst, Oliver Stone and Dree Hemingway, and anonymous ordinaries from all walks of life.
He won a World Press Photo award for his portraits of Japanese tsunami survivors, and one of his most recent works, Lamb, is a portrait series of Senegalese wrestlers that epitomizes the potential of an empowered anonymous mass. "They, who live on small jobs and tinker with their existence, are burning to strive against their sociological and human conditions," his portfolio describes. "They want to become famous and superhuman." In a 2012 interview, Rouvre further pushes his devotion to the ground: while shooting celebs for the Globe, he "was bothered by the photographic relationship with these people... so I very quickly started to photograph my friends instead," Rouvre explains. "I need a direct, clear and head-on relationship with people."
Hip-hop has gained such an obsessive audience and unwavering cultural clout because it's one of few art forms that's as literal as it is figurative, and photography is undoubtedly analogous. For this go-round, Kendrick and co. are refusing to spell out the answers, from the sharp jump between "i" and "The Blacker The Berry" to their tight-lipped album rollout, to collaborative choices that suggest more than convenience and utility. Tapping a French photographer to immortalize a dozen kids from Compton in front of America's shining house on the hill (with a judge smashed under their heels) may imply that our country, and the political structures that prop it up, are not only penetrable, but vulnerable. Indeed, the quote Kendrick shared along with his artwork, from which fans have sourced the tentative title To Pimp A Butterfly, is attributed to "lil Homie"—a nameless genius that just might be staring us in the face.
Browse more work from Denis Rouvre via his website.