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Gio Mio’s Music Review: Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp A Butterfly”

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Photo Courtesy Interscope Records

Rating: 4.8

Wow.

I could simply write the review with that one simple word above. I’ve listened to a lot of rap music in my lifetime. I consider Nas’ “Illmatic” and Jay-Z’s “Reasonable Doubt” as classic albums. These classic albums are timeless. “To Pimp A Butterfly” has the potential to be in this elite category down the line.

The man that called himself the “King Of New York” in 2013 has come a long way from his “Overly Dedicated” project five years ago. Three years ago, Lamar dropped “Good Kid, m.A.A.d city,” which became a classic in its own right. The album propelled him into superstar status and helped Lamar feature on a ton of songs, along with being put into the best of the best debate.

After dropping his album a week earlier than reported, “To Pimp A Butterfly” could push him near legendary status. Before I go into the album review, let me briefly talk about the title. According to Lamar, it’s a metaphor about the struggles of fame. He says on the album how the caterpillar is jealous of the “butterfly” and how they’re all appreciated because they look the part. This relates to us as a society because not-so-known people like you and I would be the caterpillar looking to be the butterfly. At the same time, it’s also a reference to African American culture (amazing double meaning).

“To Pimp A Butterfly” isn’t your average mainstream rap record. It’s a combination of dark jazz and slam poetry that takes you on a scary trip down the mind of the Compton rapper. Once the beginning of “Wesley’s Theory” comes in, the feeling of being comfortable goes out the window. The second you think a song has a beat and sequence, the tempo and instrumentals change. Lamar’s way of torturing the listener with uncertainty works in his favor, especially with some amazing lyricism.

Some of the songs on “To Pimp A Butterfly” are some of the best songs I’ve ever heard. About halfway into the album, Lamar’s character goes into a deep depression and alcohol binge about his fame on “u.” It’s mainly about how he wasn’t there for his friend in Compton who was shot and killed in 2013, but the song takes a haunting turn halfway, as you hear a drunk Lamar drink and rap his way into a breakdown. The last song of the album, “Mortal Man,” is where he shines. His experience at Nelson Mandela’s jail cell makes him realize he has a time shelf of being a vocal leader of a generation. At the end of the song, Lamar interviews deceased legendary rapper 2Pac about his life and message. It’s a polarizing interview, even if it wasn’t actually recorded as is. The feeling you get when you hear Lamar and 2Pac agreeing on the topics of how they should be the voices of a teenage generation is jaw-dropping.

Everything on this album is legendary. From the production to the lyrical concept, Lamar hits the nail on the head here. Everyone knew he wasn’t going to keep the same concept after GKMC, but the jazz/funk influence came out of nowhere and he works it well. Lamar knows his role in the mainstream game, and it’s a beautiful feeling to see him put everything together and make an album arguably more complete than his previous effort.

To be fair, I’m going to point out one thing that could be a flaw but it’s debatable. Throughout the album, Lamar changes the pitch of his voice numerous times. This could be a problem for most listeners because it could take away from the lyrical concept he’s trying to reach. In my eyes, I see it as smart because he’s trying to get your attention to listen to what he’s saying.

Kendrick Lamar is the best rapper in the game right now. Listening to “To Pimp A Butterfly” will help my debate for this. There’s a reason why stations like HOT 97 immediately called it a classic after one listen. Multiple websites reviewed it as a perfect five stars. In my opinion nothing is perfect so I can’t give it a 5. But one thing for sure is that “To Pimp A Butterfly” is the best rap album to come out in a long time.

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