Before I actually get into how I felt after listening to Kendrick Lamar's latest release, "To Pimp a Butterfly," let me first tell you a little bit about how this series will work. "1st Listen" will not be a series of words so positive you know the writer is just a super-fan of whoever the artist is and will so only good things regardless of how the music actually sounds. Conversely, it also won't be a series where the reviews are so overly-critical you know the words have very little to do with how the writer feels about the music, but more so how much they hate the artist. This will be neither of those. It will simply be a quick overview of the feeling I got when listening to a certain album. With that being said, let's go into Kendrick's latest release.
So, after all of the critical acclaim and fan support of Kendrick's first album, "good kid, m.a.a.d. city," it seemed like everyone was anticipating the next release from Kendrick, but the Compton emcee remained quiet. He let the anticipation build as he would release a verse that he was featured on every now and then, but said nothing about his own project. Hip-hop needed his presence and he knew it, but he didn't rush his project because he had something to say. Then, the singles started to release. When we first heard "i," we all knew his next project would be something different and when we saw the cover art and heard the title, it was almost confirmed how unique this would be.
I'm sure I'm not the only one who thought I had some type of idea of what Lamar would release. Many thought it would be a more introspective collection of music from an artist who has already shown he has no fear of being vulnerable. When you think about it, though, how much more introspective could he get? He practically told his life story on "good kid." So, before pressing the play button, I had to clear any preconceived notions of what I thought this would be and just listen. I'm glad I did.
"To Pimp a Butterfly" is not "good kid" part II, but in a strange way it is. His major label debut told the story of a young man who grew up in an area where he was not supposed to survive, let alone get a taste of success. He was not supposed to be able to escape where he was from, instead, according to what those who grow up in the 'hood normally hear, he was supposed to become another statistic, another product of his environment. This is not Kendrick, though. To me, this CD was about Kendrick's freedom, not just from feeling trapped in the place he grew up, but having freedom in his art. Kendrick is not your run-of-the-mill rapper, he's a story teller, and in this collection, he had nothing to prove to anyone about his capabilities as a lyricist because we all knew. With nothing to prove, he was able to show how diverse his music could be with no limitations.
I'd like to think of this as a musical goulash. Let me explain. While there are recipes for goulash (and popular music), it is sometimes made from various things you have left over. It comes from hunger and necessity, such is this album. Kendrick, as an emcee, is still hungry and he shows that on every verse. For him, it is a necessity to be true to himself and feed his fans some musical food for their souls. And what ingredients does he use? Well, his "recipe" is a very special one. If you combine some sounds reminiscent of George Clinton's P-Funk with Warren G's G-Funk, you'll have your start. Then, add in some futuristic rhymes and tracks that'll take you to any of the great songs in Outkast's illustrious catalog. After that, throw in a little of Jay-Z's bravado and 'Pac's political passion for the progression of his people. Mix that with some jazz-infused tracks that would have fit perfectly on the soundtrack to "Mo' Betta Blues," or if Count Basie, Miles Davis, John Coltrane would have gotten together to become a super producing team. Top those off with verses, if you use your imagination, could have easily been on your favorite episode of Def Poetry or on the movie Jason's Lyric. If that, somehow, weren't enough, mix in Nas' storytelling with the anger of a young Ice Cube who was still very frustrated with "the system."
I know it sounds like a lot, and it is, but unlike when some others try to mix a lot of different sounds, this never seems forced. It is something we've never heard from Kendrick, but oddly enough, when we hear it, it'll makes you say, "Yeah, that's Kendrick!" This project has tracks for everything from family gatherings to social events. You can turn the tracks up loud in your car, or quietly at home. This, in my opinion, is a very complete album that will temporarily make you forget you have the ability to fast-forward. Well, at least that's my opinion after the 1st listen.
1. Wesley’s Theory
2. For Free? (Interlude)
3. King Kunta
5. These Walls
8. For Sale? (Interlude)
10. Hood Politics
11. How Much A Dollar Cost
13. The Blacker The Berry
14. You Ain’t Gotta Lie (Momma Said)
16. Mortal Man
Listen on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/album/7ycBtnsMtyVbbwTfJwRjSP