As of two weeks ago, Kendrick Lamar’s sophomore album, To Pimp A Butterfly, was slated to have a March 23rd release date. What a difference a day makes. As of Sunday night and into early Monday morning, the album dropped on iTunes in its clean version, then its explicit version, then removed, then added to Spotify, then re-added to iTunes causing Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith, head honcho of Top Dawg Entertainment, to be pissed with Interscope about the early release then I guess suck it up when he realized everybody already had it…and amidst all that, I think Brick killed a guy.
Like the seemingly millions of folks who were waiting to see what Kendrick would bring to the table – and he essentially brought the whole table to the table – as soon I saw that the album was available I went straight to my computer to pay for the album and to upload it on Spotify which took significantly less time. I’ve listened to the album both in its entirety and in parts at least five or six times by now. I also stayed off of Twitter because I didn’t want to read all of the hyperbolic statements about how this album would change the landscape of life and the 2016 Presidential election and possibly cure cancer NOR did I want to hear folks talk about how this album sucks and Kendrick fell off because it sounds kind of blah and turn him into Nas. I’m pretty sure – without looking at Twitter – the conversations went in either of those directions. Kendrick is an amazingly talented wordsmith who makes everybody give him a listen though, which speaks volumes. With that in mind, this isn’t an album review, it’s 10 thoughts I had while listening to the album.
1. The reason this isn’t an album review is because I can’t decide if I even like it. Paradoxically speaking #doe, I think this is a brilliant album. There are very few artists out right now who I truly think give a real shit about the idea of an album. Sure these niggas release “albums”, but they’re more collections of songs recorded that may or may not loosely tie into one another via song titles or one-trick pony themes of money, hoes, and clothes. Kendrick has two major label releases thus far (thought I’ve seen folks try to lump Section 80 into the major label release category), and they’re both concept albums in scope and execution. That’s impressive. His ability to fully execute his ambition is even more impressive. Pretty much, the only other big name rappers whose talent seems to equal their ambition are Kanye West and Drake. Kendrick hits every facet of Blackness and Black music with this album. And that’s beautiful because Black is beautiful. With all that being said, I’m still not sure if I like it.
2. This is a very jazzy ass album. I don’t mean that because Terrace Martin is getting his saxophone on all through out the album. I mean its jazzy because it’s got movement. It’s clearly been through the arrangment ringer a few times, and it ebbs and flows according to the whims of its main architect, King Kendrick. There’s something to be said for an album whose most commercially viable song is “The Blacker The Berry” (even the version of Grammy Award winning “i” on the album is different and less radio centric and more jam session-y).
3. The album opens up with Boris Gardner’s “Every Nigger Is A Star”. If you’ve not heard this song, you should listen to it. It’s disturbingly beautiful in how serenely this nigga sings a song with that title. Of course, I want this song to be my ringtone on my phone. At all times. But it’s an interesting opening to the album because there’s so much contradiction in the very statement. It’s triumph while living in the tragedy of society’s view of whow you are while slapping the shit out of Uncle Sam as he takes all of your money and subjugates you to public housing that’s been created as a brand new highway splits a city into haves and have nots. It turns the negative right on its head though. And that’s an examination of Blackness in this here century. It’s got dichotomy and all of those other big words that mean there are multiple things going on in one statement. It’s got fire it’s got passion at the same damn time. Then it hard stops into the beginning of all of the p-funkiness of the album. This is a funky album.
4. Except when it sounds like a Foreign Exchange album. It’s got a very neo-soul meets hip-hop feel to it in many places. This isn’t a bad thing. It’s just a thing that I can see turning many folks off who want that hip-hip, the hop it don’t stop. It’s more Section 80 than good kid, m.A.A.d city. Which I’m almost POSITIVE has spurred tons of FB and Twitter rants talking about why niggas who don’t love the album don’t: if you like xyz rapper, you wont like this album because it’s got substance. Or this ain’t that trash you niggas on the IRT listen to, this is that real shit, shit to make you feel shit, bump it in the club shit, have you wildin’ out hip hop. Except it won’t make you do any of that. And you won’t be able to do any of that because you have to actually listen to the entire thing. It’s hard to just pick a song and then listen to that song alone.
5. I was talking to one of my boys about the difference (to me) about Kendrick and many of his contemporaries. I don’t think any other of his contemporaries are even close to being in his lane. And here’s why: Kendrick, much in the way of Kanye, makes pieces of art. You can tell how much thought and attention to detail goes into these bodies of work. To that end, I genuinely want to know the entire process. I want to read about the studio sessions, and the creative processes, and who played on what song and where they recorded and what was going through his mind when he made xyz song. I’ve already read as many articles as I can find about who played on what track and who produced what, etc. Rolling Stone has a good article so far about it. Take an artist like J. Cole, and I don’t mean to shit on Cole as he’s just an example, but I couldn’t give two fucks about his creative process. I feel like it was: make beats, record songs, pick 15, call it album, title, send to label and that was that. It’s not that there’s no depth to it, it’s just that he gives you everything in the verses. I feel that way about most rappers. But when niggas make albums that are dense and colorful and creatively crafted and aren’t just typical intro-16-hook-16-hook-16-hook-outro, it piques my interest. Every rapper ain’t able. And that’s okay. Every rapper ain’t meant to be remembered.
6. To Pimp A Butterfly is a hell of a title. The lover of words in me loves the, again, contradictory nature of that statement. There’s so much imagery packed into it. The title seems more literary than anything, and the album seems to fall into this discussion of life and the ills of both success and Blackness. It’s as much of a book about what happens when you leave the hood after you get some success as anything. It’s a book in album form.
7. “This dick ain’t freeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.” <—- the new motto
8. “How Much A Dollar Cost” is an amazing record. I just want to say that.
9. This is one of those albums that flies in the face of all of those fucktards who claimed that Beck had a better album than Beyonce and deserved the Grammy for Album Of The Year becuase he played all of the instruments and wrote all the songs. There is an endless array of contributors in the form of producers on this album, all helping to see a vision through to its end. That’s production. That’s creativity. That’s what creativity is all about, utilizing the resources at your disposal to see your vision through to completion.
10. He interviews Tupac. This is the best use of Tupac ever since Hologram ‘Pac. Who wouldn’t want to have a sitdown with Tupac? I would. Kendrick managed to make that happen. That’s creativity.
BONUS: This is the type of album that makes me want to see it live. I’d pay good money to see the Pimped Out Butterflies Tour, because the entire album seems like it’s waiting to be performed at coffeehouses and in stadiums alike.
I’m sure by the time all is said and done, I’ll have determined this is the best album since the last best album. But the good part is, even though I’m not sure exactly how I feel about it, I can’t stop listening.
And I won’t stop listening as I continue to dissect and invest in the project. Kendrick has my respect.
And my money.
Butterfly has been pimped.
What are your thoughts on Kendrick’s To Pimp A Butterfly?