Album Review: Kendrick Lamar, “To Pimp a Butterfly”

by Kevin Pryles

Lifestyle Contributor

As I sit in the pressurized confines of a small jet plane homeward, reaching speeds that top out at 580 mph, I enter the hotel room of Compton, CA’s most beloved, controversial, and feared rapper, Kendrick Lamar. I hear the helpless bottle swigs, the reverberated screams from his bedside, and the blunt being sipped through the pair of lips that created the most monumental album of 2012 “good kid, m.A.A.d city.” Now, in 2015, Lamar hooks the listener to his side as we witness his self-destruction and rebirth as well as political contradictions, institutional racism, and old fashioned twisted chaos.

After the innocuous rage settles from Lamar’s drunken outburst, I settle into the seventh track, “u,” off of his successive major label album “To Pimp a Butterfly.” Lamar drags the listener into a pit of anger and depression which everyone has experienced by the time they were eighteen when they first started hating themselves. “Loving you is complicated!” is echoed over what sounds like a sample from an extended “House of Cards” theme song. The image of Lamar hunched with his arms on the sink, hanging over a bottle of whiskey displays a helpless Hyde shouting at the Jekyll in the mirror – “I’m fucked up, but I’m not as fucked up as you / You just can’t get right, I think your heart made of bullet-proof / Shoulda killed yo ass a long time ago / You shoulda filled that black revolver blast a long time ago.” When talking to “Rolling Stone,” Lamar had this to say about the monologue, “There’s some very dark moments in there. All my insecurities and selfishness and let-downs. That shit is depressing as a motherfucker. But it helps, though. It helps.”

When the feeling of darkness, gloom, and self pity sink into your beaten heart as a result of “u,” settle in for the much needed uplifting groove of “Alright,” a powerful, self-imposed redemption to the interior atom bomb of the previous track. Behind Pharrell’s catchy chorus of “Nigga, we gon’ be alright,” “Alright” is a call for help coming from the ghetto of Compton bastardizing cops everywhere for the ongoing police brutality that is somehow still occurring some 60 years after the initial civil rights movements. Lamar is not afraid to speak unforgivably throughout the album towards our country’s political system. With a song like “Hood Politics,” his aim is pointed right at the leaders of our country, criticizing them on political gridlock and the unmoving nature of bipartisan politics. He says that both parties are equal to the infamous Bloods and Crips. “From Compton to Congress, it’s set trippin’ all around / Ain’t nothin’ new but a flow of new DemoCrips and ReBloodlicans / Red state versus a blue state, which one you governin’? / They give us guns and drugs, call us thugs.” Politics in rap is old hat, yet as a surprise to no one, the good kid always seems to keep it fresh. I now picture Senator Ted Cruz swagging his way through the U.S. on his presidential campaign repping a red bandana denying the undeniable truth of climate change.

Lamar’s records always leave the listener questioning for more like a Christopher Nolan flick. From the phone call of his worrying and Domino’s-fiending parents in the prelude to “good kid, m.A.A.d city” to the come up of Boris Gardiner’s “Every Nigga is a Star” on “To Pimp a Butterfly,” Lamar brings a peaceful groove on “Wesley’s Theory” with a Roots-esque backing track to reiterate his dominance and declare his kingdom of the rap game. “For Free” transcends the unpredictability of Miles Davis’ “Bitches Brew” and any of Taylor Mali’s Def Poetry Jams, with the crudeness of a Kanye record. In the concurring track, “King Kunta,” the hook of a funky fresh bassline invokes Lamar’s wonderfully placed rhythmicity, “Now I run the game got the whole world talkin’, King Kunta.” (“King Kunta” has been the biggest track off of the record so far). Also, in good taste, Lamar doesn’t leave out other rappers, “I was gonna kill a couple rappers, but they did it to themselves.” Shouts to Drake, J. Cole, etc. Yet, worth as much as the diss, is the feature Snoop Dogg has on the track “Institutionalized,” a manifesto of institutional remnants in Compton.

“Mortal Man,” the swan song to the best album of the century, is a 12 minute blend of reverbed instrumentals and a nine minute long Tupac interview, narrated and hosted by none other than Mr. Kendrick Lamar. The chopped and screwed interview sends the listener into a comatose of contemplation of everything that has occurred in their short life thus far. It’s a come down like no ever. As I unplug the headphones and prepare to deplane from my 79 minute trip, I arrive at my destination of auditory nirvana.

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