March 24, 2015 Dennis B

Universal, Not Racial: Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly Review


Welcome to Kendrick Lamar’s latest album, To Pimp A Butterfly.
An installment living in a world of its own—with heavy jazz-influenced, live instrumentation—where a black man deals with love, depression, grief and the curses of fame. Somehow, to some listeners—out of everything this project contains—there is nothing more interesting than the fact Kendrick Lamar is an African-American who tackles topics pertaining to his skin color throughout a few songs. Making it seem as if TPAB is a black-themed effort.
(Somebody even wrote a piece on how to “approach the overwhelming blackness” of it. Pathetic, right?)

Although the album starts with the now-infamous Boris Gardner sample and carries multiple black culture references as a nod to his roots — what Kendrick raps about during TPAB is essentially universal. Be it the embodiment of how corporates view entertainers (Wesley’s Theory, second verse), self-doubt (u), intellectual growth (Momma), worship (For Sale?), or an incentive to live a blissful life (Alright, i). These subjects are all equally relatable to those who experience them, whether in Compton or beyond. It’s this worldwide approach the majority are incognizant of.

“Alls my life I had to fight. Hard times like: “God!” Bad trips like: “God!” Nazareth, I’m fucked up. Homie you fucked up, but if God got us then we gon’ be alright”

Kosovo went to war in 1999. 16 years later, the country suffered from an exodus. Imagine Alright’s chorus being every Kosovan’s anthem, as they try to pull through years of relentless political/cultural tension. Hearing Pharrell tell you everything’ll work out, does vitalize optimism. And Kendrick knows that by addressing a specific demographic (people similar to whom he grew up around) he can also stimulate audiences across the globe. It’s the most effective way to please both sides, because—regardless of what some of them may say—we (people from 3rd world countries) know we share few of the same current day obstacles with black people.

Taking a break from TPAB’s global strategy, its religious aspects should also be well noted. Mainly exhibited through “lucifer’s” presence (Lucy), Kendrick sheds light at how being of great renown spawns confrontations with evil, oftentimes causing loss of faith. Despite never claiming to have agreed upon “a deal with the devil,” K.Dot is quite forthright about the possibilities of him being ‘excluded’ from Heaven due to the oblivious demeanor towards his own beliefs, on the simultaneously cringeworthy & intriguing storyteller: How Much A Dollar Cost. A cut where Kendrick Lamar encounters a beggar and refuses to give him a dollar, yet finds it difficult to part ways as a result of the beggar’s stare; who later on reveals himself as God, denying Kendrick a place in Heaven.

“…and I’ll tell you just how much a dollar cost: The price of having a spot in Heaven. Embrace your loss. I am God”

Never forgetting his place in hip hop, Lamar uses Hood Politics & You Ain’t Gotta Lie as a chance to speak directly at the rap industry. Respectfully, Hood Politics also revolves around neighborhood talk, but the third verse includes a powerful jab to critics who complain about lack of lyrics in rap — as well as him assertively rapping “I’m the only one next to Snoop who can push the button, had the Coast on standby.” Then there’s the aforementioned You Ain’t Gotta Lie, where—with a serene flow—he mocks those who forcedly attempt to fit in, right before singing “You ain’t gotta lie to kick it… You ain’t gotta try so hard.”

“Critics wanna mention that they miss when hip hop was rapping. Motherfucker if you did, then Killer Mike’d be platinum”

When it comes to not trying too hard to fit in, Kendrick is the right one to take advice from. Considering he’s not afraid to stand out at all. And To Pimp A Butterfly’s instrumental selection proves that. In times of chest-thumping 808s and computerized drums, K.Dot went with brass and guitars. The live jazz-driven instrumentation with funkadelic melodies and soulful vibes are a gift and a curse. It portrays Kendrick Lamar’s fearless character to take a risk/experiment, but plenty of casual listeners use it as a reason to increase TPAB’s value, stating that it’s groundbreaking. Yes, beats are the main factor to Butterfly’s preciousness and the reason this album is the most substantial in his discography, but there is nothing new about rapping over jazz. (see: A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul)

Since a bulk of the inspiration for the instrumentals is drawn from the years TDE’s own grew up — TPAB’s compositions are also a huge excuse for those who want to enlist it as “black.” See it as if good kid, m.A.A.d city was Kendrick Lamar’s story, whereas To Pimp A Butterfly is Kendrick Lamar. Religious, lustful, contradicting, momentarily manic — this album possesses human qualities. That’s why labeling TPAB is so effortless, yet a true blunder. Truth is, he passionately espouses his race while displaying sincere insight on life with hopes of helping civilization as a whole, so they know how to deal with a variety of struggles.
Ruling it out as a racial type does injustice to To Pimp A Butterfly’s significance, and Kendrick’s proficiency.


Written by Dennis B.

Tagged: , , ,