If ever there was a project that could be labeled the antithesis of the dreaded sophomore jinx, it would have to be the latest from the West Coast’s king of the new school, Kendrick Lamar. With its unexpected release, To Pimp A Butterfly, is already being lauded as a classic, as it musically challenges today’s “commercial success” driven climate. K Dot pushes the envelope even further with arguably his most unapologetic and socially conscious street scribes to date.
By enlisting the likes of funk legend George Clinton on the album’s opener Wesley’s Theory and R&B crooner Bilal on Institutionalized, Kendrick has proven that there is no absolute formula for success in Hop Hop today. This emotional roller coaster ride churns through episodes where K. Dot is completely in love with himself on the lead single i, to seemingly self-loathing moments and suicidal thoughts on the stand out track u.
Even on cuts which are labeled as interludes, Kendrick showcases his versatility. For Free finds the Compton MC channeling his inner Watts Prophets as he runs through a spoken word style rant against the industry and it’s pacification of artists with flawless execution. For Sale finds the TDE front man speaking via fictional character Lucy (short for Lucifer), who speaks of wealth and influence should he agree to indulge in a more opulent lifestyle.
On songs such as These Walls, featuring Bilal and Anna Wise, and the bouncy King Kunta, where it seems that he enjoys letting his oppressors (the industry) know that he’s in command right now as the newly crowned voice of the streets, K Dot again establishes himself as a nonconforming artist who makes music that can transition to radio without compromising its integrity. I would be remiss if I failed to mention that nothing on this project is remotely similar to what’s popular right now in Hip Hop.
For hard core hip hop heads who’ve worried that Kendrick’s new found formula would compromise his love for the underground, he alleviates all doubt with soulful joints like Momma, the militantly expressive Hood Politics and the rotation heavy jam Blacker The Berry, which has had the internet buzzing since fans were uncertain of his direction when i hit the airwaves. He continues this string of paying homage to his roots with the humbling story about his face to face encounter with God on How Much A Dollar Cost and his ode to ALL shades of beauty, Complexion. Assisting in driving home his point on Complexion is Jamla’s first lady Rapsody and we’re also treated to a brief cameo from The Chocolate Boy Wonder himself, Pete Rock.
What better way for the left coast’s young king to close out an album, than to have a posthumous sit down with the self-proclaimed and globally recognized best of the west Tupac Shakur? To Pimp A Butterfly’s final song, Mortal Man, finds Kendrick recognizing his purpose and coming to grips with the reality that his voice is now a staple in the community. He’s charged with giving back to the youth and using his gifts to inspire those from Compton and beyond who may feel like the weight of their upbringing hinders their progression. Mortal Man features an interview with Pac where he and Kendrick discuss their culture, race and the price of fame. Taken from a 1994 interview, Pac’s words are eerily coming to fruition now some twenty-one years later. Could Kendrick be the second coming? Can he rise to the top and be considered among the greatest to ever do it like his deceased counterpart? Will he continue to ride this wave to salvation and remain his humble self, all while delivering his message to Compton? No one really knows, but if TPAB is a measuring stick to where he’s headed, we can be confident that anything less than the top would be unsatisfactory in his eyes.