To Pimp A Butterfly: Album Review


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Kendrick Lamar has placed himself in a class of his own with his most recent album called, “To Pimp A Butterfly.” In just his third album Kendrick has already shown levels of progression parallel to the likes of Outkast.

“To Pimp a Butterfly is the avant-garde insanity that naturally results when such a fiercely eloquent introvert, animated by wrath, gets his hands on Olde English 800 and three saxophones.” (Complex)

What separates Kendrick from his company of peers is the way he is able to connect with his audience. His use of instruments, skits, features, dialogue and expression continues to impress the music world. This album, although dark, outlines important issues that African-Americans have faced for generations. It discusses his depression, racial discrimination and the element of time. In the outro on the song, “i” Kendrick has a chance to speak about how the time is now to stop all the hatred and violence.

The way that Kendrick uses his talent to engage his audience is truly incredible. He encourages his listeners to embrace their identities and to stand up for what they believe in. Kendrick escaped his “hood” surroundings and made it to tell his story. This is a lot more than what most young black men can say who grew up in the same place that Kendrick did. Even though he made it out of that environment Kendrick is still obsessed with where he came from.

Hood Politics ~ This track provides a great release of energy from Kendrick as he snaps on a well produced track. The most memorable part of this song is at the end when the beat completely drops out and switches to an aggressive and drowned tune with Kendrick’s altered deep voice, “OBAMA SAY WHAT IT DO?!”

Alright ~ This song is a great song in terms of melody and relief. This song is the one song you could put on and all your friends would be able to enjoy it. This is maybe the only song I think Kendrick would perform from this album. Kendrick performed on the back of a moving truck as a stunt with Reebok and only played m.A.A.d. city tracks. TDE artist, Isaiah Rashad loves this song and played it in Syracuse at the end of his concert. Twice.

On “Institutionalized,” he confesses: “I’m trapped inside the ghetto, and I ain’t proud to admit it/Institutionalized: I keep running back for a visit.” This album is so dense that at times it is difficult to understand what Kendrick is trying to achieve. He discusses paradoxes, contradictions, and various barriers that take a lot of deep listening to truly unpack.

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On the song, “The Blacker The Berry” Kendrick claims he’s the biggest hypocrite of 2015 for his role within the black community. Because how dare he try to protest white power? In his eyes that’s hypocritical because the landscape of this world we live in would never allow for an educated black man to have the amount of power that Kendrick does. It’s almost as he is alienated by fame and nobody can get through to him. This is how he views the world and he is letting us know on this album.

Complexion (A Zulu Love) ~ “I don’t see Compton, I see something that’s much worse, the land of the land mines, the hell that’s on Earth.” Kendrick feels that returning to his neighborhood has left him contrasted, “Should I get out the car?” with whether to help or stay out of the way from the streets that influenced his upbringing in a major way.

This album is a combination of spiritual crises and black thoughts. Kendrick outlines his struggles throughout each and every song. A common theme on the album is the outro that Kendrick manages to incorporate into the end of most songs on the album. It goes like this,

“After ascending from a “peasant, to a prince, to a motherfucking king” in “King Kunta”, feeling lost & jaded in the four corners of the cocoon throughout“These Walls”, and contemplating suicide in a hotel room on ‘u’ — Kendrick continues to add to the poem he reads to 2Pac on the final track “Mortal Man” During his alcoholic binge in the hotel room, Kendrick “found” himself. Although he decided suicide wasn’t the way out, Kendrick still wasn’t straight — he had Lucy (Lucifer) hot on his heels.” (Rap Genius)

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Kendrick took two and a half years to make this album. It required an entire process of traveling to Africa, finding the right producers, features and much more. Kendrick writes his albums much like Quentin Tarantino directs his movies. He writes and produces everything over and over until it is perfectly crafted to how he wants the sound to be. He will not stop until it is perfectly produced and although some people cannot appreciate this kind of hip hop I most certainly can.

Mortal Man – Kendrick shocked everyone with how he ended this album. Thanks to rare interview footage from 1994 between Tupac Shakur and the host of Swedish radio show P3 Soul, Mats Nileskar, Kendrick was able to create a dialogue between him and (imo) the greatest rapper to ever put his voice on wax, Tupac Shakur. Within this dialogue, Kendrick manages to incorporate dialogue and relate it to issues like Michael Brown in our society today. 20 years apart from the dialogue and Kendrick was able to create exigency for our generation. The resemblance between Kendrick and Tupac is astounding to me. They are both able to intensely connect with their audience in such an intimate and passoniate artistically expressive way that nobody else compares to their genre of musical talent. Kendrick finishes the poem he had been revealing more and more of as the album progressed to Tupac at the end of this song.

“The caterpillar is a prisoner to the streets that conceived it
Its only job is to eat or consume everything around it, in order to protect itself from this mad city
While consuming its environment the caterpillar begins to notice ways to survive
One thing it noticed is how much the world shuns him, but praises the butterfly
The butterfly represents the talent, the thoughtfulness, and the beauty within the caterpillar
But having a harsh outlook on life the caterpillar sees the butterfly as weak and figures out a way to pimp it to his own benefits
Already surrounded by this mad city the caterpillar goes to work on the cocoon which institutionalizes him
He can no longer see past his own thoughts
He’s trapped
When trapped inside these walls certain ideas start to take roots, such as going home, and bringing back new concepts to this mad city
The result?
Wings begin to emerge, breaking the cycle of feeling stagnant
Finally free, the butterfly sheds light on situations that the caterpillar never considered, ending the eternal struggle
Although the butterfly and caterpillar are completely different, they are one and the same.”

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And that ladies and gentleman is how you appeal to your audience through the logos, pathos and ethos.

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