King Kendrick keeps his crown
Kendrick Lamar recently released his third album with a brand new sound unique from his sophomore album
On March 16, Kendrick Lamar released his third studio album titled “To Pimp a Butterfly.” This is a follow-up to his sophomore album “Good Kid, m.A.A.d City” (GKMC) released in 2012.
“To Pimp a Butterfly” has 16 tracks which follow Kendrick Lamar, “King Kendrick,” on his journey through life and what he has learned after the events of GKMC and how fame and fortune has treated him after getting signed.
Even though it’s a sequel, “To Pimp a Butterfly” has a radically different sound than GKMC. It is impossible to not notice the influence funk has on this album compared to last. The extensive use of funk is symbolic of the value black culture has on America, a recurring theme within the album. The name, “To Pimp a Butterfly,” has significant meaning and is a play on the novel “To Kill a Mockingbird,” a book with similar themes to the album.
The album art shows Kendrick (in the middle holding a baby) and a large group of African-Americans smiling and holding money and champagne in front of the white house with a dead judge in the foreground. The artwork gives us some hints into overarching themes within the album as being pro-black and anti-government. The profound themes in this album will have the listener thinking about some very serious issues about black culture in America and will have you intensely listening to learn more about the story Kendrick is telling.
“To Pimp a Butterfly” is a concept album with each song adding more and more to the story and is meant to be listened to from beginning to end. The reward for doing so is an emotional journey through the mind of Kendrick. Many of the songs end with a short monologue about life lessons of being rich and famous. The very last song “Mortal Man” Kendrick finally recites the entire monologue in one piece. The album establishes Kendrick as something much more than a hip-hop rapper; he is an artist.
The album showcases Kendrick’s versatility. In certain songs, Kendrick changes his voice to convey emotion. These changes can be subtle such as using a higher-pitched voice to depict that he’s younger on “Hood Politics.” But some of the changes are more obvious like in the song “The Blacker the Berry.” Kendrick is so angry in this song that he starts yelling in some parts. These changes can be heard throughout the album and help to immerse you to the point where you can almost feel the same emotions Kendrick is feeling. This immersion is why the album is so good because just about every song in “To Pimp a Butterfly” is drowning in palpable emotion.
The album is captivating because the emotions in each song can be radically different and often times conflicting. The up-tempo, cheerful beat and catchy hook found in “I” will have you feeling good and singing “I love myself.” Meanwhile, the self-loathing, depressing and negative themes of “U” will give you chills as Kendrick describe his lowest point where he screamed and fought back tears.
Kendrick Lamar shows why he deserves the name “King Kendrick” on this album. The main themes of black culture, religion and American government are clearly displayed in a unique and captivating manner. The use of funk on songs like “King Kunta” and “Wesley’s Theory” are a welcomed breath of fresh air that separates the beats on this album from others and adds some symbolism of black culture to the story.
The story, while difficult to follow, is interesting and makes paying attention to each song a very rewarding experience. Each song has a deep and important meaning with intense emotions felt in almost every song. After a couple listens I truly feel like I have learned something valuable from this album.
“To Pimp a Butterfly” is not anything like GKMC and the album is not filled with bangers you would play at parties like “Swimming Pools (drank)” and other songs on GKMC. If you are looking for an album like that, look elsewhere.
“To Pimp a Butterfly” displays Kendrick’s versatility and storytelling to the point where it feels like a movie rather than an album. I believe the immersion Kendrick creates is what makes this album so great.
Personal Rating: 5/5