By Brandon Agalaba
Kendrick Lamar released his third album, titled “To Pimp a Butterfly,” in March 2015. “To Pimp a Butterfly” was the successor to 2012’s “good kid, m.A.A.d city,” the album that made Lamar a star by receiving critical acclaim. This latest record is Lamar’s most ambitious album yet.
“To Pimp a Butterfly” is a conceptual album that deals with social, political and educational themes. It succeeds its attempt to be an intelligent and emotional album through the well-constructed lyrics of Lamar’s rapping. Lamar manages to effectively tell stories in an evocative way that perfectly complements the music in the album.
The lyrics are sensible, intelligent and thoughtful. They feature great insights into life while perfectly going along with the music. For example, “These Walls” has lines such as, “these walls want to cry tears / these walls happier when I’m here / these walls could never hold up.” This song perfectly demonstrates the intellectual, and at times philosophical, nature of the album.
The lyrics also have political elements in them, particularly in the 12-minute opus entitled “Mortal Man,” which progresses into a spoken word protest about standing up for yourself and fighting the ills of society.
“Wesley’s Theory” is another highlight from the album. It opens the record with a nice beat and storytelling lyrics that are both descriptive and multidimensional. “i” is another notable song, which samples “That Lady” by The Isley Brothers and brings a radio-friendly and funky edge to the album. “For Free?” is a compelling, fast-paced jazz tune complete with double bass, piano and drums.
The album is diverse and varied. It never stays the same for longer than a moment. The songs can be interludes, spoken word pieces or atmospheric tunes with various sound effects.
“To Pimp a Butterfly” arranges its songs in a way that is interesting and never predictable. A number of samples are integrated into the music. The samples range anywhere from funk to jazz and always complement the music without feeling obnoxious. The songs also have various nuances to them that keep the album from getting stale, such as the stereo-panned vocals of “Institutionalized,” the yelled vocals and tempo change of “u” and the relaxing pianos of “These Walls.”
“To Pimp a Butterfly” has an excellent flow despite the album being a massive undertaking with a length of nearly 80 minutes. It is well-structured to keep the listener from being overwhelmed. “To Pimp a Butterfly” jumps from one idea to the next quite naturally and all of the songs have a meaning. Despite the wide range of music, none of the songs feel out of place. Additionally, the songs segue into each other, which makes the album feel connected and shows how well the records underlying themes relate to one another.
“To Pimp a Butterfly” demonstrates that there is still quality hip-hop music being made today. It has an intelligent, socially aware atmosphere that is built up with evocative lyrics and solid rapping on Lamar’s part. The album flows quite well and never feels over the top or overly inaccessible. It is an ambitious album that is pulled off well. Anyone who enjoys hip-hop with a critical, intelligent and diverse edge will surely enjoy this album, as well.