I'm a huge fan of concept albums by hip hop artists that take risks and push the boundary of the genre. I first bought To Pimp A Butterfly on a whim because there was so much hype surrounding, I had to give it a shot at the very least. Before now, I never really fully understood his music, but everything about this project sounded like it was something I should pay attention to. Before this project, I heard several of his albums/tapes and I saw Kendrick Lamar live a few times in NYC, but I still didn't connect to his music. I ended up waiting until everyone stopped hyping it up to listen to To Pimp A Butterfly because sometimes the world surrounding a hip hop album affects they way I perceive it. Since I'm conscious of that, I wait until I can have an clean slate to start from. I listened eager to hear something new and feel that satisfaction that only hip hop has provided for me in the past. At the very least, I can say that I've given his music a chance to grow on me.
There are some hard hitting beats and hay-maker bars delivered by Kendrick on certain songs, but I think the strength of the individual tracks overshadow the quality of the album overall. I respect and appreciate the messages, his passion and how seriously Kendrick Lamar takes his opportunity to reach people across the world. To Pimp a Butterfly shows integrity and honesty giving Kendrick Lamar's nuanced perspective. The part I like the most about this project is how Kendrick Lamar's shows his cultural pride and balance it with his criticism of the culture where he disagrees. It's as real and honest as art can be.
How Much A Dollar Cost, Momma, The Blacker the Berry and Mortal Man are by far my favorite tracks. Without listing the other tracks, it seems that some of the more experimental tracks get away from him. Maybe Kendrick strays too far from the track with his cadence and delivery, but there are times where the music is on a different world than his rhymes. It's one reason why some people don't like Aesop Rock and I get that. Wandering off the beat seems to fit more with Aesop because his storytelling and imagery is much more abstract and off kilter than Kendrick Lamar. Consecutive off beat bars are usually framed within the larger groupings of bars, keeping the flow of the song moving. It's one way mc's play with cadence, like Skyzoo but it can be distracting and when it breaks up the movement of the song. That's what I get from several tracks from To Pimp A Butterfly. I've felt the same about other tracks from KL, but sometimes it feels more like spoken word than hip hop. Obviously a lot of people like it, but the music loses consistency for me. There are a lot of comparisons of Kendrick to 2Pac and the thing I always felt from 2Pac was that he was receiving energy from the music and that he was having fun. The past few years have been crazy for everyone, but particularly for African American's, there have been reminders of a painful history that doesn't seem to fade. Maybe this album is a reflection of that, but there have been opposite approaches with songs that inspire happiness, relief, grief, joy as well as pain and struggle. "I" from the album is a perfect example. It's a happier song that celebrates self love, being proud and I don't think the song contains the same connection to the subject matter and lyrics the way other tracks do.
Have you heard the project? If yes, let me know what you think. If not, listen and let me know.