Black Man Taking No Losses
To Pimp A Butterfly
Kendrick Lamar - 2015
I have a lot to say about To Pimp A Butterfly. Most of it is overwhelmingly positive. So I'm gonna get all my criticsm out right now: I don't like the sung hooks on here as much as I could. They're the most boring part of the record. Now, onto the rest of the review:
Kendrick Lamar is the hip-hop parallel to Radiohead. Not sonically, but their career arc is nearly identical to this day. They both put out demo tapes under a different moniker (K. Dot, On A Friday) that drowned in their influences. They fixed up, released a single that got them buzz in the scene ("Creep", "Ignorance Is Blissed") and released the single in a less-then-stellar album (Pablo Honey, O(verly) D(edicated). They then found a more original sound, perfected it, and released the album that lived up to the quality of that first single (The Bends, Section.80). Unsatisfied, both acts went above and beyond on their third effort, making a stone cold classic that took their respective genre's contemporary sounds to the absolute limits. Both OK Computer and good kid, m.A.A.d city are considered landmarks for music in general. For the follow up to that classic record, both Thom and friends and Kendrick were faced with topping perfection. And what did they do? They took a completely different approach, crafting an album that alienated casual fans, brought hardcore fans in closer and proved themselves as the most creative artists of their generation. To Pimp A Butterfly is Kendrick's Kid A.
As with Kid A, this is a deeply saddening record. Kendrick struggles at points at many occaisons, and the result is a dark and anxious record. it's most visible in "u", possibly the most any rapper has ever expressed themselves emotionally. Kendrick screams, cries, has an existential crisis, and drinks away his pain while rapping in a croaked voice that signifies a mental breakdown. It's one of those moments you never forget hearing for the first time, four and a half minutes of burning pain and struggle. In the digital age, it's rare to see even the most emotionally scarred singer-songwriter show this type of emotion. Hearing a rapper like Kendrick, who's imagery is so vivid, makes it the most compelling piece of art you'll hear for a very long time.
I hate to keep bringing Kid A back into the fold, but musically, this record couldn't be more different. TPAB is so interesting because it smashes every dad, metalhead and indie kid's excuses for why they don't listen to hip hop. Live music, ranging from funk to jazz to soul throughout, brings the instrumentals to life the way no DAW can. It's a journey through all types of black music, and it's done to perfection. It doesn't hurt that Kendrick has masterminds like Flying Lotus, Bilal and Thundercat on board to help. Lyrically, Kendrick never seems to be meaninglessly rapping about how great he is, save for the funk stomper King Kunta, the closest thing to a banger on the album. Most of the album takes time to tackle socio-political issues through personal struggle. Kendrick doesn't comment on the rest of the world's problems. he comments on his own problems and how they connect to the problems we have in society today. This way, he comes off not as someone who feels they know how to fix the world, but one who recognizes the problems, how it affects them, and how they contribute to the problem itself. It's a refreshing change of pace from the social media actavists of today, who seem to be incapable of doing wrong.
To Pimp A Butterfly isn't everything we wanted or asked for in GKMC's follow-up. Instead, Kendrick gives us everything we didn't know we needed. An original, analogue hip hop record, one that chonicles black history along with the pleasure of watching Kendrick reach yet another artistic peak. There's one more great comparison I can make between TPAB and Kid A: they both, like their predecessors, are considered the greatest artistic achievement by either artist thus far. Now, let's hope Kendrick's Amnesiac is a better better, yeah?
GENRES: CONSCIOUS HIP HOP, WEST COAST HIP HOP, JAZZ-HOP, EXPERIMENTAL HIP HOP, SYMPHONIC HIP HOP, NEO-SOUL, JAZZ FUSION, SPOKEN WORD