This didn’t need to be made.
Kendrick Lamar was coming off one of the best-reviewed rap albums of the young century, the bombastic storytelling masterpiece “Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City.” The 2012 project told the story of a young Kendrick navigating the harrowing streets and life of his hometown Compton, California, weaving through gang life and family weights, all spit over old-school West Coast instrumentation with just enough modern influence to ride the Billboard charts. It was verbal wildfire. Lamar’s addictive flow and tales of his youth struck a chord with rap fanatics and music lovers alike, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up as album of the decade for a good number of hip-hop heads. It’s certainly in my top 10.
But it’s not the, because its sequel, “To Pimp a Butterfly,” didn’t just turn the rap game on its head like its predecessor—it serves as a benchmark for modern music on how to deliver a timeless album.
Like I said, this album didn’t need to be made. The rap and music communities would have been totally alright if Kendrick released a similar narrative like “Good Kid,” but that’s not what this is at all. It’s a statement.
This album needed to be made. In “To Pimp a Butterfly,” Kendrick lays bare countless socioeconomic realities when some albums in the genre struggle to tell one: The struggle of being a black American. The impossibility of being poor in America. Gang violence. Wealth disparity. Kendrick takes all of these topics and more and weaves them into something that shouldn’t even be called an album. It’s barely even rap at times—although Kendrick delivers bars on every track on here, the instrumentation takes scoops from several other genres. Jazz, funk, rock, pop, but man, ESPECIALLY jazz. Considering certain songs on here have made their appearances at some UConn college parties, almost all of the tracks on here could be slid into a Greenwich Village jazz sesh without missing an eighth note. The breakneck “For Free? – Interlude” could be the most whiplash of any of the jazzy cuts on here, as Kendrick slips into slam poetry mode and delivers a breathless monologue over hurried and chaotic chords. This is the same guy that made “‘Swimming Pools?’ How? What?” This album doesn’t make sense, yet it’s the best album of the decade. This isn’t an album review, this is me bowing at the feet of perfection.
As we lurch into a new decade, we don’t know what to expect from our country’s politics, as things are more chaotic and unpredictable than ever. It’s an inevitability that whatever happens, music will be made about it. This album is how you make a political album because it’s not one. None of these songs are explicit diatribes; instead, Kendrick gets into your subconscious. Sure, there are lines that stick with you for a day or two, but this album’s magic seeps into your mind when you realize months later that it affects your inner mantras. Few musical works can say that. “How Much A Dollar Cost” might be the magnum opus in a tracklist filled with firebombs of political importance, in which Kendrick has a back and forth with a homeless man asking him for change. It’s something many of us can relate to because we pass by people like the man theorized by Kendrick without even realizing it sometimes. This album changes you in ways that, four years after its release, are still showing themselves.
This album is dense in its poetry, but it still bangs. For my money, that’s what separates this as the cream of the crop of the past 10 years. As I said previously, some of these songs could slip into playlist rotation at any given college party. But, of course, nothing is that simple with Kendrick Lamar. “Swimming Pools” was a banger about alcoholism. “King Kunta” was one of the biggest songs of 2015, and it’s titled after a fictional 18 century slave. “Alright,” one of the more upbeat songs on the tracklist, was quickly dissolved into the larger Black Lives Matter movement as an anthem and is still screamed at protests to this day and hopefully for decades into the future.
“To Pimp A Butterfly” is a landmark creation in music history and will be remembered for generations to come. In creating this album, Kendrick Lamar branded his name into the record books with an album that will stand the test of time as the blueprint for how to be authentic in your word, and simply put, one of music’s greatest triumphs.
Daniel Cohn is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.