We’ve been sitting on Kendrick Lamars’ latest album To Pimp a Butterfly, the follow up to his critically acclaimed 2012 album, good kidd, m.A.A.d city, for a little over a week now and it’s still very hard to describe what the album is in a few short words.
After listening to the album at-least a handful of times, it’s clearly evident Lamar isn’t in the business of rapping about money, cars and clothes. His agendas are political and his voice is used to address his fellow people on issues such as black equality and white supremacy that has gripped the US for centuries. However, the overall theme of this is album is success and wealth, how they can manipulate and destroy a person and the consequences of acquiring both from Lamars’ point of view.
The albums opening track ‘Wesleys Theory’ sets the overall tone for the album. Produced by Flying Lotus, Thundercat and Sounwave, who’s signature sounds echo throughout the whole record, the psychedelic rap tune explores Lamar’s relationship with success and what it has taught him as a person. The first verse sees Lamar speaking on behalf of his younger self and how he is going to cop this, get his homies that when he gets signed. Whilst in contrast, on the 2nd verse his subconscious is poking at how he’s been blinded by success and let money change his frame of mind, a problem many rappers are akin to. Dr. Dre gets on the tracks break and re-emphasises the same point saying ‘any body can get it, the hard part is keeping it, motherfucker.’
‘King Kunta’ and ‘Institutionalised’ further personify these issues, with Lamar even taking aim at his peers in the rap game, claiming the competition is weak right now and while he may have left the throne unattended for a minute, he’s back to claim it and isn’t going to let it up that easy once it’s in his possession. 1v1 him drake.
‘These Walls (Feat. Bilal & Anna Wise)’ and ‘U’ are the albums more self-reflective tracks and offer a deeper insight into Lamars’ fragile state of mind and focuses on the depression he faces due to survivors guilt and being one of the lucky few to make it out of the Compton zoo and outliving most of homies. The spine-tingling beat change up on ‘U’ is probably one of the albums greatest standing points, with the amount of raw emotion that Lamar expresses through his voice while exposing all of his negative thoughts across the duration of the track will have you questioning your own actions and judgements. Lamar describes the track in an interview with Rolling Stone as being “one of the hardest songs (he) had to write. There’s some very dark moments in there. All (his) insecurities and selfishness and let-downs. That shit is depressing as a motherfucker. But it helps, though. It helps.”
Veering towards the end of the record and highlights include ‘Hood Politics’, with Kendrick yet again calling out his rivals, ‘How Much a Dollar Cost (Feat. James Fauntelroy & Ron Isley)’, ‘Complexion (Feat. Rapsody),’ and ‘Blacker the Berry’, one of the albums only radio-singles. These are followed by the uplifting live-instrumentation version of ‘I’, which promotes self expression and loving one self and the 12 minute monster that is ‘Mortal Men’, where Kendrick really breaks down the albums overall theme and message, while speaking with Tupac (using exerts from a unreleased interview from 1994) about how he dealt with the pressures of fame and image and how to deal with the ongoing issues in society. From one king to another.
As a whole, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly is a very ambitious piece of work. While in contrast to GKMC, the album doesn’t offer any ‘banger’ tracks like ‘Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe’ or ‘Swimming Pools’, which may or may not effect its success commercially, but what it definitely offers is a soul-filled journey through the trials and tribulations of being one of raps messiahs and is far more groundbreaking than anything other rappers have been putting out for a minute. A classic for generations to come.