In the age of sudden album drops, major label leaks and everything in between, the release of the most highly anticipated rap follow up album for a decade was pretty shambolic. The tracklist got out far too early, music execs were fighting with each other and the album appeared and disappeared on iTunes in a rather bizarre fashion. That said, nothing can take the shine off Kendrick Lamar’s second album, To Pimp A Butterfly.
Lamar has come a long way since 2009. When he dropped K-Dot, after co-signs from Lil Wayne and the release of various EPs and mixtapes, most notably 2011’s Overly Dedicated, it was 2012 when the 27-year-old from Compton was thrust out of the shadow of his mentor Dr Dre. good Kid M.A.A.D City was an instant success and propelled Lamar into a league of his own in terms of straight rap music.
Kendrick has taken us to a world of jazz samples, not far away from the realms of Speakerboxxx/The Love Below and Kamaal the Abstract, with production credits falling to beatmakers across the board. Flying Lotus appears on the album alongside Thundercat, as well as long time Drake collaborator Boi-1da and Pharell, obviously, because what’s an album in the last few years without him?
After the release of ‘i’, a funkier and more lyrically commercial hit for Kendrick, the fuse was lit for the blazing internet inferno.
But if ‘i’ was the lead track, it certainly doesn’t set the tone for the 16 song script, formed around the analytical ‘u’ and ‘King Kunta’. Dream-like interludes appear throughout the album which add thoughtful, but sometimes unnecessary problems into the mix.
On reflection, Kendrick skips between himself and the bigger picture. Finding himself on ‘Institionalised’ he raps: “No, streets put me through colleges, be all you can be, true, but the problem is, a dream’s only a dream if work don’t follow it.” It’s these glimpses into Kendrick’s complex opinions that form the base of the album.
On ‘Hood Politics’, the rapper switches up his flow, describing an alternate America to those portrayed by his counterparts. It’s brutal, honest, and probably the standout track of the record. During the final verse, Kendrick delves into politics: “Ain’t nothin’ new but a flow of new DemoCrips and ReBloodlica, red state versus a blue state, which one you governin’?”
It’s not as relatable, nor is it as addictive as the polished Kid M.A.A.D City. It’s also not as romantically explicit, with the narrative being unnecessarily complex in parts. However in five years time, ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ is sure to be filed as a modern day classic.
Kendrick is presented in a more mature, idealistic and reflective mood. Far from being the K-Dot that called out a who’s who of current rap on Big Sean’s ‘Control,’ To Pimp a Butterfly is Lamar accepting his fame, looking down from the top of the ledge and offering his opinions knowing that tomorrow it could all be gone.
While the record ends with ‘Mortal Man,’ a poignant conversation between Lamar and his hero 2pac on the topic of the class system and racial divide, sampling from Boris Gardiner’s 1974 blaxplotiation film, “Every Nigger Is A Star”, at the start, reinstates Lamar’s lasting dominance in the industry.