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Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
Release Date: March 15, 2015
Released a week earlier than planned, To Pimp a Butterfly is the third studio release by LA’s very own, Kendrick Lamar. The name “To Pimp a Butterfly” is a play on the famous required high school reading, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. For those that have never read it or don’t really remember the story, it’s more or less about racial injustice in the south preceding the civil rights movement. Trust me, when you listen to the album, the name works. As does the cover art. You draw your own conclusions on the meaning of it, but I think it’s pretty clear.
Since his emergence, Kendrick’s style has evolved from a West Coast, mainstream friendly sound, to one with a message not giving a fuck if it’s friendly to radio or the mainstream. There is a noticeable change in his sound over the three albums, but there has always been a consistent social message embedded therein. His albums, specifically this and his last album, tell a story usually broken up over each track on the album. In the case of to Pimp a Butterfly the story is told in the form of spoken word. Kendrick Lamar’s message is delivered directly and indirectly. Some things are laid out in front of you to see and hear, others aren’t – specifically with this album; you need to pay attention when giving this a go for the first time. Dr. Dre is the executive producer while Boi-1da, Pharrell, and Flying Lotus chipped in on production of individual tracks. George Clinton, Ronald Isley, Snoop Dogg, and Bilal supplemented vocals on a few tracks. No shortage of star power for sure. Even with that, there are no club bangers and there’s no summer anthem. This isn’t the album you blast with the cars window down. This is an album you listen to with yourself.
Personally, I loved the album beginning to end. Every track served its purpose as a chapter in the story. Even in the case of a couple tracks where the music didn’t sound right the lyrics and vocals carried the track. My favorites were King Kunta, Momma, and I. It’s damn near impossible to pick a quotable lyric from this album. I could copy and paste the lyrics to every song and set your web browser on fire. Legit, the whole thing pieces itself together, so there really isn’t a standalone bit that I could capture and be like, “here, this verse is the shit.” Fuck it, I’ll try… Here’s the end of the track I. It’s an acapella / spoken word verse:
I promised Dave I’d never use the phrase “fuck ni**a”
He said “think about what you saying: ‘Fuck ni**as'”
No better than Samuel on D’Jango
No better than a white man with slave boats
Sound like I needed some soul searching
My pops gave me some game in real person
Retrace my steps on what they never taught me
Did my homework fast before government caught me
So I’ma dedicate this one verse to Oprah
On how the infamous, sensitive N-word control us
So many artist gave her an explanation to hold us
Well this is my explanation straight from Ethiopia
N-E-G-U-S definition: royalty; King royalty – wait listen
N-E-G-U-S description: Black emperor, King, ruler, now let me finish
The history books overlooked the word and hide it
America tried to make it to a house divided
The homies don’t recognize we be using it wrong
So I’ma break it down and put my game in the song
N-E-G-U-S, say it with me
Or say no more. Black stars can come and get me
Take it from Oprah Winfrey; tell her she right on time
Kendrick Lamar, by far, realest Negus alive
I’m so conflicted. I probably changed this album rating like 20 times during the course of writing this review. Even while listening to it, I was thinking about how it would be interpreted by the general public. It was definitely one of, if not the hardest, to rate. It’s brilliant, it’s raw, it’s real, but it’s very different. The one thing that bugs more than anything is the message of the album is going to be lost on so many. I’m not going to get political because this isn’t really the right forum for it. Suffice it to say, the message in this album is unapologetic, relevant, and necessary. Don’t go into this album listening with just your ears, listen with your heart and mind. Be forewarned; don’t expect good kid mAAd city or Section.80. The sound of the album is a blend of spoken word, jazz, funk, and of course hip hop. The album does have a bit of a background story going on throughout. Kind of similar to the structure of the story in good kid mAAd city. Without giving too much info away… I’ll end it with this… Tupac is alive.