With his earth-shattering verse on “Control,” he seized the attention of every single artist by the scruff of the neck.
Ruthlessly truthful, his words resonated in the heads of listeners. Once the message was sent, he dropped the artists from the clutches of experience-weathered hands, sending them scurrying into the confines of their studios.
Months later, “i” followed the scathing stanza, but with little reaction; the world knew what he was capable of now. Kendrick Lamar Duckworth, through the release of several studio albums and his historic verse, had created, Control-ed, and fostered the suspense of his next work of art. No, Kendrick’s new album, To Pimp A Butterfly, is not good kid, m.A.A.d city, an album that will go down in rap history. Nor did it ever have a chance to be GKMC. However, don’t be quick to assume the follow up is a decline. TPAB is not It Was Written, an album that was “good,” but not Illmatic good.
Kendrick’s newest release is far more than a further indication of impressive maturation in the face of today’s America. This album is a call to awareness, clarity, and introspection at a time in which all three are traded for ignorance, hypocrisy, and aesthetics. Kendrick has a deep, necessary concern and obsession with the proper platform to profess the principles of African American expression and empowerment. He is not the only African American rap artist with a racially similar populace who possesses a pedestal to preach upon.
Yet these artists squander highly coveted positions of expression with the kind of message that appeals to an iTunes Top 10 listener: an infatuation with beautiful women, sleek cars, and rolls of hard cash. By demeaning this platform of expression, the rap genre is equally scoffed at. Rap? Is this the ideal method of the African American man and his dissatisfactions? “Wesley’s Theory”’s description of the tempting indulgences endorsed by the primarily white upper class is a recognition of societal procedure.
Kendrick is more than aware of the redundant cycle: the purchase and promotion of materialism, of which supports the capitalistic ploys of rich, white collar men, who in turn place predetermined expectations and perceived limitations upon the African American population. Consumerism runs rampant through the rap industry, further serving to strengthen societal structure. This is the same structure African Americans frequently attack after incidents such as the Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown shootings. The hypocrisy of the situational care is vital to Lamar’s concept.
Active social commentary and political criticism are the boom in Lamar’s voice, whether it be his newly adopted high-pitched croon or the gritted, gravelly declarations. “The Blacker the Berry” roars with imminency, and Lamar is quick to remind, “…black don’t crack.” With slickened historical references and a portrayal of a heavily educated view of African American oppression, this track is six minutes of spilled blood and a hint of desired redemption. An album with classic free jazz and light funk, the rock-hard instrumentals clashed together on GKMC are abandoned, despite a more potent message being relayed in TPAB.
“Mortal Man” induces chills as the listener hears Tupac Shakur’s deepened, legendary voice, and the voice of his prodigal savior, Kendrick Lamar Duckworth. Flipping concepts to one another, Lamar has one last string of words to read Pac. He’s finished his say, a poem – and no response.
Lamar utters a frantic cry into the dark – he is no longer talking to Pac. He has reached a point of definition in his life, illuminating the fact that Shakur is now embodied through the music of Lamar. The Christ of rap music, Lamar has been crucified by Compton – “Kendrick a.k.a. Compton’s human sacrifice” – through the blood-stained and graffiti tainted walls, which reek of Olde English 800 and are riddled with bullet holes connecting through slight cracks. Through his economical hardships, depression, and anxiety-stricken anguish, (echoed in “u”) Lamar essentially died, only to return with a pure, gratuitous mindset (echoed in “i”). Pen in hand, Kendrick fired round after round back at Compton in TPAB, tearing down the acceptance of perceived standard. As a vibrant, piping-hot source of beautiful and ugly truth who shocks every mic he grasps, Lamar has risen.
To Pimp A Butterfly: 9.0
– Connor Layden