24 March 2015

REVIEW: Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp a Butterfly

After the success of good kid m.A.A.d. city, Kendrick Lamar was placed in a position where he finally had the power to make a difference. He now has the ears of a broad audience and made the conscious decision to use that platform to shock the culture with his sophomore masterpiece, To Pimp a Butterfly. TDE mapped out a plan years ago that is playing itself out to near-perfection. With the exception of Jay Rock, everyone in the camp has seen a release in the past year. When Kendrick's first album was in full swing, I wondered if the rest of the team would be able to prove themselves before Kendrick dropped his second album and made them all irrelavent again. A year later, Ab-Soul, Isaiah Rashad, and SZA all dropped solid projects that did well, but ScHoolboy Q is the only other artist out of TDE who has made serious noise.

Despite this, Top Dawg has still been making the game his bitch. He manufactured a quick buzz for Ab-Soul through bullshit twitter beefs that became headlines making it seem like there was dysfunction within TDE, but Top and Soul admittedly orchestrated the fallout. For To Pimp a Butterfly, there are suspicions he released it a week early on purpose, then took to twitter again, this time trying to blame the "leak" on the label. The calibur of artists on TDE's roster individually have such enormous fanbases that Top Dawg's antics aren't even necessary, but they certainly haven't hurt. Honestly, anything that gets more people to listen to this album is fair game.

"I remember you was conflicted, misusing your influence. Sometimes I did the same..."

The beginning of a poem that is pieced together throughout the entire album also serves as somewhat of a mission statement and a call to arms. Kendrick Lamar, an artist Best In The Mix has been championining since 2011, has not only lived up to every lofty expectation the Hip-hop community has placed upon him, he has managed to absolutely shatter them in an attempt to compile a body of work that will elevate the culture for years to come. It looks like our concerns about quality music being unable to make its way back to the forefront are being laid to rest right before us.

The immediate thing you notice when listening to this album is just how fonky the production is. He takes you on a journey through every major era in Black music while lyrically displaying an acute understanding of social and political contradictions. Kendrick shows us how we are "Institutionalized" over a straight ATLiens type beat, only to turn around and ask us if "These Walls" could talk over some late 70s funk.  The Dilla-esque banger "You Ain't Gotta Lie (Momma Said)" directly addresses those who still feel that their materials are a direct reflection of their value, when it's not even that serious. In an era where individualism is being embraced more than ever, it's a shame to see anyone who is still afraid to be themselves.

The beginning of To Pimp a Butterfly explores all of the sounds spanning four decades that ultimately constructed the artist we know as Kendrick Lamar, but the second half is more focused and has that gritty soulful shit that defines a classic. "Hood Politics" is one of the true standouts on the album that directly addresses a culture that prefers gossip bullshit over art. "Everybody wanna talk about who this, and who that / Who the realest and who wack / Or who white and who black / Critics wanna mention that they miss when Hip-hop was rappin? / Motherfucker if you did, then Killer Mike would be platinum /  Yall priorities is fucked up, or energy in wrong shit / Hennessy and Crown Vic, my memory been gone since / Don't ask about no camera blocking at award shows / No don't ask about my bitch, no don't ask about my foes."

It's rare to see an album's best music pushed to the back, but it makes for an easy listen because it has your attention until the very end. "Mortal Man" may go down as one of the illest outros ever conceived. It poses the question "When shit hits the fan, is you still a fan?" causing you to wonder who would really be there for you if shit went down? "How clutch are the people who say they love you, and who pretending?" It also tackles how society and the government eliminated our heroes by assasinating their character to the public causing fans in America to turn their back on them, before closing out with an eerily realistic yet powerful conversation between Kendrick Lamar and Tupac Shakur.

Since 2012 we have witnessed a noticeable change in the status-quo.  J. Cole and K.Dot are uncomfortably sitting atop the Mt. Olympus of Hip-hop. I say uncomfortably because these types of artists aim to shift the landscape of Hip-hop and what fans should expect from an album. One could also say Drake is up there with the other two, but his affinity for recycled lyrics and subject matter may soon result in him fading into obscurity if To Pimp a Butterfly catches fire the way it has the power to.  It's time to acknolwedge the progress that has been made in only a few short years. GKMC gave K.Dot the platform to elevate the culture, lead the charge, and several acts have since followed TDE's formula.  On just a pure music level, To Pimp a Butterfly raises the bar that much more as Kendrick challenges his contemporaries and those on the come-up to demand great music, but also use your influence and your reach to inspire someone else to be great. "Want you to love me like Nelson, want you to hug me like Nelson, I freed you from being a slave in your mind, you're very welcome." Not only is To Pimp a Butterfly Kendrick Lamar's best work by far, it is without a doubt the most important Rap album of our generation.
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