Kendrick Lamar rose to fame with his album good kid, m.A.A.d city with his addicting beats driving singles like “Swimming Pools (Drank)” and “Don’t Kill My Vibe”. In his newest album To Pimp a Butterfly, the album is less about the perils of overdrinking and keeping the “vibe”, but about black culture as a whole. The album is flooded with jazz (as a tribute to the originally black music form created in America during the early 1900’s) and samples from guest singers like Assassin and Snoop Dogg. This album begs to bring back jazz in rap. Kendrick’s immense popularity allows him to use his fame as a platform to highlight these important issues facing black youth on important topics not only limited to police/white-on black crime, but also black-on-black crime, pride of African roots, the idea that “black is beautiful”, and the effects of depression/alcoholism.
On songs like “The Blacker The Berry”, Lamar touches on his struggle with appreciating his own blackness. He was called out by other artists for not having a strong opinion in his music about pertinent issues like Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, seemingly “not black enough for them, but too black for mainstream”. With this song he talks about how white culture/society seeks to drown out and undermine black culture with appropriation, slurs, and brainwashing of black youth to hate themselves. In the latter half, he turns the table to black people to say that gang violence and black hate comes from fellow African-Americans as well, that it is not only others trying to attack them.Many of the songs are in a similar vein about his rocky journey to self-acceptance, but are on a lighter note. His other single, “i”, is Lamar’s realization that he loves himself and all that makes him who he is. Because this song is closer to the end, the album seems like a journey at which “i” is its peak. He raps about how this is his time and that he overcomes the oppression thrust onto him. He ends the song with the realization that black people are not the subjugated slaves, but “negus”, black royalty. From the peak, the album ends with “Mortal Man”, in which Lamar samples an interview with 2pac (who’s feminist anthem “Keep Ya Head Up” he makes an allusion to in “The Blacker The Berry”) in which they “talk” about the pressure of black leadership in the shadow of great leaders such as Mandela.
All in all, this album is a must hear not only for the beats, but the visceral lyricism and impact of his words. His incredible ability to tell a story and pass along such important insights about black life with different voices/characters, guest singers, and a full range of experiences.
Favorite Songs: “The Blacker The Berry”, “Mortal Man”, “How Much a Dollar Cost”, “King Kunta”, “Complexion (A Zulu Love)”
Rating: 4.7 stars
Fun Fact: This album broke the record for the most Spotify plays on the day of an album release ever!