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Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly // Community Review

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Kendrick LamarTo Pimp a Butterfly //

We can trace the focus of this remarkable album to Kendrick Lamar’s response to the Ferguson grand jury in early 2015. In an interview with Billboard, Lamar said, “What happened to [Michael Brown] should’ve never happened. Never. But when we don’t have respect for ourselves, how do we expect them to respect us? It starts from within. Don’t start with just a rally, don’t start from looting – it starts from within.”

Lamar received much criticism for this comment. And it seems pretty clear that To Pimp a Butterfly doubles down on how he feels, explaining his intentions in stark, enveloping detail backed up with historical context and passion. Just look at how he reworked “i” from a sunny, summer single that masked the deep lyricism into a passionate plea for reason, dropping the line “the sun gon shine” after “one day at a time …”

With over nine million full plays in the first 24 hours of release on Spotify (a new record by over three million listens), Kendrick Lamar has a chance to influence and be an agent of change like no other musician in decades.


BAM TEAM RATING:
4.5bams

Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly is an essential, landmark work with the potential to bridge racial and cultural divides in an unprecedented way. The sonic direction is often unbalanced and off kilter with the effect of giving a layered listening experience, reflecting the current climate of being a black man in America circa 2015. Lamar owns a rhyming cadence and tells stories with a revolving cast of characters/voices that supports the overall message of self confidence among unease and uncertainty — while at the same time mirroring the jazz-funk hybrid that drives the record (and KDot, FlyLo and Thundercat are the new holy trifecta of contemporary American music.) It’s a narrative that doesn’t represent everyone, which is why Butterfly is so important — the mastery storytelling opens the door for true acknowledgment and empathy at a time when it’s needed for the sake of societal progression. “Although the butterfly and the caterpillar are completely different, they are one and the same.” -Mike Frash
5 BAMS // Top Song: “The Blacker the Berry”

Kendrick Lamar has completely flipped the script with To Pimp a Butterfly, abandoning the West Coast G-funk of Good Kid, M.A.A.D City for a hyper jazz and funk fusion that challenges the listener every step of the way, but rewards multiple listens as you go deeper down the rabbit hole. Lamar is no longer rapping, he’s preaching and we are all witnesses. All hail King Kendrick. -Dale Johnson

5 BAMS // Top Song: “Hood Politics”

Everybody welcome the new king of rap: Kendrick Lamar. West Coast rap at its finest: laid back, funky, jazzy, charged, personal. Many of the songs take unexpected turns on a dime that breathe unexpected life into already intriguing songs. Lamar’s flow ranges from chill to enraged, witty as ever. This record is a captivating juxtaposition of head-nodding beats and palpably powerful preaching, often at the same time. A top-five rap album of the last five years. -Steve Wandrey
4.5 BAMS: Top Song: “Alright”

Kendrick’s new album is intense, real and in your face. It’s a brutal, honest truth that takes no prisoners. Kendrick is perfecting his fire-spitting craft over some of the most progressive beats to slap our speakers. This album could very well be one of the most important albums of the year when it’s all said and done. All marvel at Kendrick sitting atop Rap Mountain. -Kevin Raos
4 BAMS // “Momma”

Releasing a follow-up to the 2012 masterpiece Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City is no easy task. So what Kendrick Lamar has done is pure genius by dropping an album with no “club bangers,” but instead lacing us up with some serious hip-hop literature to read up on. This album is full of thought-provoking songs that touch on subject matters so fresh in society’s mind that it’s almost too much to wrap your head around. Lamar educates us on black-on-black crime, a history of oppression on African Americans, political schemes, fame and fortune — and he does so in a serious tone. I wouldn’t say this album is dark, but it definitely isn’t happy, so if you’re looking to go out on the town and have fun, I wouldn’t throw this album on. If you’re looking to listen to some conscience hip-hop that is trying push boundaries with both lyricism and jazzy/funky production, then this is for you. To Pimp a Butterfly is for the people, not the clubs. -Pete Mauch
4 BAMS // Top Song: “Mortal Man”

Like chapters in a novel or scenes in a movie, the songs on To Pimp a Butterfly are part of a larger puzzle. Across 16 tracks, Kendrick bottles all the uncomfortable experiences of being young, black and alive in America today and spits them out over a witch’s brew of Southern neo-soul, West Coast funk and experimental jazz. No, To Pimp a Butterfly is not the party rocker many wanted, but it’s the closest that has come to channeling the inner turmoil that swept this country last year as those fires burned in Ferguson and protesters marched for justice from Berkeley to New York. An album this meticulously crafted, starkly introspective and thought-provoking might not start a party, but it could help spark a revolution. -Kevin Smith
4 BAMS // Top Song: “Alright”

This album comes off like a funk-infused audio diary. Throughout the album, you’re brought into Kendrick’s life, illuminating the listener of his journey from Compton to stardom. Very raw and full of emotion, it strikes quick comparisons to Tupac and A Tribe Called Quest. The production quality is fantastic, each track offering choice beats and unique sample use, adding to Kendrick’s dynamic vocal approach and personal lyrics. -Andrew Pohl
4 BAMS // Top Song: “Alright”

An homage to the forefathers of funk, jazz and hip-hop, this hard-hitting manifesto boasts a cast of contributing artists that feature some of Lamar’s direct influences, both alive and making cameos from the afterlife. Beyond exploring new avenues in songwriting and composition, Lamar pushes boundaries lyrically through vocal contortions, various theatrical interludes and several sections of venom-spitting prose and freestyles. “i” and “King Kunta” take a page right out of P-Funk’s hit-making catalog, while the jazz improv and string sections on “For Free” and “Mortal Man” echo the celebrated works of John Coltrane, Charles Mingus and Pharoah Sanders. But the most stunning effort amongst the layers of innovation present on TPAB is Lamar’s decision to cap off the album with a stunning, time-bending interview remix with the late rap icon Tupac Shakur on the second half of “Mortal Man.” Although at times the album is overwhelming due to the amount of ground it tries to cover, it very well might be the torch-bearing hip-hop record of 2015. Paving ground for a new direction within the genre, Lamar’s contemporaries will be following in his footsteps from here on out. -Molly Kish
3.5 BAMS // Top Song: “King Kunta”

Having been underwhelmed by lead single “i,” I wasn’t sure what to expect from Kendrick Lamar’s newest album. How do you follow up what is easily the best, most cohesive hip-hop album in recent memory? I’m not sure To Pimp a Butterfly has the right answer, but nevertheless Kendrick has crafted an ambitious, if at times frustrating, set of tracks. Sonically, the album kicks aside the atmospheric beats of Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City for an odd mixture of soul, jazz and funk. It’s a bit jarring at first, the beats at times feeling like Outkast, D’Angelo or even Flying Lotus (who produced the track “Wesley’s Theory,” which kicks off the album) tracks rather than Lamar’s own. While clearly trying to expand the scope of his sound, I find Kendrick overreaching and some of the songs falling a bit flat; I’m not entirely convinced the jazzy formula works, and the album can be a bit dense at 79 minutes. What ultimately saves the album though, is Kendrick Lamar’s ability as a rapper and the poetry of his socially-conscious, politically-charged lyrics, especially as race relations continue to deteriorate in the U.S. Never has his words been so pointed, and while it can be a little heavy-handed sometimes (that Tupac cameo feels unnecessary), it’s refreshing to see an artist push himself creatively to ask big questions. -Alfonso Solis
3.5 BAMS // Top Song: “Institutionalized”

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Courtney Barnett – “Depreston” from Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit.

Earl Sweatshirt – “Grief” from I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside

Vetiver – “Current Carry” from Complete Strangers

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Comments

  1. Ben Vampart says:

    The last 15 minutes of this record are fascinating. Turning “i” into a live performance then a passionate plea, into slam poetry and an imaginative interview with 2Pac is powerful. Free form and loose, it breaks barriers of form and content unlike I’ve ever heard.
    5 BAMS // “Momma”

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