Album Review | Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly

WHEN: 16.03.2015
WHERE: Top Dawg Entertainment

Oh holy moly, it’s time. As I’m sure you’re aware but ever since the unexpected, early release last Monday the internet has pretty much gone batshit crazy over Kendrick Lamar and To Pimp A Butterfly. This record has received some huge accolades over the last week or so, and honestly it’s hard to argue against those. Kendrick Lamar started his career as an underdog of rap and hip hop but certainly collated a huge fanbase through the releases of debut Section 80 and the seminal feature length audio documentary into Kendrick’s life and life as a young citizen good kid, m.a.a.d city. Right now, Kendrick Lamar has become the new face of hip hop, the spokesperson of the new generation and all while doing it with a personality that has remained humble and grounded. Overall, To Pimp A Butterfly is the most important record of the last decade and beyond.

First of all, it seems much more correct to call out the initial opinions people have with regards to this album’s message and sound. It does take a couple listens to begin to enjoy the mixed elements of funk/soul/jazz that has created the overall sound of the record. It is a sonically different album, especially when coming from the same artist who produced the very accessible sound of good kid, m.a.a.d city which featured such hits as Swimming Pools (Drank), Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe and m.a.a.d city. The thing to realise prior to checking out this record is that while there’s not going to be many hooks and beats and all kinds of complexity instead, the three genres were responsible for the progression in sound that eventually became the traditional sounds of rap, hip hop and even RnB, so if you’re putting off investing into this album on a sonic point of view, then you should probably stop being a silly sausage. This also applies to those who haven’t quite got the message of the record, or have only come out of listening to it with one idea that relates to “Kendrick hates ___” then again, go back to the record and listen with a little bit more attention, because this record isn’t simply about Kendrick hating a race of people but instead it’s a record that highlights problems within society, whether that’s part of the media, the justice system, or even the black community, and showcases a very compelling point of view of it from Kendrick.

The album is kicked off by Wesley’s Theory which features some superb basslines from Thundercat, excellent vocal delivery from George Clinton and production duties from Flying Lotus. This track is full of bouncy basslines and layered drumbeats and of course is directed primarily by Kendrick’s excellent lyricism and delivery. The interesting part of this record is the sampled intro which highlights the attempts of black pride that seem to crop up throughout the record, as seen on lead single I, in which Kendrick uses this upbeat, sunny track to project a little self-esteem onto the black community, only for the track to become overwhelmed by an irate crowd, which then sees Kendrick give a speech about the problems within the black community itself.
George Clinton’s vocals are the start of what becomes a long line of hilarious moments on the record. Of course the first lyrics from Kendrick are brilliant, and the interlude For Free? Features the always funny THIS.DICK.AIN’T.FREEEEEE and of course the overly repeated BOO BOO on Hood Politics. There are a whole lot of lyrics and moments that really do add a touch of easiness to this very topic-heavy record.

King Kunta is easily the catchiest track on the record, with a bassline that sounds simple but offers a lot of funk and groove to it. Much like the old school basslines of the 90s, this track relies on its bassline to provide a solid instrumentation for once again Kendrick’s superb delivery. Backing vocals, subtle guitar melodies and a simple drum beat also bolster the track but primarily it’s Kendrick’s flow against the funky rhythm section that really allows everything to succeed.

Once again contrasting themes make their way into To Pimp A Butterfly which certainly adds some replayability qualities to a lot of these tracks, not that they needed it anyway. The poem that Kendrick tries to perform repeatedly always gets cut off, but cut off at the perfect moment to set up the theme of the track. A personal favourite would be for the track These Walls, which is a very silky smooth, sexy track which offers one of the best instrumentations on the record, and while the track is about sex, the cut off point for the poem here reveals that it’s about Kendrick using his fame to sleep with women. This adds yet more depth to a track that doesn’t necessarily need it from a sonic contrast, but it definitely reveals just how much of a genius Kendrick is.

Another astounding aspect of this record is the way it sounds so free of guidelines but is brought together by this poem. No two songs sound the same, or offer the same thoughts on a particular subject. Yet with the attempts at reciting this poem, it brings relevancy to certain points of the record. Of course once we finally hear the poem in full at the end of Mortal Man, we realise that the poem, the album title, and the setting in which the poem is being recited is nothing short of beautiful. In fact the closing moments of To Pimp A Butterfly which for those who don’t know is an interview in which Kendrick asks questions to 2pac, who responds with words he spoke at an interview way back in 1994 should alone just reveal just how special, important and genius Kendrick Lamar is. What is also something to note is how relevant 2pac’s answers are even though they were spoken over 20 years ago, once again confirming the importance of this record.

To Pimp A Butterfly is an album that needs to be celebrated. While it is loaded with themes, ideology, opinions, heavy topics and isn’t necessarily backed up by hugely accessible instrumentation it is still a record that is entertaining, and is fuelled with lyricism, hooks, interludes, samples that have been picked out perfectly.

It’s a record that tips its hat to everything that’s influenced Kendrick’s artistic values and features a lot of the history that has made hip hop what it is today while also injecting it with a lot of modern influences as well as Kendrick’s own thoughts and opinions which he portrays in ways that doesn’t sound pretentious or throat jamming. It’s a tremendous record that brings light to a lot of social issues and succeeds at coming off as a piece of musical history. Kendrick Lamar has proved twice before that he is a genius, and now the third time round; he’s proved that he is the face of the new generation of hip hop. To Pimp A Butterfly is perfect, and is a benchmark for all other records to come. All hail the king. For more music reviews, free downloads and special moments in music check out Exploding Head Syndrome on Facebook and Twitter.

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