Album in Review

To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick Lamar

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By Pat Gunther

Kendrick Lamar’s sophomore LP To Pimp a Butterfly was accidentally released on iTunes and Spotify by Interscope in the late hours of March 15th. With unprecedented hype surrounding the record, fans have been pining for more of the music that seated K. Dot on hip-hop’s throne after the release of his debut good kid, M.A.A.D. City. Like any true artist, Kendrick has capitalized on evolving over the course of these 2 and ½ years.

Kendrick deals with themes of self-loathing, resentment, personal growth and political and emotional strife over jazzy production, reminiscent of Kind of Blue at times, credited to a number of the world’s most preeminent musicians, including Terrace Martin and Sounwave. In this vein, Kendrick’s latest effort combines dense lyrics and impeccable flows with equally frenzied and buttery instrumentation that the early pioneers of Jazz would marvel over. From the FlyLo-produced intro “Wesley’s Theory” to the introspective and wildly emotional “U,” Kendrick jam packs this album with content that will take weeks, maybe even months, to fully digest.

It is imperative, then, to note that Kendrick is smarter than you. The Compton, Calif. native’s vivid lyricism touches upon Black disenfranchisement, conventional and personal definitions of success and a myriad of other topics that he has been itching to bear his soul on better than you or I could ever articulate. Moreover, Kendrick continues to push the boundaries of hip-hop production consistently throughout the 16 tracks and 80 minutes.

While utilizing techniques associated with traditional Black music, like spoken-word, gospel themes of redemption and funk of the ‘60s and ‘70s, Kendrick’s amalgamation of influences are flipped and reworked as they manifest themselves into a product that is 100% K. Dot through and through. With a distinct lack of bangers, opposite of M.A.A.D. City, K. Dot begs the listener to stop and think with tracks like “Institutionalized” and “Hood Politics”. It is not a coming up story like his debut, but rather a manifesto, a testament to Kendrick’s nuanced and mindful lens through which he currently sees the world.

The evolution from an inner-city caterpillar to a worldwide butterfly is fully unveiled on the last track “Mortal Man,” featuring an exchange between Kendrick and Tupac that details Lamar’s sentiments held on the record. This record, then, doubles as a political commentary on modern America and the highs and lows associated with Kendrick’s newfound fame. Through this, Butterfly is a concept album that will be remembered for the rest of eternity.

Truthfully, there isn’t a bad track on this entire LP. Kendrick and co. masterfully crafted each song to provide its own function on the record, much like our organs perform their duties; without any single one of them it would not work. Though the themes may be considered highly politicized, Kendrick’s take on race, fame and struggles is so artfully done its scary. The main lesson to glean from Butterfly has been made abundantly clear: much like a caterpillar transitions into a butterfly, inciting social, economic and political changes starts from within before it can move outward.

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