Kendrick Lamar’s latest album “To Pimp A Butterfly” is named the Album of the Year by Rolling Stone, SPIN, and Complex.
“Musically, lyrically and emotionally, Kendrick Lamar’s third album is a one-of-a-kind masterpiece – a sprawling epic that’s both the year’s most bumptious party music and its most gripping therapy session. A rap superstar at last, after years on the underground grind, Lamar wrestles with the depression and survivor’s guilt that followed his fame and success by turning to heroes from Ralph Ellison and Richard Pryor to Smokey Robinson and Kris Kross to Nelson Mandela and Tupac. He lives large. He contains multitudes.
The pleasures and rewards of To Pimp a Butterfly aren’t easy. Leading the charge to bring live instrumentation back to hip-hop, Lamar and producer Sounwave call forth a sound as ambitious, free-associative and challenging as his rhymes: sci-fi funk on “Wesley’s Theory,” snatches of free jazz on “For Free?,” steady-rolling G-funk on “King Kunta.” Over all this, Lamar – his voice raw or multitracked into its own chorus – interrogates himself and a country where everything from his ancestors to his art has always been for sale. He repeatedly returns to a moment when he found himself alone in a hotel room, distraught and screaming. “I didn’t want to self-destruct,” he says. “So I went running for answers.” The search is never-ending.”
“Does anyone else think Kendrick was humoring Dre when he told the N.W.A oldster he wanted a house like his one day? That weird voicemail bit in To Pimp a Butterfly’s opening minutes — where the good Doctor performs a wooden recital of the tough-guy affectation he helped pioneer — is the most out-of-place component on a record full of strange, symbolic oddments, but it does serve as a study in contrasts. Perhaps the K-Dot of 2010 really was trying to build himself a mansion, but when it comes to album-making in 2015, Lamar’s sole focus seems to be demolishing every figurative wall that still stands between his sequestered soul and the open air. He wants to fly, if only by dint of shoving off about 400 years of baggage and straightening his spine. But it’ll take inordinate amounts of guts, intellect, creativity, ability, and self-analysis to do so. And so, he does. (cont.)
“All great music is worth your overthinking it. 2Pac, for instance: On wax, his morals are so tense in their discord that Kendrick Lamar, who wasn’t even 10 years old when 2Pac died, is still harvesting insight from old, obscure recordings of the late rapper’s voice. 2Pac haunts yet inspires Kendrick Lamar, much as To Pimp a Butterfly haunts yet inspires the civil rights movement of this century. “Alright” is the new, black national anthem, and “The Blacker the Berry” is the charter. Alternatively, “u,” “i,” “How Much a Dollar Cost,” and “You Ain’t Gotta Lie”betray a struggle with fame and depression. His singular psychology aside, Kendrick Lamar is important, an asset critical to hip-hop and black American thought in general. We identify the brilliance of TPAB not in its conforming to jazz as a way of making contemporary rap sound high-concept and thus respectable, but rather in Kendrick’s assembling jazz, rap, funk, rock, and soul into such a behemoth. Kendrick Lamar is not “post-rap.” In fact, Kendrick Lamar is hip-hop’s beleaguered conscience, and To Pimp a Butterfly is the log of ongoing treatment in a world that hates you so pervasively that it can trick you into hating yourself.” —Justin Charity
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