To Pimp A Butterfly has undoubtedly been the most interesting record I've heard in a long time. I've pondered on its meaning and message, loved its courageous instrumentation and felt frustrated with its pacing, despite the beautiful artistic construct. Its being raved about universally, hailed as potentially being the album of the decade, and an instant classic. I've given myself much time to consume and digest the record, and for all I love about it I'm not quite on the same level with it. I've been anticipating this one since discovering Kendrick's 2012 classic "Good Kid, M.A.A.D City", a stunning Hip Hop record, and in the three years since hes been hard at work on his third record, a undeniably strong one that has certainly not disappointed.
Kendricks expressions and vision is unrestrained on an unconventional and free flowing approach to the album experience, breaking down the conventional Hip Hop format and uniting a concept through a recited poem that features on many tracks, unfolding as with each recitation. The lucid nature of the record takes a step back from itself and reinvents the instrumentation with a closer connection to Funk, Soul, Jazz and even Disco, music thats had an undeniable influence on Hip Hop sound and culture. These songs let the power of the grooves, melodies and Kendrick's expression flow and evolve from track to track thats filled with interludes, poetry and transitions between the tracks that focus on the expression thats not all about raps. Spoken word and poetry reciting, Kendrick gets emotionally raw with his voice on "U" and other numbers that have classy instruments keeping the dramatic tone moving.
The expression is a point I've touched on a few times, and obviously its a racially, emotional charged concept that reflects these times where the racial inequality and police brutality is boiling in Ferguson Missouri. Its the specifics that are illusive, the indirect, poetic language thats powerful, and yet unclear. Kendrick reflects on many historic and cultural figures in black history in vague references that are tied to emotional stress and guilt, delivered with impacting force for thought. The most mysterious of which, "Loving you is complicated" where he ponders on a figure of reach who money made complacent and misused his power and influence. The song "Mortal Man" concludes the poem recital for the last time, leading into a conversation with Tupac who I believe Kendrick is drawing parallels with at a time where racial tensions are hot and he is a racially aware voice in Hip Hop similar to Tupac. Lines like the "Thought money wouldn't change you, made you more complacent" makes me think of Tupac's rise and fall from being the voice of the "young black male" to parading the bling bling image on MTV with gold chains, hot tubs and models. There are many racialy charged lines to ponder the meaning, "My heart is as black as an aryan", and most of "The blacker the berry". Although the specifics may feel blurry, its undoubted that Kendrick is fueled with anger and passion for his people.
When the end of "Mortal Man" rolls around, Kendrick recites a second poem, describing his world. A beautiful metaphor using the caterpillar and the butterfly to express the relation between artists like himself who escape the ghettos to be exploited for it. "To Pimp A Butterfly" comes together in this moment but still leaves a lot to think on as Tupac speaks no more, leaving Kendrick without an answer to his question, that this record might simply be.
The instrumentation and production is sublime, as mentioned before it has a lucid quality and focus on organic chemistry, breaking the sampling and drum machines with a live band feel that let songs grow, shrink, twist and turn with a freedom that looped instrumentation can't achieve without immense construction. A wide array of styles and instruments move in and out of focus and my favorite element, the drumming, is slightly subdued, laying down solid but subtler grooves that are gentle and powerful, bringing a lot of energy without any boombastic presence, its a classy touch and ones that at no time uses any cheap thrills or catchy hooks, this is all substance and style.
Theres a lot to love here, a dense album musically and conceptually which grows fonder with each listen, but my one gripe are the interludes, despite being expressive and theatric and an essential part of the record, they come at a pace that continually breaks up the songs and stagnates the flow somewhat. Theres more I could talk about, but by now id be nit picking specifics, where the album as a whole speaks volumes. I can see exactly why its being hailed a classic, but on a personal level it may take me a bit more time to feel it that way.
Favorite Songs: Institutionalized, These Walls, Alright, How Much A Dollar Cost, The Blacker The Berry, Mortal Man