There is a strong argument to be made that Kendrick Lamar is the most talented rapper on earth right now. Having two full length albums under his belt with massive acclaim from critics and fans everywhere, there are always expectations when K-Dot puts his name on a new project. 2012 showed to be a breakout year for the talented wordsmith, as good kid, m.A.A.d. city set the rap world on fire with introspective lyrics and an overarching story that worked both on a mainstream and critical level. To Pimp A Butterfly had many fans skeptical early on though. Last year’s “i” track release showed a more poppy side to his music, possibly showing Kendrick Lamar moving toward a more mainstream sound than ever before. “The Blacker the Berry” has much more grit as a second single, and the whole record shows he is only getting started with his ascension.
Most artists would be okay with coasting on their previous work and creating more of the same style music for the next decade. Kendrick Lamar decides to start from the beginning with this new masterpiece. All the negative comments toward “i” expected a more predictable and fluffy album. In reality, To Pimp A Butterfly is equal parts hard-hitting and catchy like good kid, m.A.A.d. city. Every beat feels incredibly different from beginning to end. Many songs have major beat change ups that drastically change the mood of each song on a dime. There is of a course a theme to the instrumentals though. Jazz influences are impossible to miss with live instrumentation and samples that transport the listener to a time far before their date of birth. The more simplistic and modern beats stick out a bit more, but not in a bad way. Listening to the bare and powerful beat on “The Blacker the Berry” is equally tangible to the more soulful instrumentals that make appearances on “Wesley’s Theory” and “These Walls.”
Lamar shows to have grown as a lyricist as well on To Pimp A Butterfly. Themes on the album are less story based like his previous album, but there is still great cohesion from beginning to end. Listeners will be treated to the typical heavy lyricism about learning how life works, moving forward out of the hood only to get bombarded by other issues, and even an attack on black culture and it’s victimization. Listening to Kendrick state that he knows everything about Compton and life in general until he visits home again in “Momma” is what rap should be about. “These Walls” is by far the sexiest track on the record, utilizing a beautiful soul vibe and female vocals that compliment Lamar’s message of becoming a popular figure. “For Free?(An Interlude)” is the most bizarre track by a mile, kicking off with females stating that is he an off-brand guy, only to break them down and show how trashy and vein they truly are.
The real shining moments are the harder hitting tracks though. “King Kunta” exemplifies what old school rap would sound like in the modern day. The west coast influence is impossible to deny and the brag style of taking his throne after an absence is threatening but intelligent and catchy as well. “u” is the pinnacle of depression for the album, utilizing heavy horns and drone to set a dark image to take in. The lyrics speak toward a family member who has failed their siblings and has an amazing drinking sound effect that is the most organic music sample for a track in a long time. “The Blacker the Berry” takes the cake as the best track on the album though. Feeling more like a violent three act play, Lamar speaks toward black culture needing a facelift, but also remembering when to fight back against the powers holding them down. The hypocritical third verse is easily the darkest moment in music thus far in 2015.
To Pimp A Butterfly is a grand example of what a perfect album sounds like. The themes and lyricism are heavy but sexy at moments to give off a different feeling from track-to-track. Beats have great variety and make the 80 minute long ride like a cross-country trip that is constantly evolving to a satisfying finish. Kendrick Lamar sets his stake as the best rapper in the whole music industry with To Pimp A Butterfly, and I would say that his stake is secured by a hard slab of concrete.
1. Wesley’s Theory(feat. George Clinton and Thundercat)
2. For Free?(Interlude)
3. King Kunta
4. Institutionalized(feat. Bilal. Anna Wise, and Snoop Dog)
5. These Walls(feat. Bilal, Anna Wise, and Thundercat)
8. For Sale?(Interlude)
10. Hood Politics
11. How Much A Dollar Cost(feat. James Fauntleroy and Ronald Isley)
12. Complexion(A Zulu Love)(feat. Rapsody)
13. The Blacker the Berry
14. You Ain’t Gotta Lie(Momma Said)
16. Mortal Man