Kendrick Lamar ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ Review
The rules of engagement for Hip Hop politics in the social media era state that there’s no such thing as too soon to form an opinion. In the three days since the surprise early release of To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick Lamar has generated more online conversations and Spotify streams than any other album in at least a year, making him the one to talk about in 2015.
2013’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D City established Kendrick Lamar’s ability to center his albums on the concept of sharing experiences. What makes TPAB different from any other of Kendrick’s always lyrically-jarring drops is that he is not talking to his audience. From the proclamations of “we gon be alright” (track: ‘Alright’) or “this dick ain’t free!” (‘For Free? – Interlude’), it’s clear that Kendrick is using this curation of afro-jazz, g-funk melodies and interchanging flows to speak for his audience. This isn’t GKMC, and he isn’t telling his cute family stories; To Pimp a Butterfly has a message (‘Wesley’s Theory’, ‘U’).
Perhaps this is not unexpected, as singles ‘King Kunta’ and ‘The Blacker the Berry’ provide the best glimpse of what TPAB has to offer. But these — and the first single ‘I’ — all manage to be weak points on the album. Nonetheless, K.Dot’s strongest talent has always been cohesion. Thematically, To Pimp a Butterfly is Kendrick’s crash course on the black male experience. Tracks like ‘How Much a Dollar Cost’, featuring Ron Isley and James Fauntleroy, are his outlets to put his spin on the hot button issues affecting his community.
To drive home how well-crafted TPAB is, each beat is selected perfectly to match the aesthetics and overall tone of the lyrics. ‘Complexion (A Zulu Love)’ features a singing Rhapsody and uses a deep trap backdrop to power the dialogue. ‘Hood Politics” old school West Coast-style works perfectly for Kendrick as he deftly narrates hood scenarios over a groovy bassline by Thundercat. Since Kendrick has reached the point in his career for the obligatory Mom dedication song, he offers up the super sweet ‘Momma.’ The track’s blend of Lalah Hathaway and Zapp & Roger’s samples works well and is much appreciated.
To Pimp a Butterfly is an album that had a goal, even if it seemed to be a bit ham-fisted at certain points (looking at you, ‘i’). The only real complaint here is that TPAB is too heavy as an overall project. And it’s definitely not an easy one to digest. Even in our culture of instant reaction, we have no idea if To Pimp A Butterfly will have the type of legacy that Good Kid, M.A.A.D City has enjoyed. But Kendrick has definitely given us something to think about.
4 out of 5 stars. (But subject to change after more listens.)
Review by A. Mia Logan.
How would you rate To Pimp A Butterfly?