If you haven’t listened to Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly” yet I want you to stop what you’re doing right now, acquire a copy of the album, get some time to yourself, put a good pair of headphones on, sit down, and just listen to it.
Don’t even read this yet because this article isn’t as important as the album. Tell your friends, parents, acquaintances, passerbys, whomever, to do the same; tell them to lend it an ear. It’s important.
Twenty-seven year old Kendrick Lamar has seen quite a bit in his life, to say the least. On his debut album “good kid, m.A.A.d city” we were taken on an adventure through a day in the life with him, learning of his origins and influences. Born into harsh conditions in Compton, California, he grew up exposed to an unforgiving world driven by people in pursuit of power and control over the spaces that his family, friends and self existed within. Before music took off, his world was as big as the city of Compton, and gangs, drug lords, police and politicians all found their ways to attain power with the intent of keeping Kendrick there.
However, in the faces of all these different controlling elements and adversities, Kendrick was able to overcome the system, and through his struggle he found an outlet that gave himself power: music.
Where “good kid, m.A.A.d city” took us through a day, “To Pimp a Butterfly” is a more encompassing view on the past, present and future years through Kendrick’s eyes.
This album is heavy for all intents and purposes, lyrically, sonically and emotionally. I’s fuel is Kendrick’s tenacious heart and soul, an undeniable force that has allowed him to come this far in his career as an emcee, combined with his raw, emotional, pursuit of truth.
For a society that is still witnessing the most consecutive chain of horrific occurrences that disregard the value of black life to the degree of nonexistence, Kendrick believes “the only hope that we kinda have left is music and vibrations, lotta people don’t understand how important it is” for getting messages across to the youth, and “TPAB” is the memo.
A natural storyteller, Kendrick paints vivid pictures with his words throughout the duration of this album, paying attention to every small detail of each word and how it is used to profess his knowledge on a level that can be comprehended. The concept of the album not only takes you through an ever changing ride of highs, lows and realities with Kendrick, but also with the many characters that he’s created for the album.
For example, he is consistently referring to the appearances of Lucy (Lucifer) and Uncle Sam, and how they attempt to control and influence his decisions in times of desperation, or in times of glory as a celebrity.
He also puts himself into character representing interactions with people he’s encountered in life whether it be women, children, or old friends, he embodies them all, and does an exceptional job at it, making the album as theatrical as it is controversial.
Sonically, this album will be a major surprise to many, for it’s full of funk, groove, jazz and soul. Kendrick enlisted bassist Thundercat, Jazz pianist Robert Glasper, alto saxophonist Terrance Martin, producer Sounwave, alongside many other soulful musicians to culminate an organic and authentic sound.
This goes back to the emotional aspect of this masterpiece, where we even see Kendrick singing, scatting, speaking in free verse, and using his voice in unique ways to express himself. It is clear that the need for organic analog sound was a major piece in the development of this piece, all the way down to the features present.
I’m no fortune teller, but I have a strong feeling that this will be the only time that you’ll hear Ronald Isley, George Clinton and Tupac on the same album in your life.
Most important, this album represents for the unrepresented and overlooked in America. The story of a black life hasn’t been told, revered, and made this important in Hip-Hop since Tupac, the loudest voice in the genre’s history, spoke about it.
This album is 100 percent black, almost uncomfortably black for other races to hear, and as I said, it’s very necessary. It’s necessary for other people who aren’t familiar to understand the realities of our world.
As the current king of the west coast and successor to Tupac, Kendrick has done an exceptional job at creating and maintaining his own lane in the same vein of one of his idols, while bringing his own character and stories to the mix. “
To Pimp a Butterfly” is how an album should be done, and it deserves your time. Give it a listen.