Album Review: Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly

The monster record for this month comes in the form of King Kendrick’s third release. The hype couldn’t be bigger and as of now; To Pimp A Butterfly is the highest rated rap album of the last five years.

Rap has plenty of wordsmiths and social preachers, so what separates them from Kendrick? Apart from the fact he’s an alien, not much. Kendrick isn’t the most potent lyricist around, hell even his labelmate Ab-Soul can stake a claim. Lamar has a lot to say but so does Lupe Fiasco, Killer Mike, and Common among others. Does he have a fresher sound? Are the beats better? What the hell is the key thing here?
It’s simply a vision and utterly no compromises. If there’s one thing that can be gathered from To Pimp A Butterfly; it’s that  Kendrick definitely didn’t slack to capitalize on the groundswell support for him as his generation’s greatest rapper.

kendrick

To Pimp A Butterfly almost defies critical reviewing, at least in short form. You need to write a thesis to accurately cover this album. Approaching it from a thematic angle or technical rap view only leaves you open to forgetting the collaborations (Anna Wise, Snoop Dogg, Rapsody, Thundercat, George Clinton to name just a few. Rapsody, however has the only other rap verse, go girl!)

The amount of voices, inflections and references Kendrick employs through this mammoth album is staggering. The mental image of swarms of listeners sitting down with a notepad and headphones learning about Willie Lynch is marvellous. The album demands to be listened to in full. Grabbing snippets here and there is fine but contextually, much like his earlier work- a full listen will let you into the secrets existing within the 70 odd minutes on offer.

The lead single for the LP, “i” drew fans in, but distaste from others for its happy go lucky vibe. Further proving not everyone can interpret a song’s true intent. The album version of “i” has a more energetic feel to it, due to it’s live raw mixing and the speech at the end. Spoken word, poetry and more can be found on To Pimp A Butterfly. Credit is due to the sound engineers, producers and Kendrick for the vision; the whole project is so dynamic, it could take weeks finding every nook and cranny in this LP. Even the title throws up so many questions.

For all you sad bastards who weren’t a fan of “i”, “u” is a much darker song. Like Robert Smith from The Cure dark. Suicidal thoughts in a hotel room while the world around you and your conscience swallows you whole into its inky depths. And that’s scratching the surface. A lot of the album has a dark tone to it; either in fiery anger directed at himself and racists (“The Blacker The Berry”). TBTB has some absolutely killer lines “I’m as black as the heart of a fucking Aryan”and concludes with a heart-stopping, cathartic ending.

In terms of songs that could float onto everyday listening instead of meaty listening sessions, “Hood Politics”, “Complexion”, “Momma” and the Pharrell featuring and produced, “Alright” all have crazy listenability, much like “i” and “The Blacker The Berry”. Although listening to that last track could have you wildin out, throwing around chairs, fighting racism- so do be careful to not get crazy.

The closing track, 12 minute “Mortal Man” has a faux interview between Kendrick and 2pac. The prophetic and sadly wistful voice clips of Pac are from an interview in the mid 90s before he was shot for the first time. The song itself is an absolute trip, but it’s a bold ender for such a huge album. It’s also ultimately more tasteful than reanimating the corpse of Tupac and having it jig onstage at Coachella (although that was kinda dope too).

Nothing said above should convince you to listen to To Pimp A Butterfly. There’s no way to write an accurate and fully-fleshed piece on it, and convince someone to delve into such a zeitgeist polarizing album. It’s fucking amazing to be sure, and there really is something for everyone. But forget that, go grab the album. Walk to a Sanity, walk to a record shop, a JB Hi-Fi; go on goddamn Itunes and get your mitts on it. But this is going to become an album that everyone who matters will own a copy. 20 million people have streamed it. Do one better.

Josh Brooks

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