Album: To Pimp A Butterfly
Artist: Kendrick Lamar
Compton native Kendrick Lamar’s third offering, To Pimp A Butterfly, is an unexpected one. Announced two weeks before it was actually released, he once again has set the music world on fire and has everyone from casual listeners to the hardcore hip-hop fans talking again. With his aggressive delivery the California rapper unleashes pent up emotions that we haven’t heard since Good Kid, M.A.A.D City. Noticeably absent from this album are fellow TDE rappers and frequent collaborators Ab-Soul, Jay Rock and Schoolboy Q, giving K.Dot the chance to branch out and explore untapped earth for a rapper these days. While this is an entirely different sounding album, Kendrick still maintains the tenacity and witty word play that made him a standout for the last six years. Understanding the real message behind TPAB doesn’t require a Masters in English, but what is required is a discerning approach to the styles of the olden days as they are used as a template for the many funk-revived moments. With that being said, there’s an incredible amount of content within sixteen tracks that’ll have listeners clamoring for more, and this reviewer excited to share his interpretations of quite possibly one of the most unexpected albums of this year so far.
1. ‘Wesley’s Theory‘ – Hands down an intro that speaks volumes and is a great way to start off an album of this stature, George Clinton delivers the intro and paints the picture vividly by presenting the concept of the butterfly, showing how easily manipulated and fragile it is, hence the album title To Pimp A Butterfly. The song is two verses, as Kendrick delivers the first from the perspective of a rapper on the verge of getting signed, and the other as Uncle Sam preying on the young butterfly. Dot ends the song with an excerpt of unknown origin, “I remember you was conflicted”
2. ‘For Free? (Interlude)‘ – Kendrick breaks barriers with this interlude, he engages in a conversation with a template hood chick insisting that he is not on this earth simply to be used. Chanting “This dick ain’t free” letting the female know that it all comes at a cost.
3. ‘King Kunta‘ – In true G-Funk fashion, with a catchy hook and rhythmic verses that bring home the anger that’s latent in this particular track. Kendrick declares that he is the black sheep running the game as he dubs himself King Kunta, in homage to the character from the movie Roots. What speaks the most about this track is the underlying anger and the message that follows.
4. ‘Institutionalized‘ – Kendrick brings west coast legend and LBC representative, Snoop Dogg, to tell the story of how he was raised (institutionalized) by his grandma and the streets of Compton to become the man he is now. He was taught to fend for his own, and ultimately go out and make changes on his own “Shit don’t change unless you get up and wash yo ass”
5. ‘These Walls‘ – This one starts off with Kendrick reciting an extended excerpt of the poem from the end of the first track. This track is almost reminiscent of Keisha’s song from Section 80. The stand out line is the opening line, “If these walls could talk”. It basically says if her body can tell the story of how it’s been used and mistreated.
6. ‘u‘ – One of the more powerful songs on the album that definitely had people talking, Kendrick is at war with himself. “Loving u is complicated”, he screams at the very top of the song. Being famous has taken its toll on him and the people around him. At the 2nd verse he lets loose and his inner voice takes over, while crying he delivers his pain and thoughts in the midst of a drunken stupor.
7. ‘Alright‘ – This is essentially the bounce back from ‘u’, recovering from his drunken state and delivering a statement over The Neptunes production. With Skateboard P delivering the hook ensuring us that through all the nonsense, “We gon be alright”.
8. ‘For Sale? (Interlude)‘ – Dot details the story of how the devil (Lucy) came to him and asked him how much his soul was worth. Solid production and clever lines about how the devil is quick to purchase ones soul in the music industry, “Lucy just want your trust and loyalty”
9. ‘Momma‘ – The return to Compton, as any child who wanders back home they learn a multitude of things outside the home. Reflecting on his travels, he expresses his thoughts on everything since he’s left. At the very last verse he meets someone just like him growing up and shares knowledge with him which truly is a standout moment on this track.
10. ‘Hood Politics‘ – Kendrick likens the hood to your everyday run of the mill politics in this track, that our very government is run just as any gang. Personally speaking, this one is my favorite joint because it’s not only ill; it’s accurate.
11. ‘How Much A Dollar Cost‘ – How often do we turn down an individual who is homeless and is in need of help? This track exemplifies that to the fullest. Production and wordplay is what makes this track stand out the most, apart from that the realism of the topic is speaks volumes.
12. ‘Complexion ( A Zulu Love)‘ – Being able to love who you are and the skin you’re in, not letting anyone stop you from being happy. A feature from Rapsody helps solidify the message by encouraging young black individuals to embrace who they are and peacefully accepting the skin they’re in because no matter what, everyone is beautiful. Then the next track…
13. ‘The Blacker The Berry‘ – A powerful statement to those still living in the mindset of the 1800’s, many say the song is pro black, I believe it is pro minority. It encourages all of us who share any type of pigment in our skin because we are all frowned upon by those higher up simply for the color of our skin, which is unfortunately still a problem in this society.
14. ‘You Ain’t Gotta Lie (Momma Said)‘ – From the jump, this song sounds like something from AZ’s greatest hits. The beat is captivating and it prepares the rest of the song. Putting up a front to be something you know you’re not is not the way to succeed or to these people’s hearts.
15. ‘i‘ – ‘ii brings the message of the past 4 songs together. The clear message is loving yourself no matter what you are. accepting who you are, where you’re from, and what you represent. Being able to come to terms with the life you’ve been given and the cards you’ve been dealt showing the world you love the person you are.
16 ‘Mortal Man‘ – Kendrick concludes the album by stitching together the various messages of the entire album and submitting to the public that he is merely human, and his words can only live on as long as people let them. Regardless of the fact that we are only on this earth temporarily, our legacy begins with us. He uses Nelson Mandela as the constant example in this song because he was a prime example of a human who fought for great things. The song concludes with Kendrick reciting the words he was piecing together through the album, ultimately reciting it to Tupac Shakur, whom he was interviewing. Kendrick was able to ask Tupac all these questions about how it’s important to maintain and keep sanity as a black person in the United States. What stood out the most was when Pac said, “Ee ain’t even really rapping, we just letting our dead homies tell stories for us”. As a fan of Rap, it means a lot to hear something like that because there is an infinite stream stories that can be told from Rap.
I give To Pimp A Butterfly our prestigious 10 out of 10, for it is never lacking in substance, funk, and wit. It allows listeners to truly feel what it was like to listen to an album crafted in the golden era even though this album is a product of the new generation. It speaks volumes in regards to topics few speak on without sounding preachy or one dimensional. In the words of K.Dot “When shit hits the fan, are you still a fan?”