Monday, April 20, 2015

Album Listening Club - To Pimp a Butterfly

Kendrick Lamar released his third album in March of 2015. It was the third rap album to top the sales charts at that point in the year, and held the top spot for 2 weeks, the first album to do that since Taylor Swift's 1989.

Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp a Butterfly (Top Dawg Entertainment)
Lamar released two singles ahead of the album in 2014, one of which, "i," won him a Grammy award for Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song in February of this year.

Critics have lauded To Pimp a Butterfly, but what do we care what the critics think? I care what *you* think. So let's talk about this record in the comments below!


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3 comments:

  1. The first thing I notice about this album is that it *feels* important. It feels like Stankonia or It Takes A Nation Of Millions…. Kendrick's not fuckin' around.

    Like the other artists named, it doesn't feel bleak. It's not depressing or dismal, like I get from much of Straight Outta Compton. I'm sure that some of that is due to the production and samples used on this and other records, maybe some of it comes from the style of rap, more descriptive than straight freestyle.

    This album isn't built just on beats, there's also free jazz, soul, funk, psychedelia - but the beats vary as well. There are bounce beats, some glitch-type beats, some 808-sounding snare, what sounds like some tabla beats.

    Lamar deals with themes of proving yourself, getting signed, authenticity, survivor's guilt, being president/presidents (a reality in Obama nation), temptation, the crossroads deal, racism, and redemption. He's working through some stuff, internal and external.

    One of my favorite lines from the album that shows his drive:
    "I need forty acres and a mule
    not a forty ounce and a pitbull"

    The flow on "u" is craaaazy. So much great rapping on this record.

    "For Free?" reminds me of "TV II" by Ministry in the rapid-fire manner of the words. More that Kendrick's quick flow in the main verses matches the speed of the guitar in the Ministry song. (As an aside, I couldn't get the refrain "This dick ain't freeeee" out of my head for days)

    (My comment is too long, see next for the rest)

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  2. (continued)

    There's a poem that Kendrick recites throughout the album, starting with just one line:

    "I remember you was conflicted, misusing your influence"

    and adds more lines as the album goes on, the added lines having relevance to the song they're attached to.

    "I remember you was conflicted, misusing your influence
    Sometimes I did the same"

    "I remember you was conflicted, misusing your influence
    Sometimes I did the same
    Abusing my power, full of resentment
    Resentment that turned into a deep depression
    Found myself screaming in a hotel room"

    "I remembered you was conflicted
    Misusing your influence, sometimes I did the same
    Abusing my power full of resentment
    Resentment that turned into a deep depression
    Found myself screamin' in the hotel room
    I didn't wanna self destruct
    The evils of Lucy was all around me
    So I went runnin' for answers"

    "I remembered you was conflicted
    Misusing your influence, sometimes I did the same
    Abusing my power full of resentment
    Resentment that turned into a deep depression
    Found myself screamin' in the hotel room
    I didn't wanna self destruct
    The evils of Lucy was all around me
    So I went runnin' for answers
    Until I came home"

    "I remember you was conflicted
    Misusing your influence
    Sometimes I did the same
    Abusing my power full of resentment
    Resentment that turned into a deep depression
    Found myself screaming in a hotel room
    I didn't want to self-destruct
    The evils of Lucy was all around me
    So I went running for answers
    Until I came home
    But that didn't stop survivors guilt
    Going back and forth
    Trying to convince myself the stripes I earned
    Or maybe how A-1 my foundation was
    But while my loved ones was fighting
    A continuous war back in the city
    I was entering a new one"

    "I remember you was conflicted
    Misusing your influence
    Sometimes I did the same
    Abusing my power, full of resentment
    Resentment that turned into a deep depression
    Found myself screaming in the hotel room
    I didn’t wanna self destruct
    The evils of Lucy was all around me
    So I went running for answers
    Until I came home
    But that didn’t stop survivor’s guilt
    Going back and forth trying to convince myself the stripes I earned
    Or maybe how A-1 my foundation was
    But while my loved ones was fighting the continuous war back in the city, I was entering a new one
    A war that was based on apartheid and discrimination
    Made me wanna go back to the city and tell the homies what I learned
    The word was respect
    Just because you wore a different gang colour than mine's
    Doesn’t mean I can’t respect you as a black man
    Forgetting all the pain and hurt we caused each other in these streets
    If I respect you, we unify and stop the enemy from killing us
    But I don’t know, I’m no mortal man, maybe I’m just another nigga”

    One of the great things about the Internet is a site like Genius.com that allows people to annotate the lyrics to songs. (Genius.com is about annotating the Internet, but that's another story) To really see how deep his lyrics go, head to Genius.com, listen to this album, read along, and see how connected his lyrics are to previous albums, to the world, to Compton, to the street. I can't explain it all here, because I don't understand it fully myself. It's a different world from where I live.

    (continued on 3rd coment)

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  3. (continued)


    -------------
    To give an example of how Genius.com helps to understand a lyric, here's a few lines from the third single "King Kunta":

    "When you got the yams (What's the yams?)
    The yam is the power that be
    You can smell it when I'm walking down the street
    (Oh yes we can, oh yes we can)"

    And here is the contributed annotation:

    "This is a direct allusion to Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. The unnamed narrator is walking down the streets of New York City when he smells yams, which triggers memories of his hometown in The South.

    Yams are a key ingredient in African cuisine and have significance in some parts of Africa as a sign of social status. In his novel Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe begins by documenting how a man’s worth in Ibo society was largely determined by his yearly yam yield. When Kendrick says he “got the yams,” he means he has attained money, power and prestige."
    ---------------
    That's deep stuff, and I don't know that I would have come across that meaning otherwise. Is it accurate? I don't know, but it could be all of it and more. I wouldn't put it past Kendrick, because as I said at the beginning, this record is *very* dense. There aren't a lot of "accidents" here, or lazy rhymes, or fluff/padding/filler. For me, right now, after listening to this album a *lot* - Kendrick is the best rapper in the game. And this is one of the best albums of the genre. Top 10 rap album in my book.

    ReplyDelete