Compton, Cal. rapper Kendrick Lamar exploded on the music scene with his misinterpreted hit single “Swimming Pools (Drank)” back in 2012. Since then Kendrick has been considered one of the best rappers to emerge into the mainstream in recent memory. Following the release of the controversial single “The Blacker the Berry,” Lamar has released a third album titled To Pimp a Butterfly.
With his third album, Lamar has shifted away from the “party anthem rap” genre in which his music was mistakenly placed. Instead, he has focused on an album which manages to masterfully imbue itself with heavy funk elements, while paying homage to spoken word and the electronic voice synths that have become critical to Kendrick’s rap flow.
The album includes 16 songs that tackle issues of race in America, the use of the n-word and Kendrick’s own mentality, as he deals with depression and the cost of fame.
One notable track that discusses all three of these issues is “The Blacker The Berry.” The track starts off with a frantic sounding Kendrick describing the point of view of a racist in America, and the hatred with which they use to target black Americans. By the third verse, the song progressed into dealing with the problems of today’s urban culture as he says “Why did I weep when Trayvon Martin was in the streets/when gang-bangin made me kill a n---- blacker then me.”
Kendrick’s theme of calling out hypocrisy continues as a staple throughout his album, as he goes on to dedicate an entire song to the problems with his own rise to fame in the track “u.”
The first half of song harshly screeches out “that loving you is complicated” while Kendrick raps over a distorted saxophone. The dynamic of this track is what makes me enjoy this album so much. Instead of another stereotypical, head-bobbing beat that makes the lyrics easy to ignore, Kendrick made a song that forces you to actively follow what he is saying as he talks about losing his own identity on his way to fame. By the second half of the song, listeners can easily mistake this as a different piece as the entire tone and beat changes into a sobbing Kendrick that sounds as if he is staring in the mirror only accompanied with his own guilt.
My favorite piece of this album is the twelve-minute long concluding track “Mortal Man,” which mixes ambient instrumentals along with Kendrick’s harsh voice asking the listeners, “When shit hits the fan is you still a fan?”
At the five-minute mark, Kendrick shifts into a spoken word form that leads up to a mock interview with Tupac Shakur that makes the listener wish it were really happening.
In the closing minutes of the track, Kendrick shares one last spoken work, which beautifully gives meaning to the title of the album.
For listeners looking to find a complete album that masterfully crafts a type of unapologetic rap, look no more, as a major contender for best rap album of year has arrived, and it’s called To Pimp A Butterfly.