by AARON MEGAR
Kendrick Lamar, a rapper who needs no introduction, followed in the footsteps of Drake on Sunday night after dropping his third studio album, To Pimp A Butterfly, a week before its previously announced March 23 release date. And while it may have come as a shock to those who woke up and found Lamar’s album available on iTunes Monday morning, it should come as no surprise at all that To Pimp A Butterfly is one of the best rap records to have come out since 2012’s good kid, m.A.A.d city. Once again it proves that Kendrick Lamar stands atop the entire rap game with few others by his side.
Whereas good kid, m.A.A.d. city told the plight of a young K-Dot in Compton, To Pimp A Butterfly tells the plight of the black American in an album deeply embedded with passionate comments on race and its role in America. But amidst the 16-song record that could very well be deemed as “conscious rap,” the album is wildly entertaining, lyrically savvy, and it manages to be extremely multidimensional while at the same time maintaining a cohesive and well-flowing sound and vibe from start to finish.
The album’s instrumentals vary from the sound of a dark and creepy jazz club on “u” to the soulful, relaxing vibe of “Momma” to the typical drum-based rap beat on “The Blacker the Berry,” all coming together in a way that works perfectly. Since entering the game, Lamar has emerged as, aside from anything else, one of the most talented rappers to ever live, and his keen ability to rap over practically any instrument or sound on To Pimp A Butterfly exemplifies just that.
After listening through a couple of times, I have yet to find a track – aside from “i,” which was released as a single in September – that stands out as the album’s radio hit or club banger. And while I don’t recall thinking that “B**ch, Don’t Kill My Vibe” was going to be one of the year’s biggest hits upon the release of good kid, m.A.A.d city, Lamar seems to be on an entirely new mission with this record; a goal that does not need radio play-time in order to be achieved. On To Pimp A Butterfly, it sounds as though Lamar sought to put out powerful, creative, and meaningful music, and he did not fall an inch short of that.
One of the album’s strongest moments is on “Hood Politics,” a five-minute track with a simple and eery beat that Lamar has absolutely no trouble rapping over. And though he opens his verse by stating “I don’t give a f**k about no politics in rap, my n**ga,” Lamar goes on to call out the government, rapping:
“From Compton to Congress, it’s set trippin’ all around/Ain’t nothin’ new but a flow of new DemoCrips and ReBloodicans/Red state versus a blue state, which one you governin’?”
With this lyric, Lamar compares politicians to gang members, their policies and allegiances ignorantly bounded to a color, just like a gangster on the street. With “Hood Politics,” Lamar showcases his lyrical genius while at the same time entertaining any listener with his unbeatable flow, as his words bounce eloquently around a beat that others would simply sound awkward rapping on.
I fell equally in love with the record’s following track, “How Much A Dollar Cost,” where Lamar raps about his interaction with “A homeless man with a silly tan complexion” who turns out to be God. The song is more reminiscent of Section.80 than of good kid, m.A.A.d city – something that could be said of the entire album – in the sense that he tells these stories with less anger and more sincerity, almost as if he is less confident than he was on good kid.
“How Much A Dollar Cost” is deep, as Lamar internally debates the value of his hard-earned money and the right that a homeless man has to ask for a nickel of it. It is the combination of this deep, emotional level along with his top-class rapping that makes this song, and many of the others on To Pimp A Butterfly, so fucking good.
The album versions of “i” and “The Blacker the Berry,” both of which were originally released as singles, are slightly improved and shine as a couple of the album’s best songs along with “u,” the dark precursor to “i,” and “Alright,” one the most up-beat tracks on To Pimp A Butterfly. With that said, not a single song on the album goes unnoticed and there is not one that I could not say I enjoyed.
If good kid, m.A.A.d city was not enough to prove Lamar’s legendary status in the rap game, To Pimp A Butterfly does that and more. And just as good kid has remained hot for two years now, expect this record to do the same thing. Kendrick Lamar, with only three albums to his name, is one of the greatest rappers to ever exist and To Pimp A Butterfly only cements that claim.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5