It’s been a long time coming now. Since we collectively heard Kendrick Lamar’s single “i,” we’ve been waiting with bated breath to hear his new album. Over the past couple weeks the hype machine started working overtime-a release date, cover art, another single, and finally a surprise release a week early. If nothing else, Lamar has proven that he knows how to use the media to his advantage. He ascended to pop culture icon status with his appearance as the final musical guest on The Colbert Report, lighting up the Grammys and torching more well-known acts on live television. To Pimp A Butterfly has already been built up to be one of the biggest albums of the decade.
Does the record live up to the insane hype? Of course it does. Kendrick Lamar destroys any pre-conceived notions you may have about him from good kid mAAd city. To Pimp A Butterfly is unlike any mainstream rap record you’ve heard. It’s a schizophrenic beast of an album, bouncing in and out of genres with no thought given to transition. The influence of Flying Lotus is felt heavily throughout the record (and they share guest spots from Snoop Dogg, Thundercat, and one another), but it goes beyond that. Somewhere along the line Kendrick took a real interest in musical history, and it’s all laid out here-from the jazz clubs in Harlem in the 40’s to A Tribe Called Quest and OutKast, Lamar manages to hit it all.
To Pimp A Butterfly opens with Jamaican singer Boris Gardiner’s “Every Nigger Is A Star,” and it’s immediately apparent this album will not be pulling any punches. This is Kendrick’s response album. He’s been criticized by everyone from Lupe Fiasco to Azaelia Banks for things he’s said in interviews about black/white relations, and this is his opportunity to make a stand. The result is a great companion piece to D’Angelo & The Vanguard’s Black Messiah, two great works about the systemic mistreatment of blacks in America and the ways whites have appropriated their culture.
The lyrics are hard-hitting haymakers, and they come one after another. Sometimes they are rapped, other times it’s more of a spoken word that doesn’t rely so much on flow. The vocal delivery on “u” is almost too much to believe-a saxophone backed noir tale from a drunken narrator, Lamar sounds like he’s on the verge of tears from start to finish as he berates himself for becoming successful and leaving Compton.
“You ain’t no brother, you ain’t no disciple, you ain’t no friend. A friend never leave Compton for profit or leave his best friend. Little brother, you promised you’d watch him before they shot him. Where was your antennas, on the road, bottles and bitches.You faced time the one time, that’s unforgiven. You even Facetimed instead of a hospital visit. You should thought he would recover well. Third surgery couldn’t stop the bleeding for real
then he died, God himself will say “you fuckin’ failed,” you ain’t try.”
To Pimp A Butterfly is brutal honesty put to music. It’s a moving, important piece of work that needs to be heard. It’s comical that Lamar and his team decided to drop the record during SxSw week, when everyone that works in the music industry is busy networking and looking at their smartphones while “the next big thing” plays their 1st of 8 shows for the week. I think part of the point of the record is that the music industry is no longer relevant. They’re just as guilty of exploiting blacks as the rest of America, and this release date was Kendrick’s middle finger to them.
Please listen to this record whenever you get a chance. You’ll be a better person for it, and you’ll actually enjoy it too.