by Isabelle Ick
To Pimp a Butterfly, rapper Kendrick Lamar’s third studio album, was released on March 15 as the follow-up to his platinum-selling debut good kid, m.A.A.d city, according to billboard.com. TPAB audaciously takes hip-hop to a new level, successfully combining elements from various musical styles while maintaining lyrical integrity, and tackling racism in a way that is powerful and unapologetic.
According to rollingstone.com, TPAB has a long list of producers, guests and collaborators, including Pharrell Williams, Sufjan Stevens, Snoop Dogg, Ronald Isley and George Clinton. TPAB spans decades and continents to chronicle the evolution of music from West Africa to the West Coast.
In TPAB, Lamar re-establishes himself as a visionary of the genre, abandoning contemporary hip-hop structures in favor of a cosmic mix of jazz, blues, soul, funk and spoken word. In “For Free? - Interlude?,” alto sax and trumpet flourishes accent Lamar’s volatile flow patterns. Other tracks, such as “Mortal Man,” feature highly politicized spoken word, intensifying the already electrified tracks.
As on his debut, TPAB encodes the tracks with intricate wordplay, including winking references from the Beatles (“For Sale? - Interlude” subtly alludes to the drug-induced haze of “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds”) to Harper Lee (the album’s title is a play on To Kill A Mockingbird). Lamar effortlessly mixes up his rhythm, spitting rhymes at a dizzying tempo while sustaining the album’s theme.
From start to finish, the album resounds with Lamar’s urge for black Americans to rise above racism. The heated social commentary emerges in several tracks, including “The Blacker the Berry,” a racially charged song whose direct lyrics celebrate his black heritage and attack racism head-on. “King Kunta,” addresses slavery and focuses on the history of negative stereotypes all African-Americans have to reconcile, while reclaiming their history as kings instead of a slaves.
TPAB proves to be dark, intense and alive, celebrating African-Americans’ potential for triumph while condemning the scars left throughout American history. The album is a lyrical landmark, and there’s no denying that it’s a profound and well-produced album all around. Lamar boldly expands the boundaries of contemporary hip hop, daring others who claim the hip-hop throne—Drake, Kanye and Jay Z—to step up their game.