Album Review of Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp A Butterfly”
Kendrick Lamar’s new album To Pimp A Butterfly was released a few weeks ago and has since gained a booming amount of critical acclaim. This is Lamar’s sophomore release with Aftermath/Interscope and has has impressively sold more than 486,000 copies so far. The Compton rapper has set the Spotify record for most streams in a day with 9.6 million plays, and has also gotten the nod from industry critics with a high score of 96 on Metacritic.com. Kendrick Lamar is making a statement in hip-hop, and the people like what he’s saying.
Although today’s most common trends in the urban music industry are party themes and trap rap, Kendrick Lamar has decided to release an album which is both conflicting and thought provoking.
The title itself, To Pimp A Butterfly, can be interpreted in a variety of ways. It can describe the mental and emotional transformation of a person adapting to their new environment. It also describes the growth of Kendrick Lamar himself within the music industry. In an interview with Hot 97, Lamar explained the title by describing his own success.
“The butterfly represents thoughtfulness,” he said. “I can either say middle fingers up to everybody back where I come from and go live on top of the hill, or I can go and do something productive with it.”
This seems to be the rapper’s way of saying that he could either rap about his own personal success, or use his platform to uplift the people who his voice reaches.
Not only does Kendrick Lamar’s mentality make him stand out from many of today’s other new artists, but his creative process has also proven to be unique. Kendrick Lamar has admitted to seeing music in a very cinematic way, which can in result become a very visual experience for the listener.
The very first Kendrick Lamar song that I heard was the monotone rapped “Rigamortus,” which he has rapid wordplay over an unlikely jazzy melody. The song didn’t grab my attention until I listened to the entire album Section 80. The album shared the emotions and perspective of 80s babies who are now young adults during a major turning point in the millennium.
Kendrick Lamar’s next album “Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City,” had a completely different story, but shared some similarities to the first. The album was very descriptive from beginning-to-end, and each song seemed to have its own place and treatment for an overall “audio screenplay” which mainstream music fans later labeled as a classic. Kendrick Lamar told the story of a young boy with good intentions. He grows up with the many evils that exist in his Compton, CA neighborhood. The album went platinum, solidifying Kendrick Lamar’s place in commercial hip-hop.
At this stage in Kendrick Lamar’s career, it’s safe to say that he is not just another rapper who aims to be trendy. If there is something that he has a tendency to do, it’s put creative content into making his albums. With his latest album, Kendrick Lamar describes a story of making it out of a rough neighborhood, but aiming to stay rooted to it, by not being “pimped” by the industry, which often exploits young black artists for monetary gain. The album cover displays a black and white group photo of Kendrick Lamar and several of his friends celebrating on the lawn of The White House.
As Kendrick Lamar takes you along on a musical ride, you find out pretty early that To Pimp A Butterfly is not a happy story. This album is a firsthand perspective of a young black man in today’s society. It can be said that the most common occurrences that we’ve seen in the news recently have been the killings of unarmed black men and teenagers. Though none of us may have all of the answers, the times that we are in have nonetheless made many of us upset. The mainstream music that we’ve been listening to in the urban community hasn’t said much to address the concerns of the people who live in them, but the release of To Pimp A Butterfly resonates close to the likes of a Public Enemy album or Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On.
Kendrick Lamar did a lot of work with live performers for this project, making it the most cohesive to listen to of all of his works. In interviews Kendrick Lamar said the jam sessions that he began having with musicians in the studio are what produced the momentum for the album’s concept. Musically, this album features a strong fuse of hip-hop, funk, and jazz. It has features from artists like George Clinton and samples from artists like James Brown. The album is very soulful and nostalgic. The incorporation of jazz music throughout the album is also a great touch. It makes the music seem more movie-like and also helps to expand beyond being just another rap album.
Some may argue that they like some of the subject matter on his previous albums better. Perhaps they can relate to the subject matter more, or maybe they just prefer the production, but it seems pretty clear that with songs like “I” and “The Blacker the Berry” Kendrick Lamar has put the most effort into creating “To Pimp A Butterfly.”
Whether you are currently a fan of Kendrick Lamar or not, I would strongly recommend that you give his new album a listen. Lamar has strived to do something bigger than just represent himself as an artist. He is making an effort to give inspiration to people who need it. This album is wrapped so tight in concepts, and musical themes, that you will take away something valuable on each listen. Some are already daring to say that this album is a classic.