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About Me:18-year-old sixth form student, studying English Literature, History and Government and Politics. My articles will broadly cover topics from the current affairs of politics to reviews of books and albums, as well as adding my own creative pieces, whether it be short fiction or general opinion.
You may be forgiven for raising your brow at such a title: To Pimp a Butterfly gained 5 Grammys in 2015, including the Best Rap Album category, which saw it beat the likes of J. Cole and hip-hop icon Dr Dre. It also gained widespread critical acclaim achieving a plethora of five-star reviews and ranking at the top of Rolling Stones’ ‘Top 50 Albums of 2015’.
And so you may argue that its veneration has surely reached its peak; that only few albums get to boast such a status. But we must realise that albums, like all pieces of art, are no good stagnating in the vacuity of critical acclaim. Indeed those well versed in the make-up of once-in-a-generation albums should rightly gift it with superlative praise. But what of the majority of consumers of music, those that will put music on at a party, perhaps listen to it whilst travelling - the occasional listener? It is within such closed parameters where we see the praise dwindle. There were, and still are, widespread complaints that it failed to live up to the ‘bop-ness’ and easy listening as its predecessor, Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City, and therein lies the issue.
To Pimp a Butterfly is sonically alien to the majority of its consumers; its fusion of nu-jazz, neo-soul and funk is something unsettling to the ears that crave familiarity (no surprise that the most loved track on the album is the trap-style Alright). Indeed, these listeners will perhaps be ignorant of the origins of such music – this is also a problem, and here’s why. To Pimp a Butterfly is wholly, proudly and loudly, black. Its timing was completely apt; the police brutality epidemic that has swept across America was reaching boiling point, and the world pined for a far-reaching voice to speak on it. Kendrick delivered. “Your plan is to terminate my culture” he spits on The Blacker the Berry, but he also touches on the lack of solidarity shown in the black community – “Why did I weep when Trayvon Martin was in the street when gang-banging made me kill a ni**a black than me?” - a lyric so profound in its call-to-arms that it is proceeded by a smooth jazz breakdown to let it sink in.
The features on the album also echo the black pride theme: it calls on legends of funk, George Clinton and Ronald Isley, but also couples these with the new pioneers of jazz, Kamasi Washington, Terrace Martin, Robert Glasper and Thundercat, allowing them to reach new heights of popularity and push the jazz movement and lineage even further.
The album’s complexity lies not only in its instrumentals and lyrical content, but the way in which these two merge to create conceptual pieces of art. This is most prominent on the track u, where Lamar’s whines of self-loathing are delivered with inflections, and coupled with the dissonant backdrop of saxophones and piano as well as the sounds of clinking bottles, to create the ultimate portrayal of a deteriorating and drunk psyche.
Indeed, such things are lost on the lost on the bass-craving ears of the usual listener. Listen broader, listen deeper, but above all, listen properly.