When you’re faced with egregious cases of police brutality seeming to pop up every week, the realities of gang violence in your neighborhoods, a history of economic disenfranchisement, systemic oppression and a host of other societal ills, how do you deal? If you’re Kendrick Lamar, you head to the studio and create a masterpiece.
To Pimp A Butterfly is a snapshot into the mind of Kendrick as he tackles all these issues while dealing with the pressures of fame, the agony of self-doubt and grappling his inner demons. He puts this all on display in a brave and daring collection, melding hip hop, funk, soul, jazz and R&B into a unique sonic backdrop for his turmoil. He walks a fine line between the personal and political on almost every track from opener “Wesley’s Theory” to “Institutionalized” to “Complexion (A Zulu Love)” and “Mortal Man.” But perhaps it’s the tension that exists between “u” and “i” that showcases the true heart of the album. One is an uncomfortable, liquor-soaked indictment in which a young K. Dot fights with the man in the mirror, listing his failures as a friend, relative and citizen with an extreme case of survivor’s remorse. The other is a celebration of that very survival, with him thankful to be alive. But after negativity breaks up the celebratory vibes, he turns it into a teachable moment about the strength and history Blacks have on their side.
Kendrick doesn’t accomplish this artistic feat alone, enlisting a who’s who of talent ranging from the usual suspects (Terrace Martin, Pharrell Williams, Snoop Dogg, Sonnymoon) to the completely unexpected (Bilal, Lalah Hathaway, Ron Isley, Tupac Shakur, Rapsody). But allowing us to see the current state of the world through his own lens is what makes TPAB a masterpiece that will undoubtedly stand the test of time. -- D-Money