To Pimp a Butterfly : Kendrick Lamar

Let me start off by saying this: buy this album. Don’t just torrent it or listen to it on a loop on Spotify, buy it. To Pimp a Butterfly is more than worth it.

Kendrick Lamar has brought the meaning back to American rap; boisterous, political, charged rhymes that makes you do a double-take and reconsider your notions of right and wrong. In his track How Much a Dollar Cost, Lamar is challenging our superficial viewpoints and to look into each others hearts: “I never understood someone beggin’ for goods/Askin’ for handouts, takin’ it if they could/…Starin’ at me for the longest until he finally asked/ Have you ever opened up Exodus 14?/A humble man is all that we ever need/Tell me how much a dollar cost.” There is no doubt about the conflict that he feels throughout the album of both “making it” and of being the hypocrisy he grew up to hate.

On top of all the great rhymes are the great rhythms. Backing up a significant portion of To Pimp a Butterfly‘s tracks is a cacophonous mash up of freeform jazz and late 70’s funk. Rather than focusing on the bass, Lamar focuses on the tremble, making his songs pop with elasticity rather than be weighed down by an overdriving beat.

The best example of this is the second track on the album, For Free? (Interlude). Even though it is only a little over 2 minutes long, its cadence and speed feel like you’ve hit fast forward on your tape deck but you can still hear the words going by: “Matter fact it need interest/ Matter fact it’s nine inches/ Matter fact see out friendship based on business/Pension, more pension, you’re pinchin’, my consensus/ Been relentless…” All of those lyrics happened in eight seconds. Sure, rap is naturally built for fast moving word play, but this track takes it to a whole other dimension.

To Pimp a Butterfly continues on through the album at this breakneck speed. Even though nearly each track is 5 minutes long, there just doesn’t seem to be long enough to process it all before skipping ahead and making your mind whirl for another five minutes. Luckily for the audience, each song seamlessly blends together, making the jolt-worthy transition palatable. Unlike Kendrick Lamar’s previous album Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City, which was nothing more than the most provocative concept album to ever come out, this album feels much more like a series of vignettes. Rather than a singular story being told, 16 different ones are told in every song, but all with the undercurrent of injustice, frustration, confusion, and introspection that fans of Lamar have come to know and love.

If you’re looking for an album to cherry pick through for radio hits, To Pimp a Butterfly is not for you. This album, like both of its predecessors, is best consumed by sitting down, pulling out the liner notes and becoming entrenched in the tales that are being laid out on a sonic platter. Get ready to think differently about rap as a genre, because Kendrick is here to stay.

Written by M.M. Johnson

Photo features ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ Album Cover

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