As I write this it’s been a week since Kendrick dropped To Pimp A Butterfly a week earlier than expected. I’ve been listening to it fairly non stop since then, but I thought it only right to give myself a week to really get into it.
Watching Kendrick Lamar rise into the undisputed King of hip hop has been an interesting ride. Coming off the back of hugely successful mixtapes, in 2012 Kendrick shook up the world with Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City. It was an album in a vein that we hadn’t really seen before, a mix of his unparalleled bars and a sweeping portrayal of the gang life that was rife in Compton. The thing is, it still is, and that’s what we find here on To Pimp A Butterfly. In the wake of events like Ferguson, and the shootings of too many black, young men in the United States, Kendrick has come out with a social commentary that we don’t see all that much in hip hop.
This album isn’t just different conceptually; there is a variety of different styles. I love the fact that K Dot came out and said how he had just been vibing the Isley Brothers in the creative process, and you can see these influences as the album sways from jazz to heavier beats you’re more familiar with, from the sharp bars of Good Kid to newer spoken word verses. Nowhere are these Isley inspired vibes more apparent than on I which uses that Isley sample. The lead single was met with mixed reviews, but I love the way it evokes that Compton homecoming. This is a man who truly recognises where he is from, and is not about to leave that behind.
The Blacker The Berry really shows the extent to which Kendrick is socially conscious. In the wake of a backlash to some of his comments on the Ferguson shootings, Kendrick stands by his ideas that regardless of the oppression of the black community in America, there needs to be a higher level of respect amongst the people of these communities. It is a strong stand point, and it makes for a song that needs a whole load of replays to fully appreciate.
Elsewhere, personal favourites include King Kunta, which is a stomping funk fest, and it’s hard to look past the finale, Mortal Man, in which Kendrick conducts a conversation with Tupac Shakur. It’s an amazing insight into the way he sees the next steps for the African American community in America. On now the eight play-through, I’m still getting different angles and complexities. That Kendrick went to Robben Island to understand the oppression of Nelson Mandela shows the depths to which he believes in the need for some sort of social reform. Musically, this is as solid as you would expect from K Dot, with Dre and on co-production. But it’s for its social awareness and its implications on how a musical community – which is currently seeing a major label’s mogul facing a 25 million bail – views violence and the oppression, by the government, that this album is one of the most important we have ever heard.