It's only just over 2 weeks (Jan. 27th) since I hit 500 followers and I was overwhelmed with emotions on the evening that happened and I still can't thank yous enough for everything in the last 4 months.
Music has always been a huge part of my life; it keeps me going and I can't go a single day without listening to something, whether it's an album I've never heard before or a good favourite of mine that I can never get tired of.
Everyone that I've communicated with on here has broadened my music taste to a wider degree and introduced me to albums you all love that I never knew existed before.
It's helped me to find a lot of new music and genres and help me become more open minded to everything.
Great friends, great music, it's simply amazing for me to have found a community to discover new music with. Let's keep that going!
With that being said, I want to give a quick statement about reviewing from my perspective:
I've always had mixed feelings about reviewing critically acclaimed albums, especially this one because I NEVER felt like I could do this album justice since I didn't think I was capable of it.
Mainly due to the thought that I don't consider myself a good enough reviewer to attempt it.
I've had a few thoughts about writing about this album for a while, but I almost gave up when even typing this and near deleted it when I started, but I thought I'd actually try my best and chance it now.
Sorry for sounding miserable, it's more or less the nerves talking out loud, but here's my review of what is easily the most acclaimed album of the 2010s: To Pimp A Butterfly; hope yous enjoy:
Yes, the praise is deserved!!
To Pimp a Butterfly is the 3rd album from American rapper Kendrick Lamar and was released in March 2015.
It was recorded across multiple studios across the US: Chalice (Hollywood), Downtown (New York), House (Washington, D.C.), Notifi (St. Louis) and No Excuses (Santa Monica).
While it is pretty much a Hip-Hop album, T.P.A.B also combines elements of music that spans across the history of African-American music such as Jazz, Funk & Soul.
Lets's start praising this album from a production scale; this album goes hard. I love the fusion between Kendrick's flows with Jazz-influenced beats and the funk styled instrumentals. It makes for some genuine catchy vibes that make some tracks a genuine bop to listen to, despite the heavy themes present.
Some tracks do switch up and gradually delve into some darker & more personal territory that make for a rather hard listen.
This is a very lyrically complex album with so many timely themes explored throughout all 16 tracks; Kendrick explores personal themes that center around African-American culture, depression and racial inequality.
There's a LOT on this album to break down and unravel, so let's try this:
1. Wesley's Theory opens the album with a crackling vinyl record sound as a sample from ska / reggae musician Boris Gardiner's track "Every N***** is a Star" before abruptly switching straight into a catchy Funk / soul inspired cut.
This track starts off by setting the recurring theme of T.P.A.B on how racist American institutions upheld by white supremacy exploit Black creators for profit.
The first verse focuses on a younger version of Kendrick as he talks about being blinded by money ("When I get signed, homie, I’ma act a fool, Hit the dance floor, strobe lights in the room") which causes him to no longer be seen as a guiding voice for those who don't have one in the ghetto, putting wealth and fame before those who matter.
Kendrick continues to indulge in the stereotype of wealthy rappers on the rise whilst also conflicting that with mentioning weapons of the CIA ("When I get signed, homie, I’ma buy a strap' Straight from the CIA, set it on my lap, Take a few M-16s to the hood, Pass ’em all out on the block, what’s good?"). This is a reminder of the CIA's indirect contribution to influx of drugs / guns in urban areas.
The chorus is a metaphor for Kendrick treating the rap game as his "first girlfriend", again emphasising the album's theme of how artists are used & exploited by this industry since that love gradually turns into lust ("At first, I did love you but now I just wanna fuck, late nights thinkin’ of you until I get my nut)
Before the 2nd verse comes in, a small break interrupts the flow briefly and Dr. Dre appears on it to remind Kendrick how artists can become big but also become irrelevant in such a short space of time ("You said you wanted a spot like mine
But remember, anybody can get it, the hard part is keepin’ it, motherfucker")
Verse 2 heavily emphasises "Uncle Sam" which is a reference to the US government enticing Kendrick and others on being able to spend all the money on whatever they want without reminding them on costs and taxes that it will lead them to ("Motherfucker, you can live at the mall
I know your kind (That’s why I’m kind)
Don’t have receipts (Oh, man, that’s fine)"
There is also a reference to Wesley Snipes towards the end of the 2nd verse, since Snipes was embrolied in tax fraud back in 2000s and served 3 years in jail from 2010-13. ("And everything you buy, taxes will deny, I’ll Wesley Snipe your ass before thirty-five")
2. For Free? is a 4min long interlude that revolves around Kendrick falling victim to pimps of the entertainment industry.
3. King Kunta is a play on the name Kunta Kinte, who was a fictional 18th-century black slave featured in the best-selling novel "Roots: The Saga of an American Family" written by Alex Haley. In the novel, Kunta had his foot cut off in order to prevent him from escaping the plantation.
The title of this track is a wordplay on that story since Kendrick raps about feeling equally oppressed like a slave whilst also feeling dominant like a king ("Bitch, where you when I was walkin’? Now I run the game, got the whole world talkin’, King Kunta, everybody wanna cut the legs off him").
Yams are frequently brought up throughout this track and can symbolise many different things, whether it be drugs, wealth power etc. ("The yam is the power that be, you can smell it when I'm walkin' down the street")
This has to be one of Kendrick's most aggressive flows on this album and it works so well with the themes of being dominant as a leader whilst being taken advantage of in the industry.
4. Institutionalized negatively contrasts the themes of dominance and feeling like a king from the last track and reflects on the negative impact that the concept of becoming wealthy has had on people.
The lines "Truthfully all of ’em spoiled, usually, you’re never charged but somethin’ came over you once I took you to them fuckin’ BET Awards" could be seen as Kendrick calling out the general public for blindly falling in love for a person just because they've been winning awards.
The chorus, sung by Bilal, refers to how life will not change for the better if one does not clean up their act over time ("Shit don’t change until you get up and wash yo’ ass, boy")
5. These Walls is a 2000s Funk-fused track that can be lyrically interpreted in multiple ways due to the lyrical wordplay. On here, Kendrick explores sex, abuse, his career and enemies.
"If these walls could talk" could either reflect on no one wanting to hear what could be going on behind closed doors but they'd share what happens within, whether it be prison walls, racial oppression or the walls of a woman's vagina (I can't believe I had to type that out).
This track is filled with sexual connotations but also can be used as a way of Kendrick using lust against someone's desires as revenge against his friends' killer at one point, before referring to the prison bars where the man in question is serving time ("If your walls could talk, they’d tell you it’s too late, your destiny accepted your fate").
6. U opens with Kendrick screaming a few times as a chaotic Jazz solo slowly plays in the background.
"Loving you is complicated" Kendrick repeats in the chorus as he struggles to balance his emotions & finding true happiness.
U heavily emphasises Kendrick's struggles with the dark thoughts that had plagued his mind. He blames himself for not being a bigger influence to his sister when she got pregnant ("A baby inside, just a teenager, where your patience? Where was your antennas? Where was the influence you speak of?")
The 2nd verse turns more melancholic as the instrumental becomes slower and less chaotic. Kendrick feels the depression taking over and feels like he can't comprehend his career taking over him and leaving him to put those he cares for behind.
3rd verse is his conscience talking to him, and is filled his double entendre when he says that he's "fucked up", meaning he's intoxicated, but simultaneously fucked up in the head as his conscience goes back and forth from depression.
7. Alright manages to offer a glimpse of hope to the story of T.P.A.B. as Kendrick is able to look back on all sins he has committed through trusting in God.
Pharrell Williams repeats the line "We gon' be alright" in the chorus as a way of saying everything will be alright through solidarity.
8. For Sale? is another interlude that delves deeper into the character of Lucy, which actually turns out to be Lucifer.
Much like For Free?, it addresses the themes of signing contracts to be pimped out to the industry through temptation with all the money in the world ("Lucy gon’ fill your pockets, Lucy gon’ move your mama out of Compton inside the gi-gantic mansion like I promised")
The chorus, "Now, baby, when I get you, get you, get you, get you, I’ma go hit the throttle with you" is Lucy pining for Kendrick to give himself to sin by promising everything he wanted.
9. Momma is a melancholic look at the personal growth of Kendrick as a person as he realises the temptation he faced in For Sale?
He addresses how despite getting a Platinum plaque for Good kid, m.a.a.d city, the most important thing rap has done was made him return back home; whether it's his hometown in Compton or his true self, it's up for debate.
In verse 2, Kendrick focuses on how he thinks he knows everything ("I know Compton, I know street shit, I know shit that's conscious") while realising that he doesn't once he's faced with his roots ("Until I realised I didn't know shit the day I came home")
It's likely that Kendrick is facing an emotional crises by the final verse due to his higher pitched & faster delivery mixed with the faster jazz instrumentation in the background.
10. Hood Politics is Kendrick reflecting on his adolescence when he didn't have the knowledge that he has now.
His delivery is higher-pitched than usual due to this being a reflection of his past, while addressing American politics and the rap industry as a whole.
11. How Much A Dollar Cost is a turning point in the story of T.P.A.B as Kendrick's been facing temptation from Lucy and Uncle Sam throughout, right up until this moment where his selfishness gets the best of him after an encounter with a homeless man, who he stereotypes as being a crack addict ("Asked me to feed him twice, I didn’t believe it Told him, “Beat it” Contributin’ money just for his pipe, I couldn’t see it").
Kendrick realises as the homeless man just stares at him with an empty expression that he's in the wrong.
The homeless man turns out to be God and Kendrick begins to question what more must he do to repent other than just praying and asking for forgiveness ("Shades of grey will never change if I condone, turn this page, help me change to right my wrongs")
12. Complexion (A Zulu Love) is an educative look at society's harsh beauty standards, mainly in terms of colourism.
The chorus emphasises how one's skin complexion does not define someone ("Complexion (Two-step)
Complexion don’t mean a thing (It’s a Zulu love)"
Kendrick has always expressed how he wants for all races to be united instead of divided ("Of mankind, a feline color should never rival, Beauty is what you make it, I used to be so mistaken By different shades of faces")
13. The Blacker The Berry is a focus on Kendrick fantasising about getting revenge for the murder of his close friend, but turned all his angst into this song.
He speaks from the point-of-view of an African-American whose angered by the destruction of black lives, but he's speaking from his own mindset ("Once I finish this, witnesses will convey just what I mean")
"I mean I might press the button just so you know my discretion" is Kendrick displaying how he is willing to go off on anyone who dares to oppose him but knows that his power won't let him.
I was literally taken aback by Kendrick's fierce cut-throat delivery here as it keeps your attention for the entire listen with his aggression coming at full-force.
14. You Ain't Gotta Lie (Momma Said) is Kendrick warning listeners to lie for respect or their own personal gain.
The chorus "You ain’t gotta lie to kick it, my n****, You ain’t gotta try so hard" serves as good advice to follow in life. There's no need for you to fake any aspect of your personality just to be loved by others, just simply be yourself.
15. I is the contrast to the track U, which was a dark exploration of Kendrick's conscience. This track is more uptempo and positive in tone with a Jazz / Funk sound to it.
While it still reimburses all the dark themes of the album that was discussed throughout, Kendrick encourages the listener to find love within yourself, and not to rely on what others think about you ("Huh, when you lookin’ at me, tell me what do you see? (I love myself)")
This is a positive track in terms of its message while it still reflects on the dark themes of the story of T.P.A.B.
The music fades away to a spoken interlude 3mins in and is from the perspective of Kendrick returning back to "the hood" and not allowing any arguments to prevent him from empowering the black community ("Not on my time, kill the music, not on my time We could save that shit for the streets")
Once he starts speaking his mind, all the crowd began to listen to him which reimburses the theme of Kendrick becoming a leader ("Mic check, mic check, mic check, mic check, mic check We gon’ do some acapella shit before we get back to-")
16. Mortal Man is the 12min conclusion to this album which references the legacy of Nelson Mandela, who avocated for racial equality throughout his life.
Kendrick hopes to continue that legacy through his rapping whilst recognising he isn't perfect ("The ghost of Mandela, hope my flows stay propellin’ Let these words be your Earth and moon, you consume every message").
The theme of this song is Kendrick asking all his fans if they'll stick by him even through all of his flaws & wrongdoings he's committed ("If the government want me dead, plant cocaine in my car, Would you judge me a drug-head or see me as K. Lamar? Or question my character and degrade me on every blog?")
Same applies in the chorus when he asks "When shit hit the fan, is you still a fan?"
I kept quiet about one aspect of the album while writing this review: the lines of a poem that's recited throughout the end of each track.
Each track ends with a few lines of a poem, with new lines being added until we get to Mortal Man.
From rising to power in "King Kunta" then getting lost in a world of fame in "These Walls", spiralling through depression in "U" to almost being tempted by Lucy with riches in "For Sale?" and facing a turning point in "How Much Does a Dollar Cost?", Kendrick uses this poem to educate everybody on what he's learned throughout this dark personal journey.
The remainder of this track is a fictional conversation between Kendrick and 2Pac, who has been Lamar's major influence throughout his life ("now that I finally got a chance to holla at you I always wanted to ask you about a certain situa-
About a metaphor actually, uh, you spoke on the ground")
Whew!!! This album is as brilliant as everyone was saying it would be and I can definitely see why it's recently achieved the #1 spot on RYM now.
Kendrick's potent, hard-hitting lyricism, his impressive range of flows, the mix of genres that span across generations of African-American music... everything about this album is fantastic.
Again, I was so nervous about diving into such a notorious album with a high reputation, but I'm so glad I've finally got around to doing so after delaying it for weeks.
Honestly, I'm gonna take the tomorrow off from reviewing since I felt so stressed out and it's taken a sudden emotional toll on me now.
Thanks again to everyone for the support and for 600 followers, it really means a lot to me.
Peace out ;)
|1||Wesley's Theory / 100|
|2||For Free? (Interlude) / 100|
|3||King Kunta / 100|
|4||Institutionalized / 100|
|5||These Walls / 100|
|6||u / 100|
|7||Alright / 100|
|8||For Sale? (Interlude) / 100|
|9||Momma / 100|
|10||Hood Politics / 100|
|11||How Much a Dollar Cost / 100|
|12||Complexion (A Zulu Love) / 100|
|13||The Blacker the Berry / 100|
|14||You Ain't Gotta Lie (Momma Said) / 100|
|15||i / 100|
|16||Mortal Man / 100|