To Pimp A Butterfly

The Compton MC's second major-label album is a masterpiece of fiery outrage, deep jazz and ruthless self-critique

To Pimp a Butterfly isn’t just another album, and Kendrick Lamar isn’t just another rapper. Kendrick is different. His first major label album, good kid, m.A.A.d city is one of the greatest rap albums of all time. The last two artists who debuted with albums that redefined the genre were Kanye West (The College Dropout) and Jay Z (Reasonable Doubt). Good kid, m.A.A.d city,was an autobiographical masterpiece that vocalized the struggle of growing up in dire circumstances in Compton and how it affected Kendrick’s perception of the world. It was brilliant and clever, a concept album that still told Kendrick’s "how I got here" story. He could have used the same blueprint for his second album. It worked once, and Kendrick is talented enough to make use of it again. Rappers rapping about their upbringing will never end, but Kendrick Lamar isn’t conventional in the least.

We knew Kendrick was going with a new concept for this album. It wasn’t going to be your traditional 808-laden, two-club-hits-and-a-love-song hip-hop album. But Kendrick was never that to begin with. It was going to be soulful — conscious as they say. He gave us "i" back in September, an uplifting track about self-love — there’s an updated (see: much better) version of "i" on the album that sampled The Isley Brothers. We got a taste of the new musical arrangements back in December on The Colbert Report when he performed an untitled song that if released would probably have been the best song of 2014 (it didn’t even make the album). Then we got the artwork for To Pimp a Butterfly. If the direction of the album wasn’t clear before, it was now. This is about to be some social commentary / Black Excellence music. I wasn’t scared that Kendrick would deliver a flop. I was afraid that he would only dip a toe into the pool of Black Excellence music, that he would hesitate to speak on social issues, or succumb to label pressure to provide a few radio-friendly records. He didn’t. Not one bit.

To Pimp a Butterfly is perfect. There’s no other adjective that can properly convey its greatness.To Pimp a Butterfly is an immaculate amalgamation of rap, jazz, funk, soul, and spoken word. It cannot be restricted by a single genre. It’s the latest evolution of Black Music, and it’s nothing short of genius. (Black Music, inhabited by the likes of Curtis Mayfield, James Brown, Prince, the Fugees, Andre 3000, and D’Angelo. A land where the natural barriers of music don’t exist. A place where the main goal is the advancement and protection of the culture.)

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