Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp A Butterfly” Reviewed
Songs about the devil and his work take center stage now that Kenrick Lamar is straight outta Compton and ready to take West Coast rap back to its rightful place. Yep, that is the subtext of the newly dropped third album, To Pimp A Butterfly (inspired by To Kill A Mockingbird), that and all the things it takes this 27 year old black man, and the black population surrounding him to reach the promised land. Kanye West recently said “ “Racism is a dated concept, it’s like a silly concept that people try to touch on … to separate, to alienate, to pinpoint anything, it’s stupid. … It’s something that was used to hold people back in the past, but now there’s been so many leaps and breaking of the rules that it’s played out, like a style from the 1800s.”
Perhaps so, but for Kendrick it is more confusion, more strangeness, more victims and more aggressors. The masterpiece is the full frontal attack on received racism of “The Blacker The Berry”, but it is only one moment on this dense album. It opens with a great stroke (and George Clinton getting his due) on the opening track “Wesley Theory” , with its long “Every Nigger is A Star” sample, to lead you in, both musical and in your face, and Flying Lotus’ most listener friendly production and still jazzy and obtuse.
The jazz horn strain of “For Free?” which sounds like a showtune intro before going all John Coltrane on you is followed by “King Kunta”, the catchiest hook of the bunch. “u” is a straight up romance track “loving you is complicated” with orchestration that seems to have escaped from Sgt. Peppers. “I”, much later, is a litany of life –a mini-self-portrait, with his best flow of the album, he sounds like Twista!
The closer “Mortal Man”, a mix of Lamar asking questions to his hero Tupac Shakur, and Tupac replying from a sample of a 1994 Tupac Shakur interview with P3 Soul.
Between money, success, the black man’s plight and the wages of sin, this is not untypical hip hop land thematically and while Kenrick can rhyme like a motherfucker, that ability hides his shallowness to a certain extent. Sometimes he is worth listening to, sometimes he is too self-obsorbed. But musically, he is consistently interesting. It sounds like nothing else out there, it is like lthe rap answer to Flying Lotus, with a taste for jazz and the most difficult rhymes you can imagine, how he finds the integrated beats is beyond me -he finds places where none exists.
So how good is it?
Very, very good.
But you knew that.
Still, it is a dense, self-referential , solipsistic ride. It will take a lot of listening to get to the bottom here, but is it worth it? The White House is calling, who will answer?