This Kendrick Lamar article was written by Lucas Jones, a GIGsoup contributor
Good albums are often enjoyable to listeners and may breach a few best of the year lists. Great albums inspire a generation and have a lasting impact on culture. To Pimp A Butterfly is the latter.
Kendrick Lamar’s third album is released against the backdrop of anger and frustrations among the black community. Events such as the Ferguson riots and the Trayvon Martyn shooting have exposed the cultural, societal disconnect and racial inequality present throughout the United States and thus lies the context of To Pimp A Butterfly.
Lyrically, Lamar demonstrates his effectiveness at storytelling by using his ability to highlight what it means to be black in America in 2015. Sonically, it is a diverse patchwork of musical influence that takes the listener on a journey through the funk of George Clinton, the soul of the Isley Brothers and Boris Gardener underscored by a foundation of free-flowing jazz beats.
The album kicks off with “Wesley’s Theory” uses the trials and tribulations of Wesley Snipes to explore how capitalism has left many behind; it is just one example of how To Pimp A Butterfly is an intricate, multi-layered piece of work. At his most personal, Kendrick can have a profound impact “u” sees him pour his heart out, a monologue that rages at the complacency of those with power and money to help those most ignored in society. It is a haunting confession that is sure to resonate.
“King Kunta”, “Alright” and “i” are hits made for the radio, but this doesn’t mean that they detract from the story Kendrick is telling, they make more sense in the context of an album, but serve as effective snapshots into the issues Lamar addresses.
The song that most defines what To Pimp A Butterfly is about is the closing track “Mortal Man”, which brings everything back into focus. It serves mainly as a tribute to Tupac, with Kendrick talking to him from beyond the grave, but as with every song on this album it has many different purposes, covering all aspects of the lifecycle of fame to the current state of hip-hop.
To Pimp A Butterfly is one of those career and genre-defining records that come around once a decade. As a societal narrative, it brings exposure to issues that are so often ignored and seldom tackled. This will be what crosses To Pimp A Butterfly into classic album territory and it will resonate and inspire scores of people who often feel ignored by institutional ineffectiveness.
‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ is out now on Aftermath/Interscope