Unless you were living under a rock, hidden away from your computer, phone, and social media for the last twelve hours, Kendrick Lamar’s follow-up to 2012’s glorious Interscope debut good kid, m.A.A.d. city magically made its way with a week-early release. To Pimp A Butterfly is a continuation of Lamar’s conceptual output of themes tying in the social construct of his Compton upbringing and observing in the lenses of the city’s inhabitants. I’ll try my best to refrain from giving a hot take review of the album, but one of the closing excerpts explains K. Dot’s approach best: “We ain’t even rapping, we’re just letting our dead homies tell their stories through us.”
Kendrick Lamar’s outlook has always been one that’s been looking in and watching his surroundings. If you would like to count his breakout album, Section.80, he looks at the world as a kid born into Reaganomics and the crack epidemic. GKMC had him battling internal conflicts mixed with vices, love, and fitting in with his gangbanging peers in Boyz In The Hood/Menace II Society fashion. With To Pimp A Butterfly, Kendrick grows even more reflective in the vein of Gil Scott-Heron, complete with buoyant, jazzy production from longtime collaborators Terrace Martin, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat. If there was one theme that ties these records together, it is how Lamar personally attempts to rediscover himself as well as expand his boundaries as an artist.
It’s crazy to think how many of us on social media questioned how he was going to follow up something at the standard of good kid, m.A.A.d. city and the risks he was going to take into matching the quality of the album. For Lamar, it surely was a risk from the subtle rollout of releasing the happy-go-lucky self-love single, “i”, and then challenging the thought processes of listeners for his final lines on “The Blacker The Berry.” Even the stellar album artwork with a group of his friends and family standing atop of a white judge could strike some commotion. But as with every ambitious artist, there is a method to one’s madness and Kendrick Lamar used this layout to help spread his influences with the help of friends.
It’s no secret that the Los Angeles hip-hop scene can be a tight-knit unit with their collaborations. Artists would work with Alchemist, Madlib, Iman Omari, and Exile these days as many before them would collab with Dr. Dre and DJ Quik. Lamar brings all those harmonies together in a poetic slam jam of young LA beatsmiths, jazz ensembles, and vocal elevators. It’s not often that you would have an artist at the platform of Lamar stick to his proverbial guns and keep his most anticipated project to date an in-house jam session featuring a number of names many listeners are just hearing of today. Aside from a Pharrell feature and Boi-1da stepping through, it’s mainly held together by producers with the likes of LoveDragon, Rahki, knxwledge, and Ti$a.
What is also surprising is the most we get of TDE involvement is through the production alone from Sounwave and Tae Beast. No rap guest spots from Schoolboy Q, Jay Rock, or Ab-Soul; not even a showcase from the new signees Isaiah Rashad and SZA. It’s mainly him as the main voice in the liners, though the additional presence of Bilal Oliver, Sonnymoon’s Anna Wise, and Thundercat doesn’t hurt one bit. The jazz into rap format isn’t anything new if you have been listening for the past 20+ years of Roots chronology and recent output from Robert Glasper, but it is a drastic turn to the left-field as far as “mainstream” rap acts go.
It’s probably why Interscope “accidently” leaked the album a week ahead of its date on Spotify and iTunes. It’s also possible why there’s so many knee-jerk reactions from those expecting it to be like GKMC with more “Backseat Freestyle,” yet they got more “Real.” Maybe none of it is related to all of this at all, but in an era where people’s hot takes on an album are on the extremes of “Classic” or “Trash,” it’s time that folks just accept albums like To Pimp A Butterfly is to us: good music.
FDRMX Eyes: M.C. Bizzle is a hip-hop artist from Los Angeles, California. Check out his music video entitled “Dear Hip-Hop” below.