Retrospective: Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp A Butterfly

1. Wesley's Theory 
2. For Free(Interlude)
3. King Kunta
4. Institutionalized
5. These Walls
6. u
7. Alright
8. For Sale (Interlude)
9. Momma
10. Hood Politics 
11. How Much A Dollar Cost?
12. Complexion(A Zulu Love)
13. The Blacker The Berry
14. You Ain't Gotta Lie(Mama Said)
15. "i"
16. Mortal Man 

The year 2015 has seen some huge moments in music. Recently, there has been the return of Adele, Drake and Future releasing an album, the Drake and Meek beef, along with some new music and good product from the majority of the bigger name rappers. In March 2015, we saw the release of Kendrick Lamar's 2nd(truthfully 3rd) solo album "To Pimp A Butterfly". I would consider one of the most talked about, if not THE most talked about album this year. Some said it was trash, some say it was a classic. I attempted to gather folks to provide different opinions on this album as West Coast week nears the close, but some didn't submit in time. Regardless, what follows is mostly appreciation for an album that clearly tells a story of self-love, depression and awakening. Let's get into it.

Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp A Butterfly is a perfect example of not rushing the second album and making sure your vision comes through. From the opening track it is clear what Kendrick wants to say and he makes no missteps in saying it. The standout tracks for me are ''u'', ''Alright'', ''Momma'' and ''How Much A Dollar Cost''. Kendrick's ability for storytelling really shines through on those last two tracks. "U" is a track that hit me at the right time, as I was going through some shit when I heard it. Those horns in the second part of the song are awesome. And "Alright"? That shit is a road trip of those songs you could shamelessly blast going down the street with some friends, windows down and heads out the window shouting the lyrics. This album is far superior to GKMC, better songs, more cohesive and a stronger overall message. I still consider it the best album release this year.

I've known about Kendrick since him freestyling on old Game mixtapes and always thought he was interesting, but I didn't truly become a fan until Overly Dedicated. I liked his approach with music and his dichotomy with what's perceived as conscious and what's perceived as ignorant, but as he likes to express it, and myself included, he was simply being human. TPAB in my opinion expresses this same sentiment, but in a completely different way for KDot. I was glad he didn't recycle the whole story element from GKMC, but in a way this album is a little more cinematic. It can be perceived in various different ways and that's sort of the beauty of it. As crazy as it sounds I'm convinced Kendrick took a couple tabs of LSD and went in with this album, it's too many clues hinting to this, but that's a whole other story for another time.

Kendrick understands the importance of vibrations and the way music takes effect on the brain. This album is literally therapeutic if listened to in whole, and I'll admit when I first heard it, I though Kendrick was being too experimental too early on in his mainstream career. I can understand why this music may not reach some, and I honestly believed it's because we've been conditioned to appreciate mediocre and "safe" music, this is not an album that can simply be listened to. The elements of jazz, funk, and many other older styles of black music are here for a real reason. It's disappointing to me that people won't appreciate "For Free (Interlude)" the way I did, and it's the most politically charged and poetic song on the album in my opinion. But with most pieces of work like this, it must be digested over a period of time. Kendrick's rapping on this album in my opinion wasn't as complex as it usually is, I could tell he was trying to approach this on a more emotional level above everything on this album. He covered elements of being pimped by the industry, being ignorant to taxes, suicide, religion, importance of family, sex, and self reflection. He did it in a way where it was pretty simple in my opinion to grasp what he was saying on the surface. But with more listens I identify the many different layers he plastered this album in, and it makes me appreciate it immensely. The song "Momma" is one of the best rap songs this year, and I connect with it in so many different ways, and it's a clear example of what makes Kendrick, Kendrick. So while I can understand why it may not be the easiest album to listen to, I wholeheartedly understand his direction on this album and see the significance it's having in today's age of race related issues. It's a piece of work that some may not WANT to listen to but surely NEED to listen to.

To Pimp a Butterfly is the Final Fantasy XIII of 2015 releases (and yes, that's a HUGE shameless plug for my FFXIII revisit review, by the way).

You have one camp championing it for being unafraid to try something different, to go and pull a complete 180 from the last time we saw an established entity. I'll refer to these individuals as "Butterflies." The "Butterflies" are people who want that newness presented in a way that is somewhat abstract, so they'll flock to anything that seems different. Some people may call them "hipsters," but calling someone a hipster is ironic in this day and age: we're all hipsters to a degree, whether we want to admit it or not. But, I digress. The Butterflies are the people who'll accept this album and say it's G.O.A.T. without looking at its flaws.

Inversely, you have the "pimps," those who want to keep Kendrick as the guy who almost drowned in swimming pools over the overly bad situation with Master Splinter's Daughter. The "pimps" in this situation? They want that old reliable to come back to and throw out there whenever people want that "real rap." These are the people who hate TPAB because it's too different, because "For Free?" is part-spoken word, part-soul-funk, and because the overarching "Kendrick vs. Lucy" theme, to them, bogs down the actual music. The "pimps" will dog this album because it doesn't really fit into one box.

Essentially, you've got one side blindly accepting this as the Second Coming and one side blindly saying that Kendrick went on his Lupe tip and started preaching holier-than-thou babbling nonsense to the masses.

However, subscribing to either of these camps misses the point. To Pimp a Butterfly is a mess. It's a beautiful, thought-out mess, but it's a mess nonetheless. With instances such as "Mortal Man's" poem to 2Pac, the multi-layered nature of "These Walls," and the house-party version of "i," it's plain to see what Kendrick is doing. He's showing the perfections and imperfections of humanity. I feel that "How Much A Dollar Cost" encapsulates this the best, as Kendrick, the mortal man, must have himself been humbled by God to truly be great, to be perfected. It's a tad cliched in its delivery (it reminds me of a more fleshed-out version of Joe Budden's "Pray For Me"), but it's excellent in its message, even if you're not one to subscribe to religious overtones. Additionally, "Mortal Man" is one of those thought-provoking moments that'll be talked about--if people are wise--for a while.

So, who's right? Is Kendrick the God Emcee, or is he just a confused mortal man with a lot to say but doesn't know how to put it without sounding like an elitist? Eh, both. And that's what makes the album great. It's more about the journey of self, about the education of self and others, than just about one definitive thing. And, just like the video game I mentioned in my intro, from top to bottom, it's a work of art. It's a very polarizing, at times slightly misdirected work of art, but a work of art nonetheless.

My love for TPAB is measured in the fact that I essentially was not looking forward to it at first. I was a bit annoyed by some of Kendrick's comments on some social matters, along with his lack of follow up on the "Control" verse, and was truly not looking forward to the album, but of course planned to listen to it like I do all new hip hop. When this album had the first three tracks drop before it released, I wasn't impressed. "i" didn't make my excitement increase and though I loved "The Blacker The Berry" initially, I was confused about where the album would go next essentially. The same could be said for "King Kunta", though the song is also great.

Upon the release of the album, I sat down and gave it my usual first listen where I don't skip anything until at least 45 seconds into each song, if not longer. When the sound of "Wesley's Theory" hit, I instantly stopped and started it over. It was the sound, the approach, the execution that made it sound so dope to me. The funk, the verses, the soul, and the hooks/bridges was just too infectious to ignore. Anxious to hear what was next, I became entranced into the music. Hearing "King Kunta" in succession with the flow of the album made me appreciate the song even more. On "Institutionalized" and "These Walls", the melody and sound is just so rich, along with the change in beat early on in "Institutionalized" coupled with Snoop and his verse.

The battle with depression on "u" is amazing to hear come through in music form. The beat changing over after 2 minutes adds a different element to it and the production pretty much is flawless once it switches over. The horns, the melodies, etc.... and leading right into the anthem "Alright" which is one of the best songs on the album, if not the best. I truly enjoy "Momma", "How Much A Dollar Cost"(honestly aside from the exquisite storytelling Kendrick does here, Ron Isley is absolutely hilarious), "Complexion", and of course "Mortal Man". Kendrick created what I feel is an album that challenges not only his fan base, but the listener in general for this day and time. Some fans hated this album and I truly can't see how. It is evolved from the limited window(in concept at least) of GKMC and more along the lines of experimental and jazzy influenced Section.80, which was classic as well. Kendrick takes his time with his albums and creates something timeless and cohesive, and TPAB is all that and more. I believe TPAB is still the best album of 2015 and quite monumental for the West Coast considering the content overall. It didn't necessarily break new ground, but Kendrick continues to do what he does best and step outside the box, making his own lane in hip hop.

The message within TPAB is to embrace ourselves and love ourselves. I think with the disparity and pain that we see on a daily basis, this was definitely an album that was necessary. I feel like this is Kendrick's best work so far and wonder what direction he will go in next. It will be hard to top going forward, but I have immense faith in Kendrick's music and his track record seems to only show greatness.

What did you guys think of TPAB? Write your opinion down in the comments below.



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