Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly

First order of business: To Pimp a Butterfly: a brief analysis.

I’ve had this album for a while and found it hard to get into. Some of the songs were weird, and though I like weird, I guess it was time/place, just wasn’t feeling it.

The lyrics were off-putting: here and there, I’d hear pretty low stuff, like “get my nut” and general talking shit about women and other dudes, but then other tracks had stuff about coming together and uniting against oppression/depression… I was confused by the conflicting messages and contradictions so I brushed it off.

I had respect for it, because just by casually listening to it, I heard jazz and appreciated the varying, experimental approaches, the sounds like moans and odd harmonies, I knew Kendrick is a different, artsy hip hop artist, heard good things, but still, just didn’t click… until…

I had the opportunity to really sit down with it and receive it during a road trip I made this weekend. The long hours in the car, with no reception/wi-fi (distractions) was the album’s opportunity to lock me in. This is not a “casual listening” piece…

I revisited the album because it was one of the few things that I downloaded a while back with the intention of listening to it, and since I had no access to other music, I decided to put it on. Like I’ve said, I was somewhat familiar with the songs on a very shallow level, but didn’t really feel connected. What really started to get me more hooked was a discussion a friend and I had after listening to  Track #7 – Alright. He noted that it was refreshing, positive, supportive content, different from other artists like Future and whatnot, I don’t know them.

Then, while driving solo, I listened to the last 5-6 songs  (How Much a Dollar Cost, i, Mortal Man, etc.) which, to me, are totally different animals from the first few tracks- these last ones are deep, produced in a very unique way, grip the heart, emotional, then the spoken word verses that are littered throughout the albums at the end of songs (“I remember you was conflicted…”) comes to a head at the end of Mortal Man where Kendrick has an “interview” with 2pac! That concept and their “discussion” was very interesting, and then he goes into how the album got its name, and there’s wild jazz that builds and Kendrick keeps explaining the caterpillar/butterfly motif (all at the end of the last song – never had listened this much before) and that is when all I could think was “holy shit” and fell in love I was marveled by this album. That apotheosis was all I needed.

When I was about an hour from home, the last track ended and then I had to listen to the whole album over again because I had a whole new understanding of it.

Musically – the sounds in the songs vary from remnants of old school hip-hop, funk, real good jazz, heavy Flying Lotus influence, female moaning that sounds borderline sexual but more like giving birth to me, there are different voices, harmonies, and styles and a guy with a cracking voice that sounds humorous but it’s actually heartbreaking when you listen to the lyrics.

In “i”, it sounds like he is giving a live performance and interacts with the audience in a discussion, then moves on to talk about Mandela and Oprah…

This album is all over the place lyrically and conceptually. It is full of contrast (light/dark, low brain/high brain, violent/compassionate) and, ultimately, growth. The motif of the caterpillar and the butterfly is replicated in how the album starts to how it finishes – a young man matures through the thicket; he grows into awakening, a warrior, sage. At times shallow, dark, encouraging, empowering, the topics range from depression and self-destruction to social justice, judges, black men being killed by cops, complexion – which is a message I think everyone needs to be exposed to and hear more of, because light skin/dark skin has been used to separate and divide for centuries.

This album hit me on so many levels: it makes you question the status-quo, makes you uncomfortable, shows you, (doesn’t just tell you) what’s wrong and there’s gotta be a new way, shows the importance of deep listening, opens your eyes to new concepts and the depth of struggles, makes you want to unify and change… Bravo, Mr. Lamar.

This album is layers and layers deep, cutthroat, nails you to a wall, but you have to listen, listen to it a few times, look up meanings, look up influences, look up Kendrick’s interviews on it, which I am doing now and my brain is spinning. This is art, it is good shit, sorry for my lack of articulation but that is all I can say. Listen to it. Even if you already have, listen again.

Reading the Wiki page on it now and it’s insane. So much respect. This is definitely a next-level art form.

“Eat the Rich”




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