Some of the greatest music ever has stemmed from topical issues affecting generations. From Marvin Gaye’s seminal work What’s Going On to Dylan’s Blowing In The Wind, music of this nature is essentially a timepiece and it takes not only artistry but also courage to forego the popular Top 40 hits in favor of audio art. Usually, the average listener won’t get it. Compton, California native Kendrick Lamar takes that artistic leap with his latest release To Pimp A Butterfly.
In the wake of the massive success of Lamar’s major label debut Good Kid, MAAD City the music world asked the inevitable question. “How’s he going to follow GKMC?” Well, anyone who’s been a longtime follower of Kendrick knows he’s far removed from your typical rapper nowadays. He pushes his artistry to the limit and foregoes trends. So, if you’re looking for another Good Kid album, you’ll be disappointed here. However, if you’re looking for an album that transcends not only GKMC but hip hop in general then you’ll be thoroughly satisfied with this project.
“No weak moments, Kendrick grows here as an artist and takes risks. That’s not as commonplace as it once was or should be.”
The theme here is being black in America, which may sound cliche’ at this point but in the wake of the recently publicized yet longstanding problem of African Americans being brutalized by police, not only is this album relevant…its necessary. This feels like a product of What’s Going On and Fear Of A Black Planet rolled up into a glorious, heartfelt celebration of black pride. This album wasn’t created simply to make you get up in the club or blast while getting nice. It’s to make you think, instill a sense of pride and to give our counterparts the complete picture of who we are.
Musically, the production here is excellent, experimental at times but not too much so. We get flavors of 70s Funkadelic albums when they were in their prime. We get a neo-soul vibe that fits Kendrick’s vibe, when he’s on that vibe. For smooth tracks like Momma and These Walls, he shows us he can also spazz on joints such as The Blacker The Berry and Hood Politics.
As far guest appearances, there arent many rappers here. Rapsody makes an excellent cameo on Complexions and Uncle Snoop drops a hook for Institutionalized. Bilal, the legendary Ronald Isley, George Clinton and Layla Hathaway among others contribute as well. Kendrick controls this show though flawlessly. I got through this album front to back four consecutive plays and found it more amazing each listen. No weak moments, Kendrick grows here as an artist and takes risks. Thats not as commonplace as it once was or should be. While there’s no huge single here, its not needed. Think The Beatles in the Sgt. Pepper era or Stevie Wonder in the Songs In The Key Of Life era. I truly believe this album will be talked about and played for generations to come. Thats how good it is. Highest recommendation here.