Snoop Dogg

Review: Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly

Kendrick Lamar instantly launched himself into the ranks of the elite MCs with the release of his stellar album good kid, m.A.A.d. city, where he weaved with exceptional skill a complex narrative of a young man’s struggle to escape from all the various negative influences trying to entrap him.  good kid managed to avoid the primary problem that plagues most concept albums, as it never felt weighed down by the potential constraints of its central narrative; it was an album filled with hit singles (“Backseat Freestyle”, “Swimming Pools (Drank)”, and “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe” are just three of the record’s modern classics) that could be enjoyed on their own, but gained an additional weight when placed in context with the underlying story.   Kendrick’s technical skills as both a rapper and a writer ensured that there would be heavy anticipation for its follow-up, and for months fans and critics were on the edge of their seats with each revelation.

To be sure, To Pimp A Butterfly meets and possibly exceeds all these expectations.  It is more ambitious than its predecessor, moving from documenting a personal struggle to a more universal one, as Kendrick analyzes the trials and tribulations that face black people in America today.  The result is a denser, less accessible album than good kid, but represents a true artistic statement.  It might best be explained by using the old music critic cliche of the analogous connection to a completely unrelated artist: if good kid, m.A.A.d. city is Kendrick’s The Bends, then To Pimp a Butterfly represents his OK Computer.

The music on Butterfly is a heady and thrilling mix of numerous jazz, funk, and R&B influences, veering from one style to the next and capturing a gamut of emotions and moods.  Though Flying Lotus is only credited as a producer for one song, it seems as if the experience of their previous collaboration rubbed off on Kendrick, with the free mix of jazz and electronic elements dominating a significant portion of the record.  As the album progresses, the music shifts from a smoother, freer feel to a more deliberate beat, and provides an excellent counter to Kendrick’s growing anger. Spoken word passages also play a significant role, with Kendrick periodically adding lines to a poem that begins each time with “I remember you was conflicted”, and it creates an interesting effect of breaking the album into sections while also providing a connective tissue with narrative thrust.

Butterfly is an album that takes a lot of effort to unpack, but the effort is worth it; though it runs close to eighty minutes, it never feels like a chore to listen.  There are not a wealth of singles like good kid, with most of the tracks sounding better in context; “i” works as a single, but it sounds even better as a culmination of the album’s themes and as a response to “u”.  As a result, in the future I can see most people (including myself) throwing on the other album more often, but the times we do listen to Butterfly will still be appreciated.  After all, this is an album that ends with Kendrick “interviewing” Tupac, and it makes perfect sense that the legend finally has a true successor.

Over the Weekend (Dec. 29 Edition)

News, videos, and other end-of-the-year paraphernalia as you transition from one holiday weekend to another…

We gave the Rust Is Just Right staff an extra day off last week, so we’re going to combine our linkdump days this week and get to a couple of stories we neglected to share; we hope you didn’t miss us too much, and hopefully this makes up for our absence.

We’ll kick things off with a music video, as TV on the Radio just released one for the upbeat and frenetic “Lazerray” from their album Seeds, and footage of skateboard tricks somehow seems to be an appropriate take on the song.

For those in the mood for more music videos, NME provides a slideshow of the best music videos of the decade so far, and I’d have to say I agree with the number one and number three selections in particular.  In other “lists” news, Pitchfork now has their Readers Poll results up (which differs only slightly from the staff selections, for the most part), and Under the Radar has their Top 140 albums.  A more interesting feature offered by the latter is their annual Artist Survey; we enjoyed the one from Max Bloom of Yuck in particular.

Everybody heard about PAPER magazine’s “Break the Internet” issue for other reasons, but hidden within its pages was a fascinatingly hilarious interview with Snoop Dogg, discussing mainly his newfound passion for painting.

Stereogum has the video for a compilation that asked artists over the years a simple question: “Lennon or McCartney?”  I believe that the choice of one over the other says a lot about the person, but I shouldn’t have to tip my hand one way or the other.  I will say that Bo Diddley offers the best answer of all, however.

Elsewhere on the Stereogum site, they have a list of the 101 Most Anticipated Albums of 2015, and you’re correct we’re using it as a cheat sheet to remind us what’s coming out next year.

And finally, we recommend that you read this remembrance of Joe Cocker from Jason Heller of the AV Club, which does an excellent job of explaining the power of his voice and his unexpected influence on younger generations.