Kendrick Lamar: ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ Album Review

Aftermath / Interscope / Top Dawg Entertainment
Aftermath / Interscope / Top Dawg Entertainment

To Pimp a Butterfly is the second groundbreaking album from genius Kendrick Lamar. His debut album, good kid, m.A.A.d city, is a certified platinum classic that garnered tracks like “The Recipe,” “Swimming Pools (Drank),” “Poetic Justice,” “Backseat Freestyle,” and “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe,” just to name a few. Honestly, there are no signs of a sophomore slump on this album; there’s a persuasive testimonial about the rise and fall of black artists in the industry and society.

The first two classic singles, “i” and “The Blacker The Berry,” aided awareness in this monumental project. The 20-year anniversary of 2pac’s classic LP, Me Against The World, happened on March 14th, 2015, which is the same day the album leaked. 20 years later, 2pac is here in the form of visionary Kendrick Lamar. Artistry is breathing in Lamar’s bones, and seeing it move with a wild, provocative, honest and most of all, real, makes the trail blaze with hope for the future.

In the opening, Lamar is brilliant on “Wesley’s Theory,” which is about the chase for fame. And once fame is achieved, wealth selfishly takes center stage. Thundercat brings the soul during the chorus, “We should never gave, we should never gave / ***** money go back home, money go back home.” The song hits a striking component production-wise because of the electric and funky, hip-hop composition. 

The following track, “King Kunta,” carries many encrypted messages. Lamar gives a shout out to the defiant slave, Kuta Kunta, who had his right foot cut off by slave owners for attempting to run away from the system. The courage and inspiration empower Lamar in the midst of his climb to the top of the rap game as a rich black man. A compelling hook gets right to the point: “Now I run the game, got the whole world talkin’, King Kunta / Everybody wanna cut the legs off him.”

Even though he is now an international superstar, Lamar still feels the urge to do what he has become accustomed to on “Institutionalized.” He bluntly admits the daily struggle: “I said I’m trapped inside the ghetto and I ain’t proud to admit it / Institutionalized, I could still kill me a *****, so what?” Maybe it is time to apply grandma’s wisdom: “Shit don’t change until you get up and wash your ass.” Bilal vocally excels at fitting the song’s derived truth on the chorus. Lamar feels more at home in his city (Compton) than in the industry because of the money-driven rappers who don’t even understand the concept of real hip-hop anymore.

In the song, “These Walls,” Lamar explains – in detail – the vaginal walls of a woman whom he is having sexual intercourse: “These walls want to cry tears / These walls happier when I’m here / These walls never could hold up / Every time I come around demolition might crush.” Mellow production elements permit the song to touch and reach for the classic moment in harmony with the lyrics. If these walls could talk, Lamar would be called a genius.

Screaming at the opening of “u,” he bluntly says, “loving you is complicated.” It’s one of the most painfully brave and moving songs on the album. Doubting himself, Lamar says, “I place blame on you still / Place shame on you still / Feel like you ain’t shit / Feel like you don’t feel, confidence in yourself / Breakin’ on marble floors.” Wealth and riches cannot change the pre-existing issues that are priceless like insecurities, doubt, forgiveness, and pride.

“Alright” centers around fighters who strive all their lives and rest with faith: “Hard times like, God! / Bad trips like, “God!” / Nazareth, I’m f***ed up / Homie you f***ed up / But if God got us / Then we gon’ be alright.” With Pharrell on the hook, he adds that urban radio appeal from his heyday, and it transports the song into an anthem of the future.

“Momma” is one of the most trance-inducing songs on the album. It is here where Lamar narrates profoundly, “I can attempt to enlighten you without frightenin’ you / If you resist, I’ll back off, quick go catch a flight or two / But if you pick destiny over rest in peace / Than be an advocate, tell your homies especially / To come back home.” The background vocals of Lala Hathaway strikes the mind and causes an out-of-body healing.

Lamar is not here to appease to the standard stereotypes of a rapper in the music business on “Hood Politics:” “I don’t give a f*** about no politics in rap, my n**** / My lil homie Stunna Deuce ain’t never comin’ back, my / So you better go hard every time you jump on wax, my n****.” This rapper deals with life situations and his blood just can’t flow with anything remotely phony. Moreover, the politics of the hood is expertly planted into the thoughtful lyrics from Lamar. One of the most noticeable aspects here is the west coast production smartly rooted in the music.

The deep storytelling on “How Much A Dollar Cost,” makes it one of the best songs on the album. Kendrick Lamar’s words portray a picture of compassion and humanity, proving a person’s real love for someone and for God. In “Complexion (A Zulu Love),” Lamar admits, “Beauty is what you make it, I used to be so mistaken by different shades of faces.” This song is more important than ever, due to the hate crimes occurring daily. Following is the potent classic, “The Blacker The Berry.” This track defies all odds and advances the statement from the previous record, which is about skin color and the stereotypes based on color alone. Production from Boi-1da is utterly exceptional and takes the song to a whole different dimension.

Lamar internally sees the insecurities loud and clear on “You Ain’t Gotta Lie (Momma Said).” Lamar advises the fool, “So predictable your words, I know what you gonna say / Who you foolin’? / Oh, you assuming you can just come and hang / With the homies but your level of realness ain’t the same.” Lamar is talking about somebody who immortalizes false imagery to feel accepted, but he and his friends can see right through this wannabe. “i” is the most important tune released from anyone since 2001’s “No More Drama,” by Mary J. Blige. It is funky and uplifting. Whether on the streets of Compton or anywhere listening, redemption serves itself on a platter in this incredible record that is full of hope and love for the future. In one of the song’s most convincing moments, Lamar says, “Everybody lookin’ at you crazy (Crazy) /What you gon’ do? (What you gon’ do?) / Lift up your head and keep moving (Keep moving) / Or let the paranoia haunt you? (Haunt you).”

Novelty lives in an immaculate place on the riveting album closer, “Mortal Man,” connecting the dots on all the album’s dark, controversial and prominent themes. The rapper converses with fellow mortal man 2pac, whose legacy encourages upcoming as well as established artists to this very day. It is actually the best moment in the hip-hop album, and it’s certain to cause an evolution in society. Kendrick Lamar is a true representative of hip-hop music with his faithful commentary on life. To Pimp A Butterfly is an exceptional album, full of meditative songs including profound purpose to the fellow man. Trailblazing in his vision, Lamar sets the trend and changes the game permanently. He is truly an artist forwarding his musical legacy.