By Joshua Svetz — @Svetz17
[Image courtesy of highsnobiety.com]
Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly has not only defied expectations after his last album Good Kid M.A.A.d City, but it may go down as one of the best hip hop albums of all time, and I’m not the only one saying it.
Pitchfork gave it a 9.3 out of 10, Rolling Stone Magazine gave it four and a half stars and Spin Magazine gave it the first 10/10 in over nine years. Even the harshest of critics are singing this albums praise. With that said, dissecting this album is like dissecting a Picasso painting, or trying to dissect why Taylor Swift has so many issues with men – it’s difficult.
To begin, the production is incredible. Kendrick and the TDE team out did themselves this time as the creative hands that touch the album shine through with each producer providing their signature flair. Terrance Martin, Flying Lotus, Dr. Dre and Pharrell Williams are all on point each creating something that challenges the listeners’ preconceived notions of hip hop. By stepping outside the comfort zone using Miles Davis’s style of funk, neo-soul and 70s jazz replacing the typical hip hop beats, typical trap production is tossed to the wayside, a bold move with the overarching popularity of the sound.
To put it bluntly, it’s going to be tough for other rappers to use the beats Kendrick spits on. Of course, genius doesn’t need half-rate impostors to bring it down.
The funk comes about early in the first track “Wesley’s Theory,” where Kendrick introduces the album by making a multiple entendre in the song talking about women, hip hop culture, the rap game, the celebrity lifestyle and much more. The song is centered on a repeating chorus that brings it all together beautifully. Kendrick enlists the help of funk legend George Clinton to give the song even more kick than it already had, and it effectively sets the tone for the ride you are about to go on through the album.
The 16 track masterpiece has way too much content to review in a limited format – honestly, I might write my senior thesis on it – but some of the highlights consist of rhythmic spoken word poetry interludes such as “For Free?,” more double and triple entendres in “These Walls,” conversations with God disguised as a homeless man in “How Much a Dollar Cost,” an awesome feature verse from newcomer Rapsody in “Complexion” and a surprise ending that will jar the listener in “Mortal Man.”
Going into specifics, more time needs to be spent on maybe the most powerful hip hop song emotionally since Eminem’s “Stan,” in “U.” This song shows a moment of weakness. Kendrick hits a rock bottom where he questions his purpose on earth. He fights internally about his desertion of Compton and wonders if he’s lost himself in the celebrity lifestyle.
Simply put, this song hits your heart with a javelin and haunts the psyche as Kendrick’s lyrics create a movie-like scene in your head. Everyone is able to relate, on some level, to this song; however, Kendrick’s feelings are far more intense and exaggerated. It’s a listening experience that is tough to put into words.
In comparison to other artists, you can argue that there are often filler songs that can weaken an album. However, To Pimp a Butterfly doesn’t suffer this fate as all 16 tracks are top-notch quality and only get better with repeat listens. Even the Interludes are excellent, which is not the easiest task.
With all the good mentioned, there is criticism to address. Many people have complained that the album doesn’t contain any “radio hits,” “party music or “low riding music.” To those people I say this: you are missing the point.
This is not an album suited for the average listener. To Pimp a Butterfly requires intensive listening and understanding the complexity of the lyrics. Furthermore, this is about more than the rap game, or music in general, this is about Kendrick’s metamorphosis from a rap star into an activist, a voice of black culture. This is Kendrick essentially taking the step towards fulfilling his self-defined prophecy as one of 2pac’s disciples. You just need to sit down and let Kendrick take you on the journey for 80 full minutes, and you’ll come out a smarter human being.
Overall, years from now, the rap game Mount Rushmore may just have a space carved out for King Kendrick Lamar next to Rakim, Nas and 2pac. Still, for now, it is official, Kendrick Lamar is the king, and it’s extremely doubtful we see anyone take the crown as long as he lives and breathes.