Kendrick Lamar – “To Pimp A Butterfly” (Album Review)

We reviewing that new Kendrick, though. And this ish is deep.

Well, folks, it’s here. The hip-hop album we have all been waiting for, besides Kanye’s. Kendrick Lamar. K.Dot. To Pimp A Butterfly. Let’s go.

It shouldn’t be surprising at this point that this is another concept album. Which I was expecting. With the first three tracks specifically, it feels that the album begins with somewhat of a satirical bent. Telling the story of a young ignorant hoodlum rapper, who kind of represents the worst of black culture, and goes through a change and becomes better. Part of it is infused with Kendrick’s own personal story during these last few years. I’m not going to say that this is literally his story, I feel like he took some creative liberties and really became a storyteller, with some additional inspiration that could have come from anywhere.

Wesley’s Theory“, with this first track, I felt satire in Kendrick’s lyrics, which pretty much present someone who is completely ghetto and proud, making millions, ’bout to get him a white woman and buy some guns and give ’em to people in his neighborhood. The first three tracks are actually very representative of the album cover as a whole. And alongside that, we get some funky-ass, jazzy production in this first 3 tracks. Getting George Clinton on the Wesley track alone is amazing. And even with him singing the hook, “we should’ve never gave niggas money, go back home,” – that let me know, right then and there, Kendrick had another statement to make about black people today, as well as just beginning the album with a bang. It’s a pretty powerful statement for a mainstream rapper to be making, it is bold and intelligent, and I’m so fucking glad he’s doing that, with such good style and production. Sounwave and Thundercat are just killing it.

(Intro: George Clinton)
“When the four corners of this cocoon collide
You’ll slip through the cracks hoping that you’ll survive
Gather your wind, take a deep look inside
Are you really who they idolize?
To pimp a butterfly”

(Verse 1: Kendrick Lamar)
“When I get signed, homie I’mma act a fool
Hit the dance floor, strobe lights in the room
Snatch your little secretary bitch for the homies
Blue eyed devil with a fat ass monkey
I’mma buy a brand new Cutty on fours
Trunk the hood up, two times, deuce four
Platinum on everything, platinum on wedding ring
Married to the game, made a bad bitch yours
When I get signed homie I’mma buy a strap
Straight from the CIA, set it on my lap
Take a few M-16s to the hood
Pass ’em all out on the block, what’s good?
I’mma put the Compton swap meet by the White House
Republican, run up, get socked out
Hit the Pres with a Cuban link on my neck
Uneducated but I got a million dollar check, like that”

In this song he’s a rapper selling out his soul, and the music industry/government corrupting his soul. And again it is just such a bold statement for him to make, putting this as the intro song. With that sample in the beginning.

“For Free?” is an interlude that will slap you in the face and remind you of Andre 3-stacks. It’s hilarious, while also pumping out a bit of that satire I mentioned earlier, basically Uncle Sam arguing with Kendrick. His dick ain’t for free. And it’s not so much a rap song as it is just freestyle poetry. With some beautiful, fantastic live instrumentation. This is a searing, scathing indictment of sorts, there’s some radical statements in this song. It could be argued that this track didn’t need to be here, but it does make sense with the previous song. And that smoothly transitions into the very funky “King Kunta”. It’s not comparable to the other songs, as far as lyricism but it’s got charisma and swag out the ass. Kendrick is strolling back through Compton being king shit. It feels like ’70s Blaxploitation movie, which is an obvious influence, with one of the more memorable hooks on the album. And he’s still got some content in the lyrics. It’s one of the weaker tracks on the album – only because his lyricism/flow isn’t on fire like many of the other songs – but, it’s still dope. And right after this, the poem begins.

I could stop right here and declare that these first 3 songs are more incredible and impactful than an entire album made by any rapper this year. Starting with serious, hard funk, transitioning into jazz (spoken word poetry) then going back to funk. Diving in confidently with no sign of doubt or hesitancy, it is the bold confidence of the soundscape that lets it soar high above normal expectations.

I remember you was conflicted, misusing your influence

And he beautifully constructed this poem so that every section he finishes with, details something about the next song. Kendrick has been misusing his influence in these first three songs. So when we get to “Institutionalized”, the fame and money is starting to get to him.

Fuck am I s’posed to do when I’m lookin’ at walkin’ licks?
The constant big money talk about mansions and foreign whips
The private jets and passports, presidential glass floor
Gold bottles, gold models, sniffin’ up the ass for
Instagram flicks, suck a dick, fuck is this?
One more suck away from wavin’ flashy wrist
My defense mechanism tell me to get him, quickly because he got it
It’s the recession, then why the fuck he in King of Diamonds?
No more livin’ poor, meet my four-four
When I see ’em, put the per diem on the floor
Now Kendrick, know they’re your co-workers
But it’s gon’ take a lot for this pistol go cold turkey
Now I can watch his watch on the TV and be okay
But see I’m on the clock once that watch landin’ in LA
Remember steal from the rich and givin’ it back to the poor?
Well that’s me at these awards
I guess my grandmama was warnin’ a boy
She said…

Not only commenting on himself, but maybe how many disadvantaged black men see themselves in comparison to someone is happy and wealthy. Rahki & Tommy Black did a really great job with this production, after a short introduction the beat flips and its fantastic and Kendrick has a great flow throughout – and the hook. “Shit don’t change till you get up and wash your ass, nigga”. This feature with Snoop works extremely well, rocking a Slick Rick flow. In this song, Kendrick uses three different voices. Something he does all throughout the album.

“These Walls”, is probably the most complex song on this whole album for me. I was having such a difficult time trying to decipher the meaning of this song. Sex was an obvious theme, but to me, the lyrics made it seem as if Kendrick was describing rape. But the beat is so fucking smooth and electric and amazing. All background vocals are beautiful, with such a hypnotic hook. Apparently he’s hooking up with the girl who used to be with the guy who shot Kendrick’s friend in Sing About Me? Damn. Although, if that’s the case, it doesn’t really fit thematically with the album. He goes from inner turmoil to describing sex with his girl? If you change the theme and make “these walls” apart of his interior, his mind, in the walls of Compton – then it works. Maybe it’s meant to be taken both ways? Deep, man.

“u” is fucking haunting and beautiful. There are some rappers who get in their feelings, and admit their faults. Then there are some – very very few – that do something like this, and completely rip their soul apart and drown in depression. It sort of reminds me of something Eminem would do. He really is one of the other few rappers who would make a song like this. Beautiful instrumentation and production used in this song, too, awesome beat-flip, and Kendrick using different voices again. This is that dark place K.Dot was talking about all those months ago, when talking about what his next album would sound like. Admitting he at one point felt suicidal. Again, Em has done this kind of shit in some of his songs. Not many rappers are this honest on records, especially a black artist.

Then we swing into the hopeful “Alright, produced by Pharrell, with an amazing hook. Kendrick is trying to pull himself out of the depression at this point, trying to reassert his faith in God. The second verse he has an amazing flow, it’s so dope. I love. And the pre-hook!

Wouldn’t you know
We been hurt, been down before
Nigga, when our pride was low
Lookin’ at the world like, “Where do we go?”
Nigga, and we hate po-po
Wanna kill us dead in the street for sure
Nigga, I’m at the preacher’s door
My knees gettin’ weak and my gun might blow
But we gon’ be alright

The pre-hook is my absolute favorite. I do wish the song had one more verse, though. And this next song, “For Sale?”, again man, it’s just…ugh. So fucking dope. Lucifer trying to take Kendrick’s soul, but the production isn’t dark which is what makes it so much smarter. It sounds like Lucifer trying to lure him in with charm and good(fake) vibes. Another perfect example of a song that sounds nothing like the one that came before it, and doesn’t resemble the one that comes after it. Kendrick has become a much better storyteller, and it is evident all over this album.

And at this point in the story/album, Kendrick is searching for answers. And once he goes to Africa, returning to the motherland on the track “Momma”, he realizes everything he thought before just doesn’t compare to the truth that he now knows. The production is warm and embracing on this. It feels like the beginning of a spiritual awakening, and in many ways it absolutely is. Speaking truths about blacks in America and our heritage, what public schools have taught us and how we may have forgotten our original roots. There is so much knowledge and intelligence that is all over this album, that isn’t being talked about on other mainstream hip-hop albums.

And with “Hood Politics”, I feel like Kendrick is portraying different people in his old hood, discussing “politics” of rap and America, perhaps discussing how he used to feel while he was in Compton, and how me may feel now. This also has probably the most amusing hook on the album, just because of his voice. “boo-boo!”. Love the shoutout to Killer Mike, which is also something that is not happening on any other mainstream hip-hop album. Real recognize real.

Then we are led right into. “How Much A Dollar Cost”. I wish more Christian rap could feel like this song. This has become a standout for me and one of my favorites. The beat and production, like Momma, feels spiritual and humble, and it’s Kendrick telling another story within a song. You be a generous person because it’s the right thing to do, setting you on the righteous path to Heaven. He had to be humbled to be humble, free from Luci and Uncle Sam.

“Complexion” Also another one of my favorites. This song is about educating society on beauty standards, especially colorism. Colorism affects the black community profusely due to its roots, which spawn from the history of slavery in America. A Tribe Called Quest, one of the pioneers of jazz rap, referenced the Universal Zulu Nation many times throughout their discography. The Universal Zulu Nation is described as an “organization of individuals in search of success, peace, knowledge, wisdom, understanding and the righteous way of life.” Dope song, and the addition of Rapsody for the 3rd verse is also nice. All of you complaining that Kendrick didn’t have a woman on the cover, he did something better, he had a female emcee spitting a verse on a song.

Everyone knows what’s going on in “The Blacker The Berry”. Dope ass, boom-bapish production, it’s dark and fucking rock hard. Some may think he is simply taking a stab at white America all throughout this song, but certain lyrics in the 2nd verse may suggest he is talking about certain types of black people, and the 3rd verse has him speaking directly to gang members for a portion of it. A lot of these songs are therapeutic for Kendrick, not necessarily pointing a finger at everyone else, but rather examining his own actions and history. “You Ain’t Gotta Lie” is another example of that, simply put and straight to the point, with a warm production foundation that is reminiscent of “Momma.”

The breath of fresh air that is this version of “i” has so much more impact than the original version first released last year. The live aspect makes it work, and his Negus message is incredibly dope. And a perfect example of him doing something in mainstream rap that no one else is doing. One could say that this song plays out the same way audiences reacted to the original version of this song when it first came out. People kind of missed the point of what he was saying, and Kendrick feels the need to step in and speak his mind when an argument breaks out.

“Mortal Man” is a very emotionally satisfying way to end the album, in terms of just the song, and everything Kendrick is talking about. It’s deep. Calling people on their BS. And how he manages to edit that Pac interview, and make it all sound organic and relevant, as well as how he ties the album together twice – not only with that first poem, but as well with the second one. It’s genius. The first poem tells the basic story of the album, and the Butterfly poem does it again, just in a more poetic and meaningful way.

It’s really magnificent.

With To Pimp A Butterfly, he has given us, yet again, another mainstream project that is giving so many people what they have bitching about for years: relevant, deep content. It should be cherished for that alone. For every person saying hip-hop is dead, there’s no more good rap music, mainstream is all crap…you now have a 400 ton brick you can smack them in the face with – To Pimp A Butterfly. In what it is trying to say, it’s much more ambitious than good kid, M.A.A.D. City. That was more of a humble, singular story, this feels wider and bigger in scope, it feels universal and has a global reach with its message. I don’t know if Kanye can top this. And right now, using the Grammy’s rules, it’s between this and Black Messiah for Best Album of 2015.

To Pimp a Butterfly is a true original, no album in 2015 sounds like it. With the production, lyricism, storytelling, concepts and themes – it sits isolated on an island all of its own.

to pimp a butterfly

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