After the release of Kendrick’s first studio album, ‘Good Kid, M.A.A.D City‘, fans of the Compton lyricist and critics alike began to get withdrawal symptoms; we were all wondering, ‘when will we get a new Kendrick Lamar album?’ Although three years passed and very little light was shined on what to expect from the new studio album, the odd K.Dot feature appeared now and then – ‘1Train‘ by A$AP Rocky, ‘Love Game‘ by Eminem and ‘Really Be (Smokin’ and Drinkin’)‘ by YG – but the joy of having a full LP from the King of Compton is what we all wanted.
However, as March 2015 came quietly and tension between TDE boss, Anthony Tiffith and Kendrick’s major label Interscope arose, in general music enthusiasts and Hip-Hop heads could tell that the release of a new Kendrick Lamar album was imminent.
March 15th came round, 8 days earlier than the anticipated album release and from there, Kendrick had made Hip-Hop history.
The album plays out like a movie that has been scored, written, produced and directed by the L.A native and the first time listening to the album, I couldn’t have been more happy.
From the introductory track, ‘Wesley’s Theory‘, a track depicting and shedding light on how ‘Uncle Sam’, a formal name for Kendrick’s interpretation of The Devil. As well as this, he also depicts how a black male from areas governed by gang-run communities, will take the first opportunity given to them to break out of the bracket that says they’ll be dead by 21. So, they take this step, to ‘become rich’ not knowing the ins and outs of the contract they are taking with their labels or managers. To put it simply, Kendrick Lamar and Kant would’ve gotten on quite well knowing that the majority of people will use you “As a means to an end”. The means being the individual who will make the already rich people richer and the individual poorer than they already were.
This is a running theme throughout the album, as well as institutionalised racism within modern America, police brutality, sexual relations, slavery and empowering the black man to reach out and achieve what they thought could never be achieved.
As the tracklist continues and tracks such as ‘For Free‘, a 2-minute interlude comparing how black men were treated over a 400 year period and still to this day in a derogatory manner –
“I need forty acres and a mule, Not a forty ounce and a pit bull” – Kendrick Lamar
These bars pulled from ‘For Free’ and a continuation of the metaphor rapped on the first track of the album is Kendrick speaking out against White America. He doesn’t want to be an idea of the black man that’s been conceived by the media and portrayed in movies, he wants to be able to live a life without connotations and be respected as an artist who paved a lane for themselves, without having to owe ‘The White Man’ anything.
‘Institutionalised‘ is another incredible track off the album and standout from Kendrick’s discography, featuring the Long Beach OG, Snoop Dogg and Soul artist, Bilal. Kendrick talks about how black men are dragged into a life of violence and death because they aren’t given legitimate opportunities by the American government to show off their full potential. Bilal uses his vocals as a voice of reasoning on the chorus, where he sings “Shit don’t change until you get up and wash yo ass, nigga”. While Snoop has two interludes on the track, both of them differentiating from each other. While the first is about a young male going to a show where Kendrick is blasting gang culture, the second Snoop verse accurately depicts how difficult it is for black men in these environments to get out and live a life that isn’t full of death yet still keeping some elements of ones personality ‘hood’.
Moving on, other highlights off the album are the heart-wrenching ‘u‘, which Kendrick discusses battling alcohol dependency, struggling with depression since a teen due to living in a corrupt and blasphemous city that struggles with motivating the black youth. As well as this, the production on this track, compared to others on the album is a lot moodier, darker and experimental. Before the second part of the song with a hotel-room interlude which uses the production technique panning magnificently to put you in the mind of the forever unpredictable Kendrick Lamar.
Tracks like ‘Momma‘ and ‘Hood Politics‘ which discuss Kendrick’s influence on a international level by reconnecting with his homeland, South Africa and meeting young Africans who look up to him as a role model, while the latter track is a complete opposite. Kendrick speaks about imprisonment of friends, authenticity in the rap game and having rappers, such as Killer Mike, being more appreciated instead of underrated.
In overall, ‘To Pimp a Butterfly‘ is a revolutionary Hip-Hop album. Not only does it follow the regular rap album efforts by including songs about the typical rap topics, women, drugs, guns and money, Kendrick shows a darker side that only he could’ve commercially put out without criticism. If it wasn’t for the release of TPAB and the events surrounding its release, the death of Sandra Bland, Alton Sterling and multiple other black men and women murdered for misrepresentation of their skin colour, would Hip-Hop be as it is now? Would conscious rap be as big as it is?
While Kendrick’s TDE label mates aren’t seen or heard from on the album, apart from Ab-Soul’s non-credited ad-libs at the beginning of ‘Momma’, this is one of my favourite albums ever. It can’t be considered the typical Rap or Hip-Hop album and whenever I listen to it, I feel like I’m listening to it for the first time again.