Artist: Kendrick Lamar
Album: To Pimp A Butterfly
Label: Aftermath / Interscope / Top Dawg Entertainment
Release Date: March 16, 2015
On the highly-anticipated third album by Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly [stream here], the artist exceeds expectations and takes his music in an entirely different direction. Kendrick pushes the boundaries of the hip-hop genre in a way that has not been done by a commercially successful and relevant emcee in many years. The album is politically driven and seems almost too relevant given the recent increase of incidents, well at least the increase in reporting of incidents, of police brutality and violence against young black men. He explores the idea of growing up in a country where equality is preached but systemic racism is all too prevalent. The album is a reflection of the rage that many individuals feel as a result of a lifetime of being abused and neglected, and of the confusion associated with attempting to change or stop it.
To Pimp a Butterfly forgoes the typical “club-banger” beats that have become so commonplace in hip-hop today and instead relies on a heavy mixture of jazz and funk to take listeners on a musical journey. The album was mostly produced by Sounwav, with additional contributions by Pharrell, Taz Arnold, Rahki and LoveDragon (who may or may not be Kendrick Lamar using a pseudonym) and features artists such as George Clinton and bassist Thundercat. This musical style allows Kendrick to utilize and explore his full range of creativity and deliver flows in a manner that sounds like stream-of-consciousness poetry. The album opens up with “Wesley’s Theory” (about the Wesley Snipes Tax Theory), which sets the political and funk-jazz fusion tone for the whole album while immediately letting the listeners know that Kendrick has evolved into a whole new artist. The second track on the album the “For Free? (Interlude)” further drives this point home with the first half of the song being a litany of females talking sh*t and hating followed by Kendrick demonstrating his slam poetry skills focusing on the idea that “this d*ck ain’t free.”
While this album doesn’t have the plethora of instantly commercially viable singles that Good Kid had, it is a much more complete album and certainly showcases Kendrick’s lyrical ability and political prowess. Some of the stand out tracks are “Institutionalized” featuring Bilal, Anna Wise and Snoop Dogg; “U”; “Complexion (A Zulu Love)” featuring Rapsody; “Hood Politics”; the ‘live rendition’ of “I“; and “ The Blacker the Berry.” Another one of my favorite tracks on the album is “How Much a Dollar Cost,” on which Kendrick discusses his interaction with a homeless crack addict who was panhandling for money and eventually reveals himself to be god. Not only is the concept exceptional but so are the lyrics, “Deep water, powder blue skies that crack open/ A piece of crack that he wanted, I knew he was smokin’/ 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.’”
To Pimp a Butterfly is already earning its praise as an instant classic and is certainly one of the best albums that has been released over the past few years. Additionally, it is already proving to be a commercial success without a hit single. Kendrick impresses with not only the content of the songs, but with his flow, delivery and raw honesty and emotion. He was able to create an album that warrants multiple listens and in order to be understood must be played in its entirety from cover to cover. Kendrick forces listeners to think, not only about themselves and the role they play in society, but also about society as a whole and the direction it’s headed. To Pimp a Butterfly embodies the spirit of everyone who is searching for a better life but is unsure how to find it, which is a lot to credit a hip-hop album with.