Kendrick Lamar is a rapper from Compton, California. His 2012 album and major label debut good kid, m.A.A.d city is one of my favorite albums. The album had an overarching narrative with each song giving part of the coming of age story of Kendrick. The beats were great and varied and the album was lyrically rewarding. Needless to say, I was very excited for his new album to come out. When To Pimp A Butterfly came out roughly a week ago, I was immediately blown away. It may be the best hip-hop album I’ve ever heard.
To Pimp A Butterfly sounds very different from any hip-hop album. It is incredibly dense, with tracks oozing funk bass lines, jazzy horns and pianos and gospel choruses and moans. The closest thing I can think of in terms of sound is maybe Aquemini or Stankonia by OutKast, but that’s stretching it. Songs even seem to have parts or movements, changing sound numerous times throughout some tracks. On top of this is Kendrick, who uses all types of inflections and voices on this album to try and highlight the point of the song. On For Free? (Interlude) his voice is very high and speedy, on u his voice is choked and slurred, on Hood Politics his voice sounds like a child’s, just to name a few. The album is incredibly dense in both these facets and only becomes more rewarding with each listen.
Much like good kid, m.A.A.d city, To Pimp A Butterfly also ties all its songs together for a general theme. Much of the album deals with current issues of race relations in America (Wesley’s Theory, King Kunta, The Blacker The Berry), self-esteem (u and i), treating yourself and others with respect (Alright, The Blacker The Berry), and Kendrick struggling with balancing fame and artistry (Mortal Man). The entire album has parts of a poem weaved throughout out. It builds throughout, each time characterizing what the next song will be about. At the very end of the album the poem is read in it’s entirety and it’s revealed that Kendrick has been reciting this poem to Tupac, the last king of hip-hop. They then discuss a lot of what the album is about.
To Pimp A Butterfly is an incredibly dense and beautiful album. Kendrick may have made a risky move in choosing to make a very artistic album for his sophomore effort, but it is beyond rewarding. At the very least I hope this article convinces you to check it out, especially if you don’t listen to hip-hop. To say it is a contender for the best album of the year is to sell it short. It is monumental, a benchmark not only in hip-hop but all music. It’s a true masterpiece.
(I’d give it a 6th if possible)