A look at a prime contender for album of the year 2015
Though the year isn’t over yet, I have no doubt in my mind that Kendrick Lamar’s newest LP, To Pimp a Butterfly, will take album of the year on my list. Why is this, you might ask? Well, there are a good number of things going for it. These elements, when put together on this record, form a cohesive unit that no release so far this year has paralleled, and I don’t expect any will. Let’s dive into what exactly makes this such a great experience.
First and foremost, the most obvious high point of a hip hop record, the lyricism. Lamar is well-known in the craft, and he makes sure to prove his worth all over the album. Notable tracks lyrically include “The Blacker the Berry”, “How Much a Dollar Cost”, and the somewhat experimental “For Free? – Interlude”. Seriously, the final section of the latter song is impressive–especially considering he’s rapping over a jazz instrumental, a genre famous for unorthodox structure. The rhymes are strong and the overall flow is top-notch.
As opposed to the narrative style of Kendrick’s previous effort, Good Kid, m.A.A.d City, Butterfly instead has several smaller stories, generally contained within a song, all centering around a certain theme. All of these themes are–and here’s the genius part–tied together by a poem that Lamar reads piece by piece throughout the album’s run. For example, after “King Kunta”, he reads a line, after “Institutionalized”, he reads the first line and adds another, and so on, until “Mortal Man”, when he finishes the entirety of his prose. The lines of the poem, little by little, touch on every topic that is covered by previous songs, from the immoral lust of “These Walls”, to the self-hatred of “u”, and Lucifer’s temptation on “For Sale? – Interlude”.
I figured I’d go with a somewhat more interesting retrospective for the album, covering topics other than the music which add to its value, but this is not to discount the instrumentation and musical merit at all. In fact, what makes this LP stand out among other records in the genre is the orchestration and execution of it all. Instead of siding with a lazy drum machine beat, Lamar sides with influences of classic funk, soul, and jazz on a number of tracks like “Wesley’s Theory”, “For Free? – Interlude” and “i”. Even gospel choirs are harnessed a number of times, adding a rich harmony to songs like “Momma” and “Mortal Man”.
The cherry on top is a discussion with Kendrick’s idol, Tupak Shakur, for the last eight minutes of the twelve-minute monster of a closing track, “Mortal Man”. Using clips from a ‘90s interview with the artist, Lamar is able to create a coherent and powerful dialogue with a dead man, discussing many of the topics covered on the sixteen tracks prior. Social issues like police brutality and racism are discussed, with reactions ranging from laughing together to Tupac’s expectation of murder when another riot goes down.
What the listener needs to understand is, this is an album experience. You can’t very easily just pick out any one or two songs on the record and get the same feeling you do from hearing all 79 minutes in order. It’s a modern masterpiece, and I’m certainly not the only one who thinks so–professional critics have already begun calling it a modern classic. In order to get the ideas of others in my age group, however, I asked some of Chartiers Valley’s own for their opinions on To Pimp a Butterfly.
“To Pimp a Butterfly is Kendrick Lamar’s masterpiece”, claims Evan Kraus, grade eleven. “And i feel that he has many more to come.”
“It’s kinda preachy”, says Augustine Deely, grade nine. “He sounds like he’s trying to be Martin Luther King for a lot of it.”
“Although it’s not my favorite Kendrick album, he really outdid himself with To Pimp A Butterfly”, said Noah Zihmer, grade eleven. “It shows that rappers still care about politics and the racism. Listing to the album is like watching the news through music.”