Kendrick Lamar: To Pimp a Butterfly
I’m going to preface this by saying that when I started writing this I had not yet checked out the group Freestyle Fellowship. I will have to say that after listening to the Freestyle Fellowship I felt weird about giving props to any rapper without paying respect to those dudes. If you have any interest in hip-hop…rapped poetics…scatting…or insane rhythm I highly recommend checking out the Freestyle Fellowship.
It is very rare when an album is released that has the potential to affect the course of (popular) music. Kendrick’s major-label sophomore release, although not necessarily redefining hip-hop, has brought the aesthetics of underground hip-hop to a mainstream audience. The album is a genius amalgamation of jazz, hip-hop, soul, and funk that is concisely threaded together by Kendrick’s virtuosic, brimming on the edge of prophetic, rapping. I mean…the dude seriously is a word-smith. The album consists of tons of amazing collaboration including contributions from other redonkulous musicians such as Thundercat, Kamasi Washington, Pharrell, George Clinton, Flying Lotus, Ambrose Akinmusire, Robert “Sput” Searight, Robert Glasper and Bilal just to name a few. Although Kendrick is typically at the forefront of the tracks, there are a lot of great musical segues in which each aforementioned musician displays brief snippets of their individual preeminent musicality. However, the overall composite of the collective of musicians on this album creates a perfect visceral soundscape that only increases the effectiveness of Kendrick’s delivery…which makes total sense given the line-up.
Kendrick delivers fully what I had anticipated…but full disclosure that I am a fan of pretty much everything he does. Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City is still one of the albums I listen to on a weekly basis. To Pimp a Butterfly is not only a response to social and political issues that are relevant on a systemic level, but also remain true to providing a continuation and reflection of Kendrick’s personal narrative that began with GKMC. His content provides masterful metaphors coupled with astounding rhythmic phrasing. At times it seems as if Kendrick is improvising the phrasing around some kind of verbal cadence (check out “For Free?”). Kendrick also does a lot in the realm of voice manipulation sometimes emulating influences such as Tupac, a common theme on this album (“Alright” and “King Kunta”), while at other times executing vocals that sound distraught and even on the verge of tears adding to the overall ethos of the album (“Blacker the Berry” and “u”). The album is progressive in terms of musical definition and social commentary while never reaching the point of being “preachy.” There is a mantra that remains a constant connective tissue for the album that begins, “I remember you was conflicted – Misusing your influence…” This mantra reappears several times over until the full message is revealed at the end of the album with an interview that Kendrick stringed together like Frankenstein’s monster between himself and Tupac Shakur. This final statement just adds to the storybook narrative that Kendrick executes so successfully. My main beef with the album is that it is such a well-constructed album….and by that, I mean that the tracks individually aren’t nearly as strong as the project in its entirety. This is a good problem to have…but I don’t find myself as interested track by track.
THAT’S THAT SHIT I DO LIKE aka if you like Kendrick, you might like these too -- Action Bronson: Mr. Wonderful, Earl Sweatshirt: I Don’t like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, Roc Marciano: Marci Beaucoup, Freestyle Fellowship: Innercity Griots