Music can be at its best when it taps into not only your ears but vibrates through your mind, body and soul. It can speak to you through its rhythms, lyrics and message. Albums can move people, make you look yourself in the mirror, enhance your intelligence but still make you want to crank the system up to its highest peak to give it its proper thump. To Pimp A Butterfly speaks to me in that way like no other hip hop album has since the golden era in the nineties.
What Kendrick Lamar has put together is a pure and genuine look into the mind of a guy who realizes he has the ear of a culture waiting to hear what he has to say. He gives you depression, anger, hypocrisy and happiness in his lyrics all with a varied style of production that has G-Funk, Miles Davis, DJ Quik, Parliament Funkadelic and Dungeon Family dropping all over it.
This is not your typical rap album. Nothing is done blatantly for the clubs or radio although “Alright” and “The Blacker The Berry” would be the most club worthy. Its a deep album and not just meaning the message in his lyrics. The density in the tempo and pacing of the album is evident whether you play the album straight through or on shuffle. Even the interludes which once was a staple in hip-hop albums have slick sounds.
Kendrick showed his verbal skill on his debut album but the song formation seems even tighter on To Pimp A Butterfly. The song “Complexion” touches on the ever present light skin-dark skin dynamic and Rapsody who features on the track lays down a verse that I think is the most relevant in the last four years by a female MC (shout out to Nicki Minaj.)
He closes out the album with an interview with 2Pac at the end of “Mortal Men” I repeat, he closes out an album full of rage, smarts, humor and depression with 2Pac. That’s going out with a bang like Vince Carter in the slam dunk contest back in Oakland. Kendrick gives us a poem that is a clear reference to the album title and black people. Where are we going to get someone willing to create such artistry like this in the mainstream?
Kendrick could have came out with a bunch of features and club bangers with dope rhymes and the public would have been satisfied (What up Drake) but he chose to give us a album in the realm of Public Enemy and KRS-ONE. There’s some truly beautiful music on this album and that’s not a word that’s associated with hip-hop music.
And it STILL KNOCKS. That’s where this album stands out most. You can get a artist giving you a conscious message on a track but its rarely accompanied by beats that can bump in your house, car and in sub woofers everywhere. When the drums kick in at the beginning of “The Blacker The Berry’ you get the feeling of riding down the block with the windows down and bass turned up to shake the asphalt. I truly have not had that feeling in years. Plus he’s pointing out hypocrisy in not only himself but others in the culture. Again, where else are you getting that?
“Hood Politics” is the most Good Kid m.A.A.d City feel your going to get on the album but he still attacks the beat challenging what the audience supports and how his Control verse shook up the game. “How Much A Dollar Cost” deals with materialism and homelessness all with Ron Isley crooning, these are topics not normally discussed by arguably the best rapper in the game. Brain cells are enhanced when an artist with the appeal of Kendrick brings these topics to light.
This album demands to be taken seriously, demands you to listen with your ears, understand with your mind and nod with your head. In an age where someone like me who grew up with mainstream artists not being afraid to state their opinion on whats going on in society, To Pimp A Butterfly is truly a refreshing listen. There’s plenty of lanes for artists to succeed. Not everything has to be an ass song, a drug song or party song to capture the masses attention. Kendrick Lamar is spearheading the next generation as a lyricist and artist and To Pimp A Butterfly is his best work yet.