It’s in the details. The multiple layers, references within references, and the delivery. Kendrick Lamar strikes out on To Pimp A Butterfly by intricately creating a set of poetic, free-flowing, and emotionally charged verses across 79 minutes of recording, all leading to the powerful conclusion of a mock interview with 2Pac and an explanation of the album title.
All ears were on Kendrick after good kid, m.A.A.d city, his breakthrough record from 2012, put him on a pedestal with some of the rap’s biggest names. It’s a fact he doesn’t ignore on To Pimp A Butterfly as he dives into themes of fame, self-awareness, money, and depression. It also takes a step back with commentary on social conflict within and between races, culture and society, as he delivers some heavy criticism, thoughts and ideas.
One might try to find comparisons between both records, inevitably trying to decide which is better on some level. It’s a comparison not worth making as the intent is different. The landscape has changed, both musically and socially. For one, To Pimp A Butterfly doesn’t have the hooks that good kid had, but it’s not an album about having hooks, nor is it void of them, they aren’t central.
Musically, there’s a lot of funk and jazz undertones, from the bass line of King Kunta to the jazz outro of The Blacker The Berry, which help with the free-flow of the lyrics that deviate from typical form. u takes a dive with its dark tone and wailing guitar that reference directly Kendrick’s own experience with depression. How Much A Dollar Cost is a narrative depicting the humbling realization of the price of human compassion. At times, it can seem improvised, but with so much packed into each verse, the writing is meticulous on an album that speaks so much about being restricted while delivered with such freedom.
To Pimp A Butterfly isn’t just a collection of songs that make up an album, it’s one single piece that tackles a lot of heavy themes and lays them out. Kendrick leaves room for discussion. He doesn’t just say his piece and close the book, he’s creating dialogue and demanding engagement and with his present stature in music right now, he’s sure to succeed, making this album all the more important.
1. Wesley’s Theory [featuring George Clinton & Thundercat]
2. For Free? (Interlude)
3. King Kunta
4. Institutionalized [featuring Bilal, Anna Wise & Snoop Dogg]
5. These Walls [featuring Bilal, Anna Wise & Thundercat]
8. For Sale? (Interlude)
10. Hood Politics
11. How Much A Dollar Cost [featuring James Fauntleroy & Ronald Isley]
12. Complexion (A Zulu Love) [featuring Rapsody]
13. The Blacker The Berry
14. You Ain’t Gotta Lie (Momma Said)
16. Mortal Man