Listening to To Pimp A Butterfly is like eating ice cream for the first time. It starts with a frozen unpleasant scoop of cold, so shocking and freezing until it is melting and all of a sudden it’s sugary, creamy and so sweet. After analyzing, listening, more analyzing, and even more listening, I let Kendrick Lamar’s album sink in like ice cream, enjoying until the very last drop.
An 80 minute mix of jazz, funk, soul, spoken word, rap, and hip-hop, Butterfly is a wonderful collection praising the history of Black music. From the beginning, a crackling of a needle on a record is heard as a dysmorphic sample of Boris Gardner’s “Every N*gger is a Star” plays. All of a sudden, “Hit Me!”– the sample is interrupted with the drop of George Clinton and we are transported into complete funk. From a jazzy saxophone whaling on “For Free?” and “King Kunta” bubbling with funk vibes, the album is a pastiche of layers upon layers of a funk dream. And still, even with the jolting and loaded “Blacker the Berry” and uplifting, booming “Alright” and “i,” there are moments of hiatus (silky “Complexion [A Zulu Love] and the smooth “Momma.”)
Butterfly is thick with introspection into Lamar’s thoughts, accusations, and feelings, and weighted with metaphors, racially-charged content, and thought-provoking ideas and allusions. Ideas and illusions Lamar makes so accessible, so tangible with the use of poetry, and music, it is easy to become angry, excited, happy–to feel something. “How Much A Dollar Cost?” presents wrestling with what you value and the meaning of confronting your privilege. On “u” Lamar allows us into the intense and cynical feelings of his life and personality, a stark contrast from the self-affirming “i.” Amongst all of the emotion, still lies flawless production worth endless merit and tracks so alive and bursting with funk and soul.
Kendrick is fearless throughout and as the album draws to a close, we are introduced to Lamar staging a conversation with Tupac Shakur (a recorded interview circa 1994). On “Mortal Man” as Lamar chats with Shakur, he releases the culmination of the whole album and recites a poem, or what he calls “something you can relate to” on his beliefs and his ultimate conclusion to racial separation today. Lamar wants us to be conscious beings as he states the “only hope we kinda have left is music and vibrations.” With that it seems, Kendrick has gifted us all the hope in the world.
Let To Pimp A Butterfly sink in for longer, let this marinate over and over. As a hip-hop album, as a jazz and funk album, or just as a collection of ideas and beliefs, To Pimp a Butterfly is yes, meant to be thoughtful, but also to be enjoyed. Allowing a listener to both think and feel, this album truly turns a chapter.