I’m telling y’all , being black has never felt so good. Being authentically African feels even better. Kendrick Lamar has rekindled my love for my own identity and culture with his latest masterwork, To Pimp A Butterfly. This album is fire, like I don’t know how many fire emojis I’m gonna have to use to describe it. It might just be one of the most difficult albums that I’ve had to review simply because this isn’t just another album, it’s an experience. I honestly believe that there is no adjective that can be used to describe the artistic and contextual excellence of this album. I won’t even stress myself using words like “amazing” ,” mind-blowing”, “epic” , To Pimp A Butterfly is above and beyond that. It’s perfection.
Just when you thought good kid MAAD city was a dark album; To Pimp A Butterfly takes you on a trippy journey full of unfiltered fury, self-critique and social-political commentary. Funny thing is when I heard it I completely forgot that good kid MAAD city existed; it’s a completely different sound. It’s also a very angry album, Kendrick’s rage seeps through without hesitation and if you’re fainthearted this album could eat you up. Most importantly Kendrick expresses black self love in the best possible way of our times. This probably is one of the blackest albums of this generation coming after D’Angelo’s Black Messiah. From the album cover to the instrumentation to the lyrics, this is as black as it gets.
“When our pride was low, looking at the world like where we go go? And we hate popo, when they kill us dead in the street, for sho n*gga”.(from “Alright”). In the wake of the Ferguson riots and police brutality and #blacklivesmatter activism, it is heavily relevant and important in Black culture today. It clearly spells out the grievances of a society which is constantly battling oppression and discrimination. This album isn’t just good for your ears, it is important for One must be invested mentally when listening to it, and just like Lupe Fiasco’s “Testuo and Youth”, this isn’t for the simple minded. One simply cannot fathom the depth of this album with one listen; it may take months and possibly years for some people to understand the concepts embedded in it’s development. It truly is a lot to digest, even for me.
As political as T.P.A.B may sound, it also reveals some of Kendrick’s own personal struggles for instance in the song “u”, which he claimed to be one of the toughest songs he’s ever written as he is greatly honest about his mistakes in the song. In “These Walls” he opens up about “misusing his influence” and subsequently falling into a state of resentment and depression. True artists open up about their feelings, even when it’s difficult. On the extremely funk song he also touches on the subject of the isolating effects of fame. He said that even though putting all his insecurities and let downs on the album was “depressing as a motherf*cker”, he concludes that it helped him a great deal.
I know To Pimp A Butterfly sounds like something you should listen to before a racially fueled riot but aside from the loud message of black empowerment, social justice, unity and equality that Kendrick preaches, the musical side of it is very diverse. It’s a fusion of head-noddable funk instrumentals, soul, free –flow jazz and almost every musical movement that black people have formed on earth. Blend that in with some gruffy vocals, rap and spoken word then you got yourself a pretty soulful and energetic album. Yes Kendrick sings a lot on this album but it isn’t that tidy singing being done by the likes of J.Cole and Drake these days, it’s more of a “I know I can’t sing but f*ck it” kind of thing lol but it sounds good. Nevertheless, live instrumentation and funk are definitely the core sound of TPAB. Sounwave, one of the main producers, said that when they were producing “King Kunta”( reference from Wesley Snipes’ Kunta Kinte ; have any of you guys watched the mini-series ‘Roots’?) they had many producers send in beats but none of them were close to what they wanted for the album. This just goes to show how unique, raw and otherworldly this album sounds.
As much as people made a huge load of noise last year about “i” sounding extremely mainstream, after listening to the entire album now I’m really curious about how the mainstream will respond to it. The version of “i” that’s on the album is a live, funkier one where he engages the crowd asking them “How many n*ggas we done lost? This year alone?”Although this album was clearly not made for a large audience, people from all races have been responding to it positively. The fact that Kendrick was able to adapt an entirely different sound and make it his own is quite impressive. He was able to rap about a different subject and completely back it up whilst most rappers these days are still stealing lines to talk about “bitches and money”. But aren’t you worried about the income inequality, racism and the fate of the next black generation???
Calling him the best rapper alive right now seems like an understatement because he doesn’t even need the f*cking title. Kendrick doesn’t even care about that anymore, he’s aiming for higher things, that’s why fifty years from now he will be remembered and Chief Keef won’t. Others like Lil Wayne and Drake can continue fighting for that “Best Rapper” title but Kendrick isn’t just influencing the music industry, he cares about having positive influence over a culture and changing society. How do people even listen to Rich Homie Quan when rappers like Kendrick exist? Like why would you do that to yourself? Other rappers must be feeling pretty useless right about now. I feel so bad for any rapper who’s going to release an album after this seriously sorry in advance but this album is going down in the history books as a classic.
TPAB is so deep that songs that had been released initially like “Blacker the berry” and “i” now seem like the simplest. It saddens me to hear people compare GKMC to TPAB simply because they shouldn’t be compared. If you want the old Kendrick then go listen to his old music. Artists have to grow and try new things. Kendrick had to jump from being amazing to being epic. As an artist he has pushed the boundaries with this one. I’m even a bit worried for him because I don’t know how his next album will be able to top this. It will have to be completely mind f*cking to be better than TPAB. I guess that’s a good thing though, so let’s just wait and see.
Nonetheless, To Pimp a Butterfly is a celebration of the black culture. If you want the full experience I suggest you listen to the album from start to finish with no interruptions. Some of the songs on it need to be heard in the context of the album to be fully understood. Only the real hip hop heads will completely appreciate the importance and artistry of TPAB. So if Iggy Azalea is you’re ‘favorite rapper’ I suggest you look elsewhere for inspiration. For this album ,you gotta be hip or you’ll miss the train. It reminds me of when Yeezus first dropped and most people struggled to understand it. It’s the kind of album that could take ten years for some people to completely grasp it. But there’s no rush, this music is timeless.
Well I could write forever about this but long story short Kendrick is clearly on his own lane. No other rapper is remotely close to his musical greatness right now. GKMC was definitely a classic but with TPAB Kendrick has engraved his name in the hip hop history books. You can’t discredit his contribution to the culture even if you wanted to. He isn’t just contributing anymore, he’s reminding people what it means to be black and that they should be proud of it. This album is straight wisdom and true poetry. It keeps getting better each time I listen to it, perhaps because the concepts are getting clearer and clearer. It’s hard to pick favorites but my current jams on the album are “Alright”, “These Walls” and of course “Blacker the berry” which is like the poster song for the whole album. I mean “black don’t crack my n*gga” is now in my top quotes list lol. TPAB is almost spiritual, you either feel it or you don’t and if you don’t you’ve got some serious issues. If you’re black and you don’t like it you’re weird because this album is as pro-black as it gets. If this shit doesn’t win a Grammy I’m gonna be really pissed but that doesn’t even matter because To Pimp a Butterfly will have already inspired and unified a culture.
TCW RATING: FIVE FVCKING STARS
“AMAZING MUSICAL EPICNESS”