To Pimp a Butterfly—Kendrick Lamar
In the late hours of this last Sunday evening, fading quietly into early Monday morning, Kendrick Lamar’s latest, and highly anticipated album, To Pimp a Butterfly dropped, the early release surprising and throwing off everyone. The album (originally slated to release the next week) was heralded with joy and excitement by Lamar fans everywhere (if not the entire internet) and our normally expected dreary Monday morning turned into something fresh and exciting.
We had already heard two singles—the surprisingly optimistic “i” and the aggressive and angry, “The Blacker the Berry.” What fills in the gaps of the rest of To Pimp a Butterfly is unexpected, fresh, and sometimes strange. The album begins with a smooth horn note from George Clinton and bass from Thundercat, Lamar unleashing his strong and unbeatable verse and voice. The next song is like some sort of spoken-word jazz piece and the rest of the album layers Kendrick’s unbeatable lyricism with jazz/funk inspired undertones. It’s not particularly bass heavy or even “single” heavy. There are less cameos from folks like Drake or Dre (Snoop Dogg makes an appearance though) than on good kid m.A.A.d city and the album is nuanced in the way jazz usually is and occasionally jarring (Lamar’s appearance on Flying Lotus’ track “Never Catch Me” was a good preview for the feel of Butterfly).
It’s very much an album, with a beginning, middle, and end; and it has a repeated theme of depression and black oppression throughout. Butterfly is not a particularly accessible album, if anything the opposite. It’s complicated. Kendrick implicates white oppression and then himself, and does the same with love, faith, race, and so on. It’s definitely about something, which is more than you could say about most hip-hop today, even gargantuans like Kanye and Drake. Whatever it’s reception; it’s a marked step forward for rap and an impressive follow-up to his last.