To Pimp a Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar
To Pimp a Butterfly is, Compton’s own, Kendrick Lamar’s second studio album. This album is a follow up to his 2012 debut album, Good Kid m.A.A.d City. GKMC is the album that really introduced Kendrick to the masses. With smash hits like “Swimming Pools”,” Don’t Kill My Vibe”, and “Poetic Justice”, Kendrick really proved to the world who the next king of hip-hop is. Not only has GKMC gone platinum, but it is also considered a classic west coast album from the hip-hop legends. GKMC tells the story of a young civilized boy growing up in the streets of Compton, California. Kendrick has a father in his life and a stable household. Even though he is in good hands, his friends and relatives are submerged into Los Angeles’s gang culture. Most of young Kendrick’s uncles are Crips. Due to his association with them he has to be very careful navigating through different territorial ground. “m.A.A.d” is an acronym meaning, “my angry adolescence divided” and “my angels on angel dust”. The album title itself is really self-explanatory but listening to this album really takes you through the haunting temptations of being a good kid in “m.a.a.d” city.
When Kendrick announced TPAB will be dropping, expectations for another classic album was so high. People were expecting more radio friendly hits like what we had heard on his 2012 debut. So while fans were looking left for his new album, To Pimp a Butterfly crept up on the right. The album cover art is Kendrick and a gang of friends having the time of their lives posing for a picture outside of the White House.Before I even pressed play to the first track I wanted to dissect the title. To Pimp a Butterfly. What can that possibly mean? After hours of trying to figure out the witty wordplay, I pressed play.
The album starts off with an old, crackly, vinyl-like sound. The phrase, “Every n***** is a star” is the first words. It is a sample from a song from the 50s. “Every n***** is a star” repeats over and over again, as the pitch get louder. The sample skips as if it was scratched as a blast of funk-fusion and foot tapping beats come crashing through the speakers. From there I knew I was in for a ride. The first track is titled “Wesley’s Theory”. Kendrick raps along to this funky bass tempo as if he were a new coming celebrity who craves nothing but vanity. He lists a bunch of things he will spend with his money only to realize that his uneducated mind will get him bankrupt or “Wesley sniped”.
The second track off of the album, “For Free?” is a 2-minute interlude track. Kendrick raps to a fast, old-fashioned jazz beat. This song really is about self-pride. He is arguing with a complaining girl who doesn’t appreciate and disrespect his manhood. This core meaning behind it is a double entendre. Not only is Kendrick taking pride in his relationship, but he is talking about the importance he has as a black man living in America. My only downfall with that track is that it is very short. Even though it is 2 minutes in length, it is stacked with substance.
The third track, “King Kunta” is about 3 minutes and 30 seconds in length. King Kunta is another funk fused song off the album that really keeps an up-temp spirit in listeners. It covers James Brown’s, “The Payback” sample. Kendrick raps about leadership and embracing being a king for his generation of music.
The first handful of songs to get the album started is really setting the foundation for a transition Kendrick will be making throughout the album. Track 6, “U”, is probably the raw and bone-chilling song off of the album. The song starts off with Kendrick screaming over and over again, with creepy sounds playing in the background. Kendrick’s cracking voice shouts, “Loving you is complicated!” I was confused as to who he was talking about but “U” is really Kendrick confessing his faults and blaming himself for all the wrongs that have been going on in his life. While listening to the song you can almost visualize Kendrick in the studio, shirtless and sweaty, crying into the microphone with a bottle of liquor aside. I have never heard any other rapper make a song describing how bad their life is, even though they have fame and fortune. After listening to this song, I now have heard one.
After hearing such a sad and depressing song like “U”, Kendrick Lamar immediately follows up telling us it’s alright with his hit single “Alright”. Kendrick showcases his lyrical talent over a trap fused beat.Alright is one of the few songs off of the album that is radio-friendly. It has won best hip hop song of the year.This Pharrell-produced track has raw instrumentation with a catchy repetitive hook, “We gon’ be alright!” It is definitely an uplifting and chess-pounding song that can do nothing but have listeners turned up! This song also happens to be one of the songs selected for the Black Lives Matter movement.
After listeners are done chanting “we gon be alright”, the album takes a dark turn down inside the mind of Lucifer, or in this song “Lucy”. “For Sale?” is the second interlude track off of the album. Kendrick raps into the perspective of the devil seducing him into his fame. He raps with a young nasal-like voice, representing the power “Lucy” has over him. Throughout the song there is a back and forth conversation between Kendrick and “lucy”. The devil is telling Kendrick everything he wants to hear, only stripping him off his freedom.
At the end and beginning of the majority of the songs on the album, Kendrick recites bits and pieces of what sounds like a poem. As the album goes on, he adds more and more pieces to the poem that he will fully recite in the end.The beginning of the album is really focused on Kendrick’s introspective as an international superstar, the pros and the cons. After the second interlude, “For Sale?”, Kendrick finds his way back home where everything is the same. Track 9, “Momma” is a very warm and laid back song. Every time the song starts I reminisce about home. A nice vocal sings over a groovy tempo. Kendrick raps about the importance of home and remembering where your roots are. Even though he is a multi-million dollar hip hop artist who has been all over the world, none of that matters once you come home. Everyone still sees Kendrick as that good kid in a mad city. He also raps about how if the spotlight is too overwhelming, he is always welcome back home to the streets of LA.
After “U”, I would say that track 11, “How Much a Dollar Cost” is the most visual and descriptive song. Kendrick raps about an experience he had to a visit to South Africa. He spots a homeless man resting outside of a gas station where he is pumping gas. In Compton, Kendrick has always knew that homeless people or “bums” only want money so they get drugs. Due to this prior knowledge, Kendrick does not engage with the homeless man. As Kendrick gets ready to leave he notices the man staring deep into his soul. The man then recites Kendrick a verse from the Holy Bible. Confused, Kendrick tells the homeless man that he cannot get any of his money, even though that is not what the guy wants. After Kendrick’s act of selfishness and inhumanity, the homeless man tells him that he is the son of Man, God, and that he is denied a spot in heaven. Kendrick realizes that money doesn’t dictate happiness. He also comes into realization that God can be manifested through anybody.
Track 15, “i”, is a contradiction to the song “U”. The Isley Brothers sampled song is another one of Kendrick uplifting songs. He centers this song o self-love and motivation. His main inspiration behind this song was fans coming to his shows with slits on their wrists telling him that his music saved their life. This soulful tune also happened to be first single off of the album.
Finally, the last song on the album is titled, “Mortal Man”. This 12-minute track questions his fans loyalty. He repetitively compares himself to the revolutionary Nelson Mandela. He raps over another soulful beat questioning who will stand for him when his career gets manipulated. The second part of the song really dropped jaws for listeners all around the world. Kendrick put together an interview with him and hip hop legend, Tupac. He used an old unreleased Tupac interview and recorded himself asking Tupac questions as if they were sitting face to face. This was an exquisite way to end the album, by bringing a fallen soldier back to life.
In conclusion, I recommend this album to anyone who has a true love for music. Kendrick Lamar uses style of rap, funk, jazz, soul, and r&b. Good Kid m.A.A.d City and To Pimp a Butterfly are two different sounding albums but they are both great bodies of work in their own way. It’s like GKMC was a short film and TPAB was more of a poem. Kendrick has definitely satisfied the world of Hip-Hop and gave us another potential classic album that will leave a landmark. He has brought back the root elements of hip-hop and he has broken down new barriers for any other artists who are inspired. I would give this album a 10 out of 10.