Kendrick Lamar’s third studio album, “To Pimp a Butterfly,” is a 16-track grand opus chronicling the pursuit of balance while living with money and fame.
Lamar released the album on Monday after it leaked online over the weekend, thwarting plans for a March 23 debut. The title winks at Harper Lee’s classic, “To Kill a Mockingbird.” To date the record broke a Spotify world record with 9.6 million streams.
“To Pimp a Butterfly” picks up where Lamar’s “good kid, m.A.A.d. city” leaves off, but the rapper is more assured as he threads in and out of a first person/third person narrative. He’s no longer an angst-ridden teenager driving his mother’s minivan down Rosecrans Avenue in Compton recalling blues tales of poverty and gangs, aspiring to fame and fortune. Throughout the album, Lamar speaks as a man of influence who has experienced tremendous loss and success.
The first song, “Wesley’s Theory,” is a nod to actor Wesley Snipes who was sentenced to three years in prison in 2010 for failing to file his federal taxes. The song sets up Lamar’s belief that the entertainment industry capitalizes off of black culture, heightening his thoughts on misappropriation and feeling undervalued. In one song called, “You Ain’t Gotta Lie (Momma Said)” Lamar raps, “And the world don’t respect you, and the culture don’t accept you, but you think it’s all love.”
“King Kunta,” a funk-driven groove, speaks to the irony that descendants of slaves are pivotal players in directing pop culture. Lamar’s voice is filled with grit and bravado as he proudly holds the hip-hop torch. The song trails off, and in the silence during a moment of introspection he says, “I remember you was conflicted, misusing your influence.” This reflection is carried throughout the album, each time he recites it, adding another phrase expressing doubt, fear and rage after the word “influence.”
“i” the album’s first single, was released last fall. The chorus echoes, “I love myself,” sampling the guitar riff from The Isley Brothers, “Who’s That Lady.” Lamar wrote the song not only as a message for his fans, but as a reminder for himself.
With messages of exaltation, come moments such as the song “u,” where Lamar becomes undone, exposing his battles with depression, thoughts of suicide and self-doubt. “u” is an emotional confession, lamenting the pregnancy of Lamar’s teenage sister and the tragic death of his best friend’s little brother who died from gunshot wounds in the same neighborhood from which Lamar escaped. The song starts with Lamar repeating, “Loving you is complicated.” His voice, open and raw, cracks under the weight of sadness, as he cries out reflecting on who lives, who stays and who dies.
“Why did I weep when Trayvon Martin was in the street, when gang banging made me kill a … blacker than me. Hypocrite!” Lamar raps in the last verse on, “The Blacker the Berry.” The song is a counter to “i,” affirming the need for the preservation of black culture, but also speaks to double consciousness and feeling more Malcolm than Martin.
But the most talked-about tune is “Mortal Man,” in which Lamar interviews Tupac Shakur. The slain rapper’s voice is taken from a 1994 interview with Swedish radio host, Mats Nileskär, where he talks about how youth need inspiration to become tomorrow’s leaders. Lamar addresses Shakur throughout the song but Shakur’s voice fades after Lamar asks him about the metaphor of the butterfly.
Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and Pharrell Williams guest on the album, along with members of Kendrick’s label, Top Dawg Entertainment. Ron Isley makes an appearance on “How Much A Dollar Cost?” and Lala Hathaway, Bilal and Anna Wise also lend their voices in background vocals. The sound is an eclectic mix of g-funk, jazz and bass driven soulful syncopated beats.
“I want you to get angry, I want you to get happy,” Lamar said about his album in an interview with The New York Times. “I want you to feel disgusted. I want you to feel uncomfortable.”
This article was originally published here.