March Album Of the Month: Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly

A bit late on our March album brothers, but I do think it’s worth the wait. 

Brother David and I were having a chat last weekend about Kendrick Lamar’s last album. I can’t remember the exact words but in short we both agreed that we were big fans, but it did take a while to get what he was about and what he was doing with his music. If album 1 was a slight climb to get to it, this is a steep hill. 
 
When I approached ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ I was ready for something different, but what I was presented with was a curve ball. It would have been very easy for Kendrick to continue on from where he had last left us and what he has shown between albums with guest appearances; amazing lyrics and one of the most versatile flows in current hip hop. Big beats and solid lyrics, job done. To be honest I would have been more than happy with that, in-fact that’s what I wanted from this album. Sadly for me this isn’t the case… luckily for me it’s much better. 
 
I will give you a couple pieces of advice. Firstly, listen to this album end to end. I found it a bit hard but it’s worth it. When you listen to it end to end, do it again… and for me much fell into place. 
 
I think many artists have tried with mix reviews doing an album with a jazz foundation. Kendrick enlisted the likes of Robert Glasper, Terrace Martin and Thundercat who had input on the majority of the tracks. Now I’m not big on jazz but I even know who those guys are. 
This album is an adventure and lets you in the mind of King Kendrick. This is a guy with allot to say, and I think has put it across in a way that has made me think more than a few times when listening through. There are allot of political thoughts, thoughts on society, and thoughts on his day to day. Hip hop, soul, jazz, punk, metal, etc. What ever genre you’re in it’s tough to put accross an album with impact…and he has. Is there a message to this album? Yup, arguably a few. 
 
The first single “I” was great, and the album version still is. The second single “The Blacker the Berry” hits pretty heavy but within the album ads allot of context and lets the penni drop in many ways for what he’s done with the entire effort. Pitchfork compared his albums to how Spike Lee does films. It’s a pretty spot on analogy. This album is full!
Hats off,  two weeks in “TO Pimp a Butterfly’ is still giving me more and more. I think this has potential to be an all time classic. 
I digress, brothers I look forward to your thoughts and hope you enjoy this as much as me. 

14 comments

  1. misterstory

    Good write up Brother Nolan. I got my CD in the post today, thank you very much Brother Nolan.

    I’ve been cheating a little and have had this on Spotify rotation for since we made the decision to make this album of the month. I groaned a little as the first two tracks disappointed me with the old hip hop skit issue … but then it opens up.

    Nolan is right it does demand to be listened to in full, start to finish … the only problem being is that it is a proper chunk of an album and requires investment. From early listens, Hood Politics, Blacker the Berry and King Kunta are my standouts. The latter being something that I have become massively addicted to, his voice sounds incredible on this track. ‘I’ a track I loved on release and made me really excited for this album now sounds a little transparent and feeble in comparison. Its still a banger … which speaks to the quality of this album.

    I do want to raise though, in a very white and middle class manner, that I still get a little tired with the gender politics but hey, what are morales if they can’t be shelved for a big funk driven beat?

  2. misterstory

    Reflecting on the gender politics thing … ‘its not as bad as it could be / other hip hop’ is the conclusion I came to, but then decided that that conclusion was a massively de-sensitised conclusion. Why do we have different rules? If an ‘indie’ band constsantly used the word ‘bitch’ in reference to any (every!?) woman in the lyrics they would be lambasted. I love this album but I am tired of all the nigger/bitch stuff. Sorry, just wanted to say that.

  3. misterstory

    Back to the music, this really reminds me of ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’ … in a good way. I think there are a lot of comparisons in it’s size scale, variety of instrumentation, influences and interesting use of guest vocals.

  4. whyohwhyohwhy

    This should be interesting for me. I’ve never listened to a Kendrick Lamar track. I know you guys rave about him, but I just don’t listen to much modern hip-hop, so I’m going to try and invest some time in this. I struggle with having a good hour or so free to listen uninterrupted but I guess this is an invitation to do so.

  5. whyohwhyohwhy

    Interesting listen first time off. It’s really so far from what I listen to it’s a challenge. I just don’t really ‘do’ modern hip-hop (I think I can count on one hand the albums I’ve bought in the last 15 years and 3 of them are Jurassic 5). It’s very slick, the flows are great, but I know I’ll struggle to listen to it in a calm environment! But it’s not bad…. not sure I can say more than that.

  6. David Allison

    Early thoughts: it’s IMMENSE. Bloody dense and so much to take in. But I’ve tried with Kendrick before and although he’s clearly a huge talent, I’ve struggled. I wonder if this might be my entry point.

    A suggestion, esp for Brother Guy, who sounds like he’s struggling with it a bit. Listen to the songs while reading the lyrics on Rap Genius or Song Genius. They go into amazing detail on the meanings and it really enriches the experience. The depth of stuff he’s getting into is insane.

    More soon…

  7. David Allison

    Update: loving this more and more. It’s such a rich listen. It sure as hell ain’t background music, that’s for sure. But I love how it can feel pretty hardcore one minute, and then he throws out a proper tune like “i” or “King Kunta”. Kunta could easily be an early 90s tune! Also it feels as much like an R&B record too (e.g. Complexion), and that always works for me. Fave rap album in a long time and I think I’ll be listening to this for some time to come.

    But…I don’t get why you guys love this and not Yeezus. Ha ha, thought that would annoy you 😉

  8. whyohwhyohwhy

    I’m persevering with this because you’re all singing it’s praises so much. Bits of it leapt out immediately, like King Kunta and I and it’s very rich. It’s just giving something like this devoted time where it’s the only thing I’m paying attention to is hard in this all-consuming digital world. First world problems eh?

  9. misterstory

    I’m just not finding space in life for this at the moment. I don’t like listening to hip hop when I am driving as it stresses me out and I end up swearing at drivers. I can’t play it infant of the kids. It’s not what I want to listen to when I am trying to chill out in the evening with my book and a whisky. Hip Hop for me, these days accompanies training, headphones on and high energy. The problem then is that you’re not giving it the space, time and concentration that you should do. The constant repeat of the ‘Lucy’ lyrical refrain does wind me up a little I’m afraid and the 10 minute waffle at the end annoys me massively. Do you guys actually listen to that when you play this? Serious question?

    The banging tracks are banging. The lyrically focused tracks are really tight but once more … its the waffle I struggle with. It as an immense piece of work … but …. (I’ve not worked out how to finish that yet, I will though).

    • whyohwhyohwhy

      I’m with you on this one brother Joseph. I think I come to this the least likely of all of us to connect with this, and while I’m getting more in tune with it, I just don’t think I’ll engage with it as fully-formed whole. King Kunta, How Much A Dollar Cost, I, These Walls (very like Prince meets Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange to me in a very good way), are really great, and the most confirmist, which probably says more about my hip hop taste than anything.

      It’s where the more freeform or fractured tracks land that I struggle. I see little (sonic) point in any of the Interludes (For Free grates the most), while Hood Politics just really rubs me up the wrong way, i can barely listen to it. Similarly U I just end up getting frustrated by the wilful changes and different bits. I don’t know whether the more bleak parts are supposed to shock a nice white middle class man like me, but they aren’t that comfortable to listen to. And yes, the last track, I can’t even get 30 seconds into the meandering second half. I managed it the first time but that’s it.

      I can see myself deleting a bunch of tracks and keeping the favourites, as there are some solid gold ones in there, but I just don’t think it works enough for me. Sorry!

  10. misterstory

    So I’ve been thinking. I’ve been thinking about if I am giving this album a hard time or not. Do I give Hip Hop a hard time in general. As a result of this I’ve listened to this loads. The highs have really hooked me in. The things I used to get frustrated with now frustrate me even more I’m afraid.

    I will admit that I think I try to hard to actively critique our albums of the month. As the purpose is to share our thoughts, perhaps I try to hard to have thoughts!? Perhaps I would have approached this differently if i had just bought it? Perhaps but I don’t think so. I love Good Kid mA.A.d City, always did, always have. I think this love also results in this disappointment. One of the things I loved about Good Kid was that it was a coherent, proper album. A few skits here and there but they didn’t distract too much. I think this album starts in a very odd way ‘for free’ simply shouldn’t be there. If it opened with Wesleys Theory and then went straight into King Kunta I think it’d be way stronger. A lot of the time I think albums would be stronger if they had tracks removed, not added. I think here, less would have been more.

    I will continue to listen but think like Guy I might end up with some tracks being added to a mix rather than taking the whole thing. Its a bloody big commitment when you’re not feeling it all.

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