In the spirit of Spring Weekend performers and
unintended surprise releases (#FLOCKAGATE?), Kendrick Lamar unexpectedly dropped his new album, To Pimp A Butterfly, today. After the monumental good kid, m.A.A.d. city, an instant classic, Kendrick set the bar for his next album exceedingly high. But, the new album goes above and beyond. Mind-blowingly experimental, To Pimp A Butterfly is unequivocally a masterpiece.
Crossovers of funk, hip-hop, R&B and jazz permeate the instrumental aspects of the album–which is no surprise, given To Pimp A Butterfly‘s list of collaborators, featured artists, and producers. Flying Lotus, Thundercat, Bilal, Terrace Martin–the list goes on–can all be heard both on their own tracks and as distinctive voices in shaping the album as a whole. The arrangements are unbelievably tight–smooth, dystopian, euphonious, all at once.
While the lyrical power of To Pimp A Butterfly will continue to grow with the listens, even after a day, there’s no questioning that Kendrick’s raps are emotional, intense, dark, and powerful. Juxtaposed with the sometimes-ethereal, sometimes-chaotic, sometimes-both production, Kendrick as an artist and expresser soars to completely new heights.
In “Hood Politics,” for example, Kendrick spits: “From Compton to Congress/set trippin’ all around/ain’t nothing new but a flow of new DemoCrips and ReBloodlicans.” This is an unapologetically critical Kendrick, a Kendrick who sees a government that wasn’t made to serve or represent him and who isn’t afraid to call that out.
At times, his words take the form of spoken-word poetry, most notably in a somber, spoken motif that weaves itself into many tracks and comes full-circle in the monumental finale, “Mortal Man.” “Mortal Man” itself largely draws on straight dialogue–with none other than Tupac Shakur–as a medium through which to reflect and ruminate. Throughout the course of the album, Kendrick and the production team flawlessly explore uncharted territories of the rap and music worlds.
Of course, To Pimp A Butterfly is not without its fair share of straight-up grooves; the tight production and vocals on songs like “How Much A Dollar Cost,” “You Ain’t Gotta Lie (Momma Said),” and “Complexion (A Zulu Love)” perfectly combine to create undeniably addictive tracks. However, one of the most iconic features of the album is its continuous movement. He never lets the listener feel comfortable, because doing so would contradict the emotional chaos that he aims to portray. Kendrick even goes so far as to replace the single version of “i” with a fresh, rough, live-sounding recording; even his lead single is transformed to fit To Pimp A Butterfly‘s epic scope.
The album is so monumental that its almost impossible to take in in one sitting. From the futuristically complex instrumentals to Kendrick’s ferociously honest vocals, To Pimp A Butterfly hits the listener in the head, an overwhelmingly emotional experience, a means by which to guide the listener to Kendrick’s perspective. His ability to so clearly and powerfully self-express is one of the album’s most admirable traits.
To Pimp A Butterfly is the type of album that forbids passively listening, and instead forcibly drags you into the picture Kendrick’s painting. Its infectious, not at the cost of honesty, overwhelming but listenable. Somehow, even after good kid, m.A.A.d. city, it’s seminal. In short: To Pimp A Butterfly is so good.