Compton emcee Kendrick Lamar released his sophomore album on March 16th. This album has been dubbed a surprise album due to the lack of information revealed prior to its release. When Kendrick Lamar revealed the title for To Pimp a Butterfly it led to a lot of speculation about what the subject matter and soundscape of this album would be.
Kendrick Lamar is a rapper from Compton; a city that he vividly portrayed in his debut album good kid, m.A.A.d. city. This album received critical acclaim and performed extremely well commercially. It was praised for how lyrical and conceptual it was. Leading up to the release of To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick Lamar released the single “i” which was met with mixed reviews. With the release of this song, people began to anticipate what this album would sound like.
Throughout this album Kendrick is reciting a poem and with each song he inches closer to finishing it. This album begins with Wesley’s Theory. In this track, Lamar discusses his fame and how he has allowed it to corrupt him over a beat provided by Flying Lotus. It sets the tone for what this album will be sonically. It is funky, soulful, and lyrically dense.
Themes such as racism, capitalism, and self-doubt are constants throughout this album. The dynamic jazz influenced instrumentation provides the best possible background for this conscious hip-hop. The production is luscious with Sounwave and Thundercat handling a lot of it.
For Free is a spoken-word influenced song that Kendrick Lamar explains that “this d*ck ain’t free”. It shows Kendrick Lamar’s sense of humor while still providing a message on capitalism.
King Kunta sounds like it would fit in the soundtrack of any blaxploitation film.
u shows Lamar’s ability to channel his emotions while rapping. This is a skill that he does better than anybody else in hip-hop.
The guest features on this album are used to perfection. Bilal provides beautiful background vocals and the guest verses add to the tracks where they are present.
Hood Politics is the most commercial friendly song on the album. It has a simple but effective chorus and drums that bang over moody synths.
How Much a Dollar Cost is the story of Kendrick Lamar not giving a homeless man money only for the man to reveal himself to be Jesus. With this track Kendrick Lamar proves that nobody is better storyteller than him.
The following tracks, Complexion (A Zulu Love) and The Blacker the Berry, both deal with themes of black pride and self love.
The album ends with Mortal Man. In this track Lamar questions his fans loyalty and talks about people’s fickle tendencies. At the end of this track Lamar reveals the meaning of To Pimp a Butterfly by finally finishing the poem that he started in the beginning of this poem. It is then revealed that he is interviewing the ghost of Tupac. It is the perfect ending to one of the best written hip-hop albums ever. It is an unexpected album to one of the best produced hip-hop albums ever.
Album Rating: 10/10