Album review: To Pimp a Butterfly

Peter Sanderson, Staff Writer for Spokesman

Three years after the release of his platinum album good kid, m.A.A.d city, Kendrick Lamar has released To Pimp a Butterfly with many considering it an instant classic. Good kid, released a year after Lamar’s catchy, socially aware debut album, Section 80, details the young rapper’s personal story that presents the trials of a young black man coming of age in an impoverished and oppressive atmosphere. Influenced by the g-funk of his collaborator and producer, Dr. Dre, the concept album highlights Lamar’s unique style: a fluid combination of lyricism, dense storytelling, and delivery. To Pimp a Butterfly, whose title signifies how Lamar grew from a caterpillar trapped in Compton into a wealthy and influential butterfly, is not told in the same narrative style as good kid, but rather diversifies and emphasizes beats and samples, expounds his personal obstacles, and takes on national issues.

While To Pimp a Butterfly certainly has unquestionable listenability, like in the tracks “Alright,” “I,” and “King Kunta,” it sacrifices radio and club attention in order to deliver incredibly powerful messages, many of which encompass Lamar’s severe depression and suicidal thoughts, black confidence, self-respect, and the oppression of blacks in America. (“The Blacker the Berry” serves as Lamar’s most confrontational and direct track on the issue to date). The record is easily a contender for Album of the Year and is destined to live as one of the best rap albums of all time. Bringing in lesser-known producers, such as Flying Lotus, bassist extraordinaire Thundercat, and neo-soul singer Bilal, alongside longtime collaborators, like Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, and Pharrell, Lamar is able to accentuate the 70’s funk, 90’s beats, and jazzy sax solos backing up his lyrics.

The album has its turning point in the track “U,” which is one of the most emotional and personal songs Lamar has ever released. In this song, Lamar goes back to the introspective style of good kid, m.A.A.d city, as he addresses the severe issues he dealt with during the production of the album, as well as the “survivor’s guilt” he feels having left Compton, California. Lamar’s drunk, sobbing voice throughout underscores the weight on his shoulders: how he contemplated suicide in a hotel room, how he drank in order to deal with stress, how he left many of his closest friends back in Compton, three of whom were murdered during his past summer tour. He is abused by his conscience and tells himself that that he should have shot himself long ago, sobbing, “You ain’t no brother, you ain’t no disciple, you ain’t no friend, a friend never leave Compton for profit or leave his best friend little brother.” That, juxtaposed with “I” and “King Kunta,” creates a balanced album that shifts between sinking down and being uplifted.

In the final track of the album,“Mortal Man,” Lamar ends with a conversation with none other than Tupac Shakur. Taken from a rare 1994 interview, Lamar inserts his own words, looking to the past for guidance as he seeks to lead and speak for his own generation. Though the album as a whole is not readily digestible, it could quite possibly be the greatest rap album of the decade and will forever influence an era of artists looking to make an impact in both music and society.