written by Carla Bynum
Kendrick has been mostly mum about his new album, so it is no surprise that this release has caused an uproar amongst his fans and hip-hop lovers. With only the release of the motivational single “I” and his latest release “Blacker the Berry,” fans didn’t know what to expect this time around.
George Clinton and Thundercat open up the album on the track “Wesley’s Theory.” Kendrick talks about his first “girlfriend,” success, who he was in love with at one point but he soon realizes that his love has turned to lust. The song’s introduction includes a sample of the song “Every Nigger is a Star.” Dr. Dre also pops up for a brief cameo on the track where he reminds Kendrick that just as easily as you get fame and fortune, it can be taken away. The second verse is in Uncle Sam’s point of view. The song also plays on Wesley Snipes and references his tax issues.
Kendrick explores the plight of the wealthy black man in America on the track “King Kunta.” Kinte was a slave in the 18th century who had his foot chopped off when he tried to escape. Kendrick feels like he is a king but he also feels like he is oppressed like a slave. He also lets his competition know that he’s back to reclaim his throne again.
Kendrick raps about being “Institutionalized” on the next track featuring Bilal, Anna Wise and Snoop Dogg. Although he no longer lives the Compton lifestyle, his past still has his heart because he’s institutionalized. The ghetto will always be a part of him and he’s not ashamed to admit it. His grandmother always told him that nothing will ever change unless you clean up your act. Kendrick wishes that he had listened to her sooner. Uncle Snoop hails Kendrick as the new king of the West Coast.
“If these walls could talk” is a common expression used by many people. Kendrick explores the idea of talking walls on “These Walls,” a track featuring Anna Wise, Bilal and Thundercat. He raps about a woman’s vaginal walls and how much he loves being inside them. He also discusses prison walls, primarily in the third verse.
“u” seems like the complete opposite of Kendrick’s empowering song “i.” It explores a darker place in his mind where he reveals the negative thoughts he faces. In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, he admits that this was one of the hardest songs he had to write because there are so many dark moments in it. He addresses his own insecurities on the track which he has said is hard to do. In the last verse on the song he raps about how he feels like a failure and has started drinking more than he used to to numb his pain. He even contemplates ending it all by killing himself.
“Alright” is a contrast of the previous song because Kendrick realizes that despite his insecurities and the tragic things that has happened in his life he will be alright.
Listeners are given a deeper insight into who the previously mentioned character Lucy is on the interlude “For Sale?” Lucy is compared to Sherane, a prominent presence on Kendrick’s last album. Lucy is temptation and she promises Kendrick that she’ll move his mama out the hood and fill his pockets. As the song continues, we realize that Lucy is just a nickname for Lucifer.
Kendrick returns “home” on the track “Momma.” He realizes that he didn’t know anything until he surpassed the school system and decided to educate himself and find out the truth. Home can refer to both Compton and Africa on the song.
Kendrick addresses “Hood Politics” on the next track. He starts off by talking about how he doesn’t worry himself with petty things like rap beef when there are so many more important things happening in the world. There are too many people dying too young in the streets because of gang violence. He points out how the hood is looked at as a completely different place than America.
He wonders how much a dollar really is worth on the track “How Much a Dollar Cost,” which features James Fauntleroy and Ron Isley. He tells the tale of his encounter with a homeless man who asked him for a dollar to feed his addiction. Kendrick declined. He doesn’t understand how a person can beg for money and accept it. The man then asks him if he’s ever read Exodus 14 where Moses parted the Red Sea and guided the Israelites to safety. In the third verse, he feels guilty but he isn’t ready to give up his selfishness. His selfishness is what allowed him to become wealthy and he isn’t ready to give up any of his money, even if it is only a dollar. Later in the song he realizes that the homeless man he encountered was in fact God and his unwillingness to help the “homeless man” cost him his spot in heaven.
On the song “Complexion (A Zulu Love),” he raps about a heavy issue in the black community…colorism. He talks about how important it is to love all black people, whether they are as “dark as the midnight hour or bright as the morning sun.” Complexion doesn’t mean a thing and doesn’t define a person’s character. The song features rapper Rapsody.
“The Blacker the Berry” was released the day after he won the Best Rap Song and Performance award for “i” at the 2015 Grammy’s. The song deals with self-hatred and also covers a topic not new to the entertainment world, the appropriation of black culture. Kendrick refers to himself as a hypocrite on the track three times before finally bringing things to a head. In the final verse he ponders how he could be so hurt by the murder of Trayvon Martin when he has been responsible for the death of a young black man.
K. Dot’s realness is questioned on the song “You Ain’t Gotta Lie (Momma Said).” He has been away from Compton too long even though he always talks about it so his people don’t take him seriously any more. He refers to himself as the loudest in the room which he admits is only his way of hiding his own insecurities. He realizes that he doesn’t have to fake to impress people.
The album’s lead single “i” is an uplifting song about self-love and has earned Kendrick two Grammy awards this year. He has gone through many trials and tribulations in his life, especially growing up in Compton, but his faith has helped him to remain strong. The song encourages positivity in the face of negativity.
The album closes with the track “Mortal Man,” which was inspired by a trip Kendrick took to Africa recently. He refers to Nelson Mandela often and hopes to carry his peaceful philosophies in his life. The song closes with Kendrick interviewing his idol, the late hip-hop legend Tupac Shakur about how he dealt with his own fame and image before his untimely death. Each song on the album ends with a part of a poem that portrays Kendrick’s journey. Hands down, this has to be the best end to an album ever.
Kendrick uses the transformation of a caterpillar to a butterfly to describe himself and the way the industry is trying to pimp him for their cause. He isn’t going to let that happen, instead he wants to shed light on the plight of black culture and inspire his people.
One of the amazing things about a Kendrick Lamar album is his ability to tell a story and connect all the dots along the way. The end of the album sums up To Pimp a Butterfly perfectly and this is certainly a worhty follow-up to the critically acclaimed GKMC. Kendrick Lamar is back to reclaim his place on the throne.
Recommended Tracks: “Alright,” “u,” “Complexion (A Zulu Love),” “The Blacker the Berry,” “Mortal Man,” “How Much A Dollar Cost”
To Pimp A Butterfly is available now on iTunes.