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The Student Voice of Forest Hills Central

The Central Trend

The Student Voice of Forest Hills Central

The Central Trend

The Student Voice of Forest Hills Central

The Central Trend

“How Much A Dollar Cost” is a song that makes us think deeper about selfishness

Kendrick Lamar’s album To Pimp a Butterfly contains the song How much does a dollar cost?

​”How Much A Dollar Cost” is a song off Kendrick Lamar’s most highly touted album, To Pimp a Butterfly. “How Much a Dollar Cost” is an extraordinary showcase of Kendrick’s storytelling, along with his layering of ideas and topics on top of each other through multiple interpretations of lyrics and topics. I’m going to break down this song, explain some of its meanings, and put it under a microscope.

“How Much A Dollar Cost” is about an experience Kendrick had on a trip to South Africa, where at a gas station he was approached by a homeless man begging him for money and then asking simply for a single dollar. “He begged and pleaded / Asked me to feed him twice, I didn’t believe it / Told him, ‘Beat it’ / Contributin’ money just for his pipe, I couldn’t see it / He said, ‘My son, temptation is one thing that I’ve defeated’ / ‘Listen to me, I want a single bill from you’ / ‘Nothin’ less, nothin’ more.’” Kendrick refused to give him the money, convincing himself it would be spent on crack or alcohol, but, truly, refusing to give the man the money due to his selfishness. The verse ends with him asking, “Tell me how much a dollar cost?”

The second verse starts with Kendrick growing frustrated at the man, who is becoming upset that Kendrick is refusing to give him even a dollar. “He’s starin’ at me, his eyes follow me with no laser / He’s starin’ at me, I notice that his stare is contagious / ‘Cause now I’m starin’ back at him, feelin’ some type of disrespect / If I could throw a bat at him, it’d be aimin’ at his neck.” Kendrick feels above him, convinced this man is just begging and wants the money for his vices. The homeless man finally talks again, “Have you ever opened up Exodus 14? A humble man is all that we ever need.” Kendrick closes the verse again asking, “Tell me how much a dollar cost?”

The final verse starts with Kendrick’s internal dialogue discussing why he won’t give him the dollar and why he’s in the right for being greedy and selfish. Stating, “My selfishness is what got me here,” referring to him being selfish as the reason he’s so successful. He and the homeless man go back and forth with Kendrick refusing to give him the dollar, but the homeless man doesn’t ask him for the money again. The homeless man tells Kendrick his potential is “bittersweet” and reveals himself as God to Kendrick, and the question of how much a dollar costs gets answered. “He looked at me and said, ‘Know the truth, it’ll set you free’ / ‘You’re lookin’ at the Messiah, the son of Jehovah, the Higher Power’ / ‘The choir that spoke the word, the Holy Spirit, the nerve Of Nazareth’ / ‘And I’ll tell you just how much a dollar cost’ / ‘The price of having a spot in Heaven, embrace your loss, I am God.’” The song ends with Kendrick begging for forgiveness, admitting he needs grace and is not the man he thinks he is but is selfish and greedy and in need of forgiveness and change in his ways.

Throughout the album, we see Kendrick fight against the American Dream, portrayed by the character Uncle Sam, and temptation, portrayed by the character Lucy. Kendrick battled through the whole album whether “To Pimp a Butterfly,” representing “pimping” his talent for good or for personal gain. And, this song represented his concluding decision. After meeting God in South Africa and being shown what he’s become, he now realizes he needs to change his ways and use his talent for good and for the benefit of the world, not for chasing Uncle Sam and Lucy for his benefit. Throughout the song, we hear him asking how much a dollar costs. Not only does this represent him choosing personal gain over helping others, but it also asks how much a dollar costs in the sense of how much it takes a toll on the person chasing the dollar, and whether what it does to you is worth financial gain. Is a dollar worth the price you pay chasing it? And what does a dollar really cost? The conclusion is that you lose yourself in pursuit of the dollar and lose your spot in heaven as you compromise your soul and your kindness in trade for wealth and status.

That’s how much a dollar costs.

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About the Contributor
Sydney Fentzke
Sydney Fentzke, Staff Writer
Sydney is a senior entering her first year on The Central Trend. Most of Sydney's time is spent creating art; she decided to join Writing for Publication to broaden her creative horizon and add a new art form to her belt. Sydney looks forward to graduating and attending an art school in the future, she hopes to attend the Penny W. Stamps school at the University of Michigan to get a BFA In Art and Design. Sydney's free time is spent playing video games, listening to music, hanging out with friends, playing lacrosse, sleeping, or working. Favorite art medium: clay Favorite movie: Spirited Away by Studio Ghibli Known Art Forms: ceramics, painting, drawing, photography, photoshop, stained glass, needle felting, and digital drawing

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