Animals is track 14 on Dr. Dre’s third studio album, Compton (2015). The track illuminates the narrative that black individuals are presented as ‘animals’. Throughout the song, artist Anderson Paak utilises this animal motif to illustrate how the societal structure of locking up and confining black communities to specific areas is zoo-like.
Paak firstly illustrates the aesthetics of the black ghetto. Initially, the grungy nature of the lifestyle in the ghetto, and the drug and gang culture. Paak states that he works to ‘[stomp] down the demons’, namely, the bad influences that surround him.
‘The upper class eat, middle don’t exist’ is a reference to the class dynamic within the US that lacks middle ground. It’s either the rich or the poor. This also presents an Us vs Them dynamic that Paak utilises to separate the animals (black individuals) from the observers (rich white individuals, the establishment, and corporations). Despite being the ‘bottom of the beat’, i.e. being underserved and neglected as a black individual, Paak is ‘glad [he’s] got [his] sticks’ to fight back.
In this passage, Paak reflects on the depiction of black communities by the media and the establishment. Here, only the violence, gang culture, killings and drug abuse are presented, skewing the essence of the black experience as one that comprises of disobedience and savagery. This passage is also reflective of the 2020 Black Lives Matter riots, whereby certain corporations and institutions framed the riots not as a protest and call for police reform, but as anarchy aiming to destabilise the government.
Paak continues, illustrating the dire experiences of life in the ghetto and how it affects him. Despite keeping to yourself, whatever occurs within black community shapes the way all black individuals are perceived.
Damn, why the fu** are they after me? Maybe ’cause I’m a bastard?
Or maybe cause of the way my hair grow naturally?
Still tryna figure out why the fu** I’m full of rage
I think I noticed this bull**** right around the fifth grade
Dr. Dre’s first verse echoes his sentiment as a kid growing up. He ponders why he is instinctively a suspect, a target in the eyes of the police. Rage is a motif that carries through the entire track. The establishment has long suppressed black individuals, and after continuous attempts of peaceful resolution, riots are the only viable action to raise awareness and push for change. However, in expressing such rage, black individuals are presented as ‘animals’, with riots and uprisings reflecting this exact depiction.
Paak returns with an answer to older black individuals’ call to accept their position in society. Paak mentions that there needs to be a change in the system, and the fact that the oppression is historic, does not make it reasonable. To understand the ‘looting’ and ‘shootin’, individuals are called to understand the ‘pain’, the struggle that black communities are working to escape.
Animals is an extremely relevant track in 2020, as it embodies the representation of black individuals surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement. Five years prior to the riots across the US, Paak illustrated the same depiction of black individuals. It is not surprising that nothing has changed. Paak calls on individuals to change their perception of black communities, not as animals, but as individuals striving for equity.