6 Thoughts After Hearing Kendrick Lamar's 'To Pimp A Butterfly' For The First Time
Kendrick Lamar made this past Sunday night and Monday seem like one long day. While most of the VIBE staff was preparing to unwind and prepare for the start of a new week, K. Dot dropped his To Pimp A Butterfly album on us without warning. After the initial shock wore off, we gave the album an honest listen and spilled our initial thoughts onto this page.
The album is glorious. Not in a Good Kid Maad City way either. In a 70s Black Panther soundtrack, funk sensation way. The way a West Coast militant/poet/street disciple's music should sound. I'm not sure if every young listener will have the patience to sift through the rhyme schemes and deep cultural meanings of Kendrick's words and flows right away. And, the music itself might not be what they're currently grooving with ... or maybe I might be under estimating the youth [Laughs]. I hope I am.
-- Datwon Thomas, Editor-In-Chief.
To Pimp A Butterfly fully cusps the mood of funk to jazz, and cleverly involves those gatekeepers of the genre from George Clinton to Ronald Isley to Bilal. Lamar cements the bridge between the stories of his dear Compton with the social issues that still plague our communities today -- led by the double bass, horns, a little bit of scat, and just darn good wordplay.
Lamar does indeed "know everything" given his refreshing knowledge of the aforementioned genres and the young producers who helped him to carry out his lyrical vision. But one thing is for sure, "By the time you hear the next pop, the funk shall be within you."
-- Camille Augustin, Staff Writer
After watching his journey from section.80 to the Twitter discussion that is To Pimp A Butterfly, we've learned that Kendrick Lamar's very existence in hip hop is polarizing. If you pressed play on the meaty LP looking for a repeat of his magnum opus good kid, M.A.A.D. city, just stop listening. You won't be fulfilled. Comparing it to his previous work is an insult to the new aural experience that comes with it. TPAB is a pleasant and necessary step backwards on music's timeline, pushing jazz, '70s funk and spoken word vibes verses through the pressure-bottled-up flow we've married to his image since Oct. 22, 2012.
Of course, K.Dot is a lyrical beast on this. That's part of his DNA at this point. But more impressive than his woven words is his use of rich, surround sound instrumentation. Notes that sound like colors, melodies that feel like emotions. Dot's aiming to engage all the senses with this one and help us dive deeply into the hushed feelings he's been harboring in the back of his mind and heart for these three years.
-- Stacy-Ann Ellis, Staff Writer
20 Years after Tupac released one of his most retrospective albums to date, Me Against The World, another solider of the same struggle dropped a body of work that carries that same spirit as that very LP.
Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp A Butterfly sounds like K.Dot completely ignored everything happening in popular music right now and made a small incision in his heart. While the blood was spewing like a faucet from his white tee, the Compton kid somehow let the honesty spill over the 16-tracks on the album.
Fans should be more thankful here. For the first time, the prophet has invited every listener to take an unchaperoned tour of his working mind and body.
-- Mikey Fresh, Music Editor
This might seem like small potatoes to some, but I have long maintained an album's sequencing is just as important as what tracks actually make the album. And while Good Kid breathed new air into hip-hop and proved the kid from Compton far surpassed his rap peers, I sometimes felt certain tracks weren't in the right order. (It's an unpopular opinion I know, but please don't stone me for it)
However, To Pimp A Butterfly, with all its horns, spoken word, 70s Black Exploitation flare, and other complex concepts and nuances that make being a person of color in America such an experience, possesses a fluidity first seen on Section.80 that I don't think was fully tapped into on Good Kid. But enough putting Kendrick against Kendrick.
To Pimp A Butterfly is full of complication, and at times anger. Kendrick is King Kunta and at the same time drowning his sorrows in a bottle of liquor in a hotel room. He wonders why with all the fame he's been able to positively impact his fans, he couldn't protect those closest to him. K. Dot is the kid who loves himself, but battles depression and suicidal thoughts. He travels to Africa to visit Nelson Mandela's cell but admits to lacking empathy and admittedly holds grudges. All of these contradicting emotions backed by funk, jazz, and free flowing horns is the perfect description of a man trying to be better than what he's seen. It's a beautiful, frustrating struggle.
To Pimp A Butterfly is complex and so is life and if life were to ever make sense, it makes sense on this body of work.
-- Shenequa Golding, Contributing Writer
If millennials are searching for a way to connect to Kendrick Lamar on his most radical body of work yet, their parents may be a great source of context. Channeling the “you kids don’t know nothin’ about this” vibes of your elders’ musical tastes, K. Dot adds a new-age activism to the storied tale of being black in America. Juxtaposing pertinent history references with conflicted, ferocious bars of frustration and pride, To Pimp A Butterfly spins like a passion project churned from the Compton MC’s very soul -- almost without anything to prove or gain.
--Iyana Robertson, News Editor.