Kendrick Lamar returns strong with a captivating, thought-provoking and highly controversial collection of tunes to serve as his third album, To Pimp a Butterfly. The standards were set pretty high for Lamar considering the success of his certified-platinum album, good kid m.A.A.d. city, which told a story of a particular day during his childhood, set in Compton, Los Angeles. The story narrated throughout the album served as a guide and inspiration for listeners just like Lamar, encouraging the youth to seek out wisdom, religion and hope, despite the counter-descriptive reality they actually live in. It was also an inside perspective on a highly received platform into what day might be like for a young black youth often surrounded by a plethora of negative factors commonly found in “urban” communities that may not be apparent or evident for those that do not have to live in such an environment. Either way listeners interpreted Kendrick’s first mainstream commercial display, the album was overall regarded as an instant classic and put on the same pedestal as classic debuts like Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt and Nas’ Illmatic.
Kendrick Lamar stated that in this album, To Pimp a Butterfly, he wanted to really focus on current issues, urging listeners to critically think about and question a slew of modern injustices and social hegemony found in America today. The poem that Lamar recites throughout the whole album in addition to its very title, that is indicative to Harper Lee’s book, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” suggests that he believes the inhabitants of urban communities (caterpillars) are being targeted and undermined by various factors including law enforcement, government, the entertainment and media industry, as well as the very atmosphere in which these people grow up (the cocoon) all the way up until, which is contingent on if, they make it out successful (as butterflies). Those are my initial thoughts, but I am sure there are multiple interpretations to K. Dot’s clever second mainstream collection.
Laced with beats, tones and melodies influenced by the 60’s and 70’s funk and jazz eras of music, Lamar adds his original modern rap style to every song, with fiery unapologetic aggression in his lyrics. Considering the consistent beat pattern, which is reminiscent to a soundtrack for a Blaxploitation film, some may find it hard to listen to at first. And his message is Black Power Movement inspired and controversial at its core, but that is exactly what the industry needs. Oversaturated content and lackluster lyricists in such a dominant music industry is more counterproductive to listeners, consumers and society as whole. In a Rolling Stone interview, K. Dot expressed that while on tour he met some of his listeners and realized he was the strongest influence to many of them, and in such a role he would only want to provide positive and thought provoking messages in his music. In my opinion, he missed no opportunity to get listeners engaged in just that way.
Without spoiling the album too much, I want to encourage all rap and hip-hop fans to give it a thorough listen. To Pimp a Butterfly formally releases in stores on March 24, but has been available on iTunes since last Sunday when Kendrick abruptly dropped it late evening. For those who have not heard, it also has features from legends like Snoop Dogg, George Clinton and Pharrell as well as newer musicians like North Carolina native Rhapsody. Production is hosted by Dr. Dre of course and has some Terrace Martin influence as well as super producer Just Blaze. 2015 has been a very good year for music so far, and Kendrick has added to the pleasure. Feel free to send your thoughts.
Shawn Trawick is a fourth-year student majoring in communication studies and political science. He can be reached at ST819517@wcupa.edu.