It has seemed like an eternity since a young native of Compton, CA took the world by storm a maelstrom that culminated on October 22, 2012 with the release of good kid, m.A.A.d city.
And it has not stopped.
Kendrick is the proverbial paradigm shift of his generation and the 28-year-old has now released his most recent opus, To Pimp A Butterfly. Kendrick stretches his creative legs all the way out on this one, an indication that a new beginning is here.
To Pimp a Butterfly starts as an old school singer melodically croons “Every ni**a is a star,” right into “Wesley’s Theme,” a funk-filled jam that features George Clinton and Dr. Dre. The song, dedicated to Wesley Snipes, is a cautionary tale of the African American entertainer – the butterfly – and the financial pitfalls that ensnare many as they rise to the top.
On “These Walls,” Kendrick weaves a vivid story of sex, rage, and revenge, accompanied by jazzy production by Terrace Martin (a mainstay on the album), and Larrance Dopson. On a lighter note “Alright,” is a potential radio banger on the album that is sure to have people chanting the rousing contagious chorus nationwide. On this track Pharrell and TDE’s own Sounwave compose a great instrumentation that Kendrick rides effortlessly.
“How Much A Dollar Cost?” is Kendrick at his most potent and may be the best song on To Pimp A Butterfly. Kendrick ‘s storytelling is a lyrical clinic as he spits a conversation with God, a critic of the young rapper’s lack of empathy and humility. He says:
He’s starin’ at me in disbelief
My temper is buildin’, he’s starin’ at me, I grab my key
He’s starin’ at me, I started the car, then I tried to leave
And somethin’ told me to keep it in park until I could see
The reason why he was mad at a stranger
Like I was supposed to save him
Like I’m the reason he’s homeless and askin’ me for a favor
He’s starin’ at me, his eyes followed me with no laser
He’s starin’ at me, I notice that his stare is contagious
“Complexion (A Zulu Love),” which features 9 Wonder’s protegee Rapsody, combats the archaic concept of colorism in the Black community. The legendary Pete Rock also contributes vocals on the hook on this Terrace Martin-produced track.
The bold, brash, and proud “The Blacker The Berry” is certainly the heavy hitter of To Pimp a Butterfly, which is wrought with thick themes of Black Nationism. “Blacker than the heart of an Aryan”? Kendrick said that. On this track, he takes the Black community to task. On “u” he turns the castigation inward in a most scathing way, screaming “loving you is complicated!”
One of the many distinctive, understated elements of this To Pimp a Butterfly are the interludes. “For Sale? (Interlude)” is a odd psychedelic adventure, where as “For Free?” is an abusive, frenetic jazz session that foreshadows a pending internal struggle. The most interesting moment of this album takes place in the outro, when Kendrick casually converses about industry troubles and the ills of the world with the legendary Tupac Shakur. The dialogue is a bridge between generations.
Overall this is an excellent album. Whether it is a classic in the truest sense of the word will be determined in the annals of time. Nevertheless, in an era of social media critics and groupthink, the album is already being lauded as a candidate for album of the year. There is no question, it takes several listens (and maybe reference materials) to properly digest To Pimp a Butterfly.
As evidenced by To Pimp a Butterfly, there are more important matters surrounding this work of art created in a time when most rap albums are in a vacuum apart from real life. Kendrick’s latest stands on the shoulders of great audio works like Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, Nas’ Illmatic, NWA’s Straight Out Of Compton and others like OutKast’s Aquemini. The question: How will To Pimp a Butterfly affect its millions and millions of listeners with their varied backgrounds in these times that feel like we are on the verge of worldwide cataclysm?
Replay Value: 9/10
Standout Tracks: “These Walls”, “Alright”, “How Much A Dollar Cost”, “Complexion(A Zulu Love)”, “The Blacker The Berry”