By Matthew Shircliffe—
While under scrutiny over the last two years for his sophomore album, “Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City” that many consider a modern classic, a “Control” verse that put hip-hop on its toes and a record label that has flourished abundantly, Compton native Kendrick Lamar has made a triumphant return. He reaches new heights with more vivid, thought-provoking lyrics followed by unblemished production on his third album “To Pimp a Butterfly.”
With limited but necessary contributions from artists including Pete Rock, Pharrell, Snoop Dogg and Rapsody, just to name a few, it seemed Lamar knew exactly where all collaborators fit best, as each feature served a righteous purpose on TPAB.
The album is carried by three singles including a much better, updated album version of “I,” a positive tale about self-love, “Blacker the Berry,” a much gloomier, raw form of Lamar and “King Kunta,” a funkier track that might work as Lamar’s “turn-up” cut.
The diversity is evident on this project. In order for one to absorb the message Lamar is attempting to send, it is strongly recommended to spin the album a generous amount of times to truly grasp the complexity demonstrated through the deep narration, backed up by the remarkable instrumentals.
While legendary artist Dr. Dre serves as the album’s executive producer, L.A.’s own Terrace Martin graces the album, backing much of the track-by-track production. Lamar is able to incorporate west coast funk, R&B, jazz and soul all meshed in one project. That alone deserves praise, as it is obvious that Lamar has been able to recapture the nostalgic sound of the 90’s west coast funk on notable tracks such as “Wesley’s Theory” and “Momma.” He also implements a jazz influence throughout the album on tracks such as the first interlude, “For Free?”
What Lamar accomplishes so well through this album is his ability to create a more harrowing, edgy form of poetry. “Hood Politics,” delivers with light piano keys and razor sharp lyrics, as doe “Mortal Man,” which discusses the butterfly theme and surprises us with a sample from a resurfaced 1994 Tupac Shakur interview.
“On U” is perhaps the most lyrical song on the project. He tackles contemplation of suicide and depression where he raps about his failure to prevent his younger sister from becoming pregnant at such a young age. He says, “You preached in front of 100,000 but never reached her, I f****** tell you, you f****** failure, you ain’t no leader.” He confronts the irony that he has inspired all of his listeners worldwide, but could not reach out to his own family. This is some of the finest storytelling ever displayed, as he hits on a completely different level of lyricism and delivers one of the more disturbing, yet flawless flows on the album.
Kendrick delivered on all fronts with TPAB. With superb production and lyrics that are above most of his competitors, it’s safe to say he gave us a perfect follow-up to Good Kid MA.A.D City and definitely a record we will be discussing for many years.