Album Review: Kendrick Lamar- ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’

“Gather your wind, take a deep look inside. Are you really who they idolise, to pimp a butterfly?” Perhaps the most compelling line from the first song of the album, it sets the tone for what the album represents to K.Dot. Just as good kid, M.A.A.D City had an overriding message and theme throughout its tracks, so too does the latest addition to Kendrick’s discography. However, this new message is so enthralling it represents a new era for music, and hip-hop in particular.

The great dichotomy of the caterpillar and the butterfly in Kendrick’s world can be explained as the butterfly being the inner talent, greatness and beauty trapped inside the caterpillar, and restrained by the cocoon, which can represent the “hood”. Kendrick sees the emergence of the butterfly, as an artist, as being pimped out by those around him, simply as a money making tool, which provides the essence behind the album’s ingenious titling. This pimping, granted that it has taken him to some highs, has also brought him to some great lows, which this album takes us deep into. And this album is his way of telling the world that he’s had enough with the way that his butterfly is being pimped. And by god does he manage to do that – in a grandstanding way.

[quote]Kendrick Lamar, in a way has brought back a different sound to hip-hop; one that hasn’t been too present in mainstream hip-hop for an extremely long time.[/quote]

Upon introduction to the album, someone who’s listened to GKMC might be taken aback by it – while it is still Kendrick Lamar, there is a heavy focus on a funk sound, which persists all the way up to the 10th song on the album, “Momma”. To some on social media, this represented too abstract a change, however I saw this as quite an inspired move. Using a variety of producers, samples and features including, George Clinton, Flying Lotus, Bilal, James Fauntleroy, Ronald Isley among others, Kendrick Lamar, in a way has brought back a different sound to hip-hop; one that hasn’t been too present in mainstream hip-hop for an extremely long time.


In doing this bold move, Kendrick excels, with songs such as “Wesley’s Theory”, “King Kunta” and “i” encapsulating this bold change in direction. “King Kunta” also serves another purpose in that it introduces Kendrick’s thoughts on the racial tension that is pervading through America, and attempts to empower black people after a year in which many young black Americans have felt targeted by the system “The Blacker the Berry”, and “Hood Politics” are the songs which perhaps best encapsulate this. The former song is important in that where the preceding track on the album, “i” acts as a celebration of black people, this song acts as a manifestation of the anger that institutionalised racism has brought upon America. The album art, while at first shocking due to the clash between the two cultures: the institution vs the institutionalised, only serves to reinforce the political impact of Kendrick’s Lamar’s thoughts, something which is rarely seen in hip-hop nowadays. The political message is consistent all throughout the album, and manages to blend with all the other themes in it, to create an even more awesome album.

Moreover, while the album represents a different direction, musically, what is magical about it all though, is that despite going in a wildly different direction, Kendrick still manages to maintain the flow that set him apart from the chasing hip-hop pack after GKMC. This flow stands out on the tracks, “u”, “Hood Politics”, “How Much a Dollar Cost”. These four songs also play a key role within the rest of the album in relaying yet another wider message that Kendrick attempts to get across to his audience: battling the other side of fame; the sadness and depression that accumulates underneath all the fame and the realisation that this fame that he’s been blessed with, in all actuality, isn’t what he thought it was. “Institutionalized” sets the tone for this, with the features by Snoop Dogg, Bilal, and Anna Wise being used to great effect.

[quote]Kendrick pouring his soul out on record for everyone to feel, and you would have to be a golem not to feel it[/quote]

The subsequent songs only serve to reinforce this notion, especially “u”, which is perhaps the greatest song on the album. The song is heartfelt, with the first verse representing the pure anger he feels, while the last two verses being a broken Kendrick; him outwardly scolding himself on his pursuit of fame directly impacting the way he handled his friend’s death. “u” is Kendrick pouring his soul out on record for everyone to feel, and you would have to be a golem not to feel it, not for the song to resonate within you. It is a song reminiscent of “Sing About Me” on GKMC and also shows how fame led to his bout of depression. The depression K. Dot feels perhaps comes out best in the short skit with the cleaner: Kendrick had trapped himself inside, with a bottle, which comes across greatly in the voice-breaking verses, intertwined with tears.

“How Much” further builds on how much the game has changed him, and with great aplomb. It had reduced him to depression, and selfishness, out of touch with what he now considers most important, most real, in this world. “i” represents the phoenix rising from the ashes, with the resounding line “i love myself. Furthermore, there is another concurrent theme to this album, and that is the poem that runs through several tracks on the album, with each appearance adding another line or two to the previous one. While this may seem irrelevant at first, it holds a place of supreme importance: it helps to portray Kendrick’s mindset throughout the album, and its conclusion on the closing track represents one of the most significant parts of the tape: where Tupac’s 1994 interview with P3 Soul is used to close out the album, with some home truths on political, spiritual, and social issues.


In all honesty, there are so many facets to this album that do nothing but contribute to its place, and Lamar’s place, among the god level of rap/hip-hop. Tupac’s posthumous appearance on the album’s concluding track only reinforces the notion that Kendrick can be spoken about in the same breath as Tupac and Biggie, and if GKMC didn’t propel him to that level, then To Pimp a Butterfly definitely does. It represents the genre at its finest, and to that effect, the album is a perfect 10/10.

Shaun Brewster

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