Album Review: To Pimp A Butterfly

Now that I’ve been pimping butterfly’s all week, lets talk about the album. First of all, it doesn’t have the commercial appeal of GKMC. There is no “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe” or “Money Trees” on this album (King Kunta would be the closest thing I think). That’s not to say that this album is not as good as GKMC, but it probably means that after the dust settles, more people will of liked his first album more than his second, which seems pretty typical of most sophomore rap albums.  That’s not to say GKMC is better. I think Kendrick took a lot of risks on this album, and I appreciate any music that strives to be different. He made this album how he wanted to make it, not how his fans wanted it. Putting in a song like “u” or “Mortal Man” isn’t to please anybody, it’s to send a message. I personally think the message is that now that Kendrick is an elite rapper, he has a responsibility to make music that actually makes a difference. This seems to be a theme he struggles with throughout the album.

At the end of certain songs, he builds upon a narrative with himself in which he says he is conflicted and misusing his influence. To me, what he means is that now that he has peoples attention, he wants to tell them what is important but struggles to walk a line between making music people enjoy and making music that matters to him. He also talks about the guilt he feels for having made it out of the ghetto while everybody he knows is still “fighting a war back in the city”. He uses the term survivors guilt more than once to describe this feeling. In the end what I think he is trying to say is that through his music he is trying to uplift his people while still keeping an “A1 foundation”.

This is what I think the caterpillar to a butterfly metaphor meant (at the end of Mortal Man). To Pimp A Butterfly is a play on words on “To Kill A Mokingbird”, but more importantly it means to turn something beautiful into something ugly. In GKMC Kendrick was a caterpillar looking for ways to survive in the mad city. He sees other rappers who went from a caterpillar to a butterfly (like Tupac) and feels anger towards them until he actually starts to become one. Through this process he learns how to use his creativity and thoughtfulness to his benefit but realizes that his world will still try to “pimp” him to their benefit (just like he did before he was famous), leading him to misuse his influence and not follow his heart. It seems that Kendrick feels his past life is at once his greatest influence and his greatest obstacle to overcome. He wants to uplift but is simultaneously being dragged down. But hey, thats just my opinion.

I think the ending conversation with Tupac (taken from an interview Tupac did with a Swedish radio station in 1994 by they way!) is fitting. Tupac was one of the first rappers who wanted to use his influence to uplift his people, and Kendrick seems to be asking him questions to reaffirm his own point of view. In the end though, when Tupac does not answer Kendrick, you realize that Kendrick has really been talking to himself the whole time, which I think means the whole album is an internal struggle Kendrick is having with himself. Its also worth mentioning that TPAB dropped nearly 20 years to the day since Tupac released his third studio album “Me Against the World”.

But I’m done analyzing an album like its Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, what is important is the music, and there are a bajlillion different sounds on TPAB.

The album is a combo of hard funk and jazz, with many tracks morphing and colliding to make for a layered and complicated sound that can be heard in many different ways. Wesley’s Theory and King Kunta are homages to the West Coast funk of the nineties. How Much A Dollar Cost is a great bit of story telling rap in which Kendrick contemplates the value of money through an encounter with homeless god. My personal favorites are weed smoking Kendrick on “Institutionalized” and crying drunk Kendrick on “u” (The New Yorker tells me that in “u” Kendrick is talking to himself in “i”). That song goes from a Kanye West song to an Eminem song in the span 30 seconds. Kendrick is a master of addictive hooks, and the one he uses on Hood Politics will leave me inserting “boo boo” into conversations for the next six months. “These Walls” reminded me of Poetic Justice from GKMC and I didn’t care for “Complexion” much either. “Momma” is a pretty straightforward rap song that is easy to enjoy, and I appreciated that “i” wasn’t as overproduced as the single. Speaking of singles, “The Blacker the Berry” is the 2015 m.A.A.d City and the song I think will hold up the best over time. Mortal Man is made great by the 8 minute outro, and “Alright” will be the song I most likely turn down when driving through black neighborhoods.

Its tough to say if TPAB is better or worse than GKMC because they are so different. Ultimately, I feel that GKMC will be the more popular album just because it has more catchy songs. “King Kunta” might be the only song that cracks the Billboard top 50 off this album (not including “i” which was pre-released). Having said all that, I appreciated the album. If Kendrick had stayed similar to his sound on GKMC I would of been disappointed. Instead, he changed up and tried to go for something totally original. TPAB is a deep and complex album and Kendrick is still my favorite rapper.

Is my review total BS? Let me know what you think in the comments.

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