Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Album Review | To Pimp a Butterfly - Kendrick Lamar

"...And while this album does have a philosophy to divulge, Kendrick doesn't skimp on the music on this album. He realizes that making music is about the music; if the music under your message is garbage, the music is garbage..."
-Anthony Fantano, The Needle Drop

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Musically, 2015 is off to a great start; this is something we all know to be true. I'm beyond amazed by the truth and story telling that is resurrecting hip-hop to its rightful place. Please excuse how long it has taken me to do this review. It takes a while for me to do a full album review, because it's an extensive process that involves press play of the album, a discography listening session, and then a track by track break down. Also, for whatever reason, I have to wait until I buy the hard copy first to "finalize" my review. Like I said, it's a process. Low and behold, the wait is over and I'm finally here to do my review of Kendrick Lamar's latest project, To Pimp a Butterfly.

To Pimp a Butterfly was the follow-up to Kendrick's second studio album released in 2012, Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City, a compilation that reflected on a young man's Compton, California upbringing. Despite how long Kendrick had been on the music scene at that point, I believe that was the album put him on the map in regards to mainstream hip-hop; his audience literally sky rocketed. Apparently, with fame came a lot of inner turmoil and you can absolutely feel every bit of that bottled up aggression he's been holding in for the past 3 years in every second of this project.

Like token Kendrick Lamar, there is always going to be a powerful message in the music, but the sound quality of the music is just as good-if not, better. The production of this album was infused with blues, funk, and smooth jazz melodies that played well with the lyrical narrative. I guess that's what is bound to happen when you have musical masterminds such as Pharrell, Dr. Dre and Flying Lotus (to name a few) to collaborate with. Even if it wasn't strictly instruments in the studio, I love that the sound of this record had very analog feel and that's important in the digital, tech-driven society we live in now.

With quite a few connections to some of Kendrick's previous work, the flow and overall theme of the story line is genius, one that can only be properly digested by the individual listener who actively listens. It honestly feels like there are different character sketches in each song, because there are moments that I felt contradicted each other, but I think that was a part of the bigger picture; to tell a story from different angles and perspectives.

The narrative begins with a black man-or rather, an entire culture-growing to understand his own blackness, one coming to the end of himself, and the last man ultimately morphing into something beyond that. It's this aggressive maneuver through injustice, struggle, and politics from a certain character's point of view, as a poem consciously unravels more and more with each track. The anger is explosive towards the beginning, as it's coming from a place of imprisonment. By the time we reach 'The Blacker the Berry', there's this climatic point, then the ambiance transforms, as does the man...into a butterfly. 

It was intriguing how many biblical references I was able to spot as well, which is another reason this review took so long; I wanted anything I referenced to be accurate. For example, the saga in How Much a Dollar Cost was a connection to Matthew 25:34-40. To my understanding, K.L. wasn't implying that he is God, even though he concluded this track with the statement "I am God"; it was that pivotal point where the homeless bum reveals to Kendrick's character this he is actually God and that he would be judged based on the how superior he felt to his fellow man. I listened to this track over and over again before realizing that myself. Well played, Mr. Lamar.

The closing dialogue on 'Moral Man' between Kendrick himself and the late Tupac using audio clips from actual pre-death interviews was surreal. If we go back as far as The Kendrick Lamar EP, we can see that there has always been some kind of statement-whether spoken or visual-that stood out as a sort of homage to the hip-hop legend himself, so it was really cool to understand the amount of passion and effort put into this track alone in order to create this very cohesive exchange between the two, which, to me, hasn't been done quite like this and was an outstanding representation of the HiiiPoWeR movement.

During this "conversation" of sorts, the two artists touched on a plethora of social injustices in not only the world, but in the black community. Hearing the late rapper's voice was a bit eerie, but the real scary part was noticing how relevant these conspiracy theories he had inside of him have proven to be in 2014/15. I could probably write an entire essay about this track alone. Long live Tupac Shakur. It's also where we finally grasp the meaning behind the album title, To Pimp a Butterfly.

Although the philosophy of this album wasn't received by everyone the same way, it still marks a defining moment for hip-hop. If didn't do anything else, it, at the very least, was able to provoke thought, intense debates, and deeply rooted emotions within the first 45 minutes of its release. It's a piece of work that will probably be recognized 20...30...50 years from now as one of the most prolific albums of this decade. I can picture it being that proud moment somewhere in the future, where some old, music head like me is somewhere schooling someone of the next generation about classics, as they thumb through their extensive collection and dust this one off to put into the stereo. The sound is so smooth, the message resonates, and a smile will form, because they'll remember what a wonderful time it was to be alive. 

Kendrick Lamar. To Pimp a Butterfly. Rec. 15 Mar. 2015. 2015. Album.

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