By Nino Pinneri
“Every n**** is a star; who will deny that?” is the first line that opens “To Pimp a Butterfly.” Kendrick Lamar’s poem, “Another N****” repetitiously opens and closes each individual track, with each song revealing another single line of the poem. Lamar opens his third LP with a poignant, distinct tone; in modern society, you can shine through with your fame, but never escaping being stamped a “n****.”
Lamar is exhausted. He’s been through enough to drive a man insane. Hell, he does go insane on this record, and he delves deep into his personality to demonstrate exactly why that is. This can be seen in the way Lamar confronts his inner demons and failures on the sixth track “U,” saying “You even Facetimed instead of a hospital visit, bitch you thought he would recover well, third surgery, couldn’t stop the bleeding for real, then he died, God himself will say ‘you fuckin’ failed, you ain’t try.’”
“To Pimp A Butterfly” explores two major themes; how society affects day-to-day life for an African-American in the United States, and how success from “Good Kid, m.A.A.d City” changed Lamar, for better and for worse.
The record is dense, and demands the listener’s full attention to grasp every nuance, bar spit and meticulous detail that fills each track. Everything from the swishing of the bottle on “U,” the free jazz drumming on “For Free?” and the conversations between Lamar and Lucifer on “For Sale” require careful listening. Lamar demonstrates his mastery of metaphorical storytelling to add a punch, a point of view or a nuance to a track throughout the record.
“To Pimp a Butterfly” feels like a rejection of current radio-friendly hip-hop. It demands attention. The record is so dense that it is difficult to fully wrap your head around. It requires reading the lyrics along to each song.
Lamar’s execution of expressing diverse ideas — stories of fame and political messages is so multifaceted that the dedication, mastery and fundamental love Lamar exerts can be interpreted in multiple ways. “To Pimp a Butterfly” boasts a complexity that is rare for contemporary rap music. There is something on this record everyone can relate to.
Albums like “To Pimp A Butterfly” become milestones, classics and set the bar for future artists to base their work off of. Since Kanye West’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” no artist has released such a personal, insightful look at the inner workings of fame, and the personal life of a rap mogul. But in the middle of this decade, Lamar has released a personal account of a troubled child raised out of Compton, projected into fame, and how it took over his personal life. With “To Pimp a Butterfly,” Lamar has the most realistic, personal, down-to-earth perspective of stardom and life as an African-American, and as a man with regrets; who can deny that?
Nino Pinneri can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @TheSagebrush