Review: Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly

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To Pimp A Butterfly is in a league of its own.

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The Good Kid from the MAAD City, Kendrick Lamar, has released his album a week early, creating a storm in the Hip Hop World.

Whilst Kendrick’s last album was the beacon of hope in an industry full of people shouting ‘HipHop is dead’, To Pimp A Butterfly is the game changer. Kendrick has fallen out with the rap game with this album, and he preaches this. It is a metaphorical, ideological journey delving into conspiracies of racial inequality, police brutality and ghetto reality. It isn’t an album, its Kendrick’s manifesto.

Huge speculation runs parallel with many aspects of the album, including the release date. Interscope records, that Kendrick Lamar and a host of other artists, including SchoolBoy Q are signed to, decided to release the album a week early. Many have suggested it was an intentional move by the record label, predicting that the album may not perform as well financially, due to its abstract style.

Kendrick tweet

However, fans mesmerised by the Tupac references throughout the album have suggested that the album was released intentionally early as a tribute to the 20th anniversary of the release of Tupac’s infamous album, Me Against the World. Which isn’t a ridiculous concept, considering the last dialogue we hear on the album is Lamar repeating the word ‘Pac’ into an eerie silence.

Regardless of the possible motivations behind the early release, it has not harmed the album’s reception. Butterfly broke the Spotify record for the most streams on the day of release, announced on the 18th of March. Racking up an incredible 9.7 million, smashing Drake’s record on his latest album.

‘Sorry Drizzy, if you’re reading this its too late’

Taylor Swift Tweet

But the commercial success is in no way indicative of a commercial album. We all predicted that this album would be something special, and now we have the proof. When ‘A History of HipHop’ is written in a hundred years time, To Pimp A Butterfly will be cited right next to Nas’s Illmatic and Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation to Hold Us Back.

There may be 16 tracks on the album, but listening through feels more like a deep dark journey into the depths of Kendrick’s conscious. If Good Kid MAAD City was the chronicle of Kendrick’s life in Compton, Butterfly is the tale struggle of African Americans in general. ‘Complexion (A Zulu Love)’ discusses the irrelevance of skin colour in a religious and moral sense, but comments on how colour is an issue in America. Yet the message of ‘Complexion’ contrasts heavily to the following track, ‘The Blacker the Berry’, which screams black power.

The mixed messages that are a motif throughout is encapsulated within ‘I’; preaching the necessity of self-love whilst describing a world of hate and intolerance.

The mixed messages are grounded by the constant references to Fergusson and the ‘Black lives matter’ campaign. Demonstrated evocatively by the line “So why did I weep when Trayvon Martin was in the street?” Yet it is overly apparent by around track 3 that Kendrick feels a responsibility to address the issues of police brutality and institutional racism. Lamar finalises his expressive preaching in the final track with ‘Mortal Man’, crying ‘I want you to love me like Nelson [Mandela]… I freed you from being a slave in your mind, you’re welcome’.

The meaningful lyrical content of the album is further complimented by the totally original and unanticipated instrumental makeup of the album. The best way to describe the experience is much alike to hearing the Isley Brothers in a drug induced trance performing alongside a Harlem MC from 1993. The mix of funk, soul and blues samples adds a particularly nostalgic feel to the album, appropriately an amalgamation of African renaissance art.

Trying to pull apart and interpret To Pimp A Butterfly can only be compared to trying to analyse a 16-stanza poem whilst fighting off the urge to dance uncontrollably. Every element of the album is unique and stimulating, from acapella poetry to the arsenal of nostalgic funk and R&B samples. This album deserves, and commands an open mind and absorption. Compared to other HipHop albums that have arrived in late 2014 and early 2015, from J. Cole, Drake and Big Sean, To Pimp A Butterfly is in a league of its own.

To Pimp a Butterfly is out now via Top Dawg Entertainment and Interscope Records.

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