It’s been three years since Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city sent shockwaves around hip-hop bringing the Compton-based rapper to the mainstream.
We’ve anxiously heard of a drastically different sound and direction from his debut record.
But finally, Lamar’s second studio album To Pimp A Butterfly has been released and you can file it straight into “instant classic”.
The production of the album is crisp and moves away from the West Coast hip-hop-heavy good kid, m.A.A.d city. This was made clear from the range of producers which includes soul legend Ron Isley and jazz electric bass supremo Thundercat alongside rap icons Dr. Dre and Pharrell.
The cover art depicts a mob of black people who appear to have taken over the White House while the Speaker of the House of Congress lies dead.
It sets a tone for what this album promotes. In Lamar’s own words: “We need to find black leaders to stand up and represent. And that could be any man from the streets.”
From the first song “Wesley’s Theory”, the album adopts a rhythmic fusion of jazz, funk and hip-hop all set behind Lamar’s smooth rapping style.
He follows that song with the annoyingly catchy “King Kunta” – the third single to be released from the album.
“These Walls” and “Institutionalised” both feature the fantastic Anna Wise. Wise featured on Kendrick’s previous album and she provides a beautiful contrast on Butterfly with her soulful voice.
Kendrick delves into depression on “u”. It’s a harrowing song relating to family problems he had when he mother was unwell and his sister had a miscarriage.
It’s hard to listen to as the emotional pressures of trying to remain a strong family man becomes too much and he reverts to alcohol.
“The Blacker The Berry” is an angst-filled anthem, aimed at uniting black people to unite and stand up for their rights, contrary to the divisive nature in which Kendrick believes they currently live. The lyrics are piercing and provide a lot of thought.
It resonates strongly with the anti-police riots seen in Ferguson and most recently Baltimore, both following the killing of young black males by law enforcement.
He finishes with “Mortal Man”, finishing the poem he’s told throughout Butterfly, before asking hip-hop’s greatest ever influence on his views on the current state of black culture.
As the immortal Tupac Shakur responds, the listener is astounded. The track effectively holds a conversation between Kendrick and Tupac, using clips of interviews prior to his death in 1996. The message is as applicable then as it is today.
It’s a landmark moment and one which marks the passing of the torch to Kendrick as rap’s next great leader.