Imagine my surprise today to wake up and find out that Kendrick Lamar’s eagerly awaited sophomore album To Pimp A Butterfly had been released a week in advance. In the face of Ferguson, police brutality, and widening economic disparity, Kendrick Lamar tackles social issues through music, symbolising dark times for the black community. He shows that he is a versatile artist, who is not pigeon-holed into one genre, he explores a mixture of rap, jazz, funk, soul, and spoken word. Through his music he has the power to elicit numerous emotions – anger, worthiness, self-love, happiness – arguably he can be seen as a rebellious Andre 3000 – he even brings Tupac back, speaking to the listener from the past about the present, in a 12 minute outro, whilst calling up the spirit of the rebel slave Nat Turner.
The track speaks about consumerism from the perspective of Uncle Sam, because living in a society where our generation is more concerned about appearance and taking selfies than obtaining knowledge of self. Everything ultimately becomes a commodity; Kendrick takes the perspective of Uncle Sam, by encouraging the audience to buy via credit to reinstate the status quo. (“What you want you? / A house or a car? / Forty acres and a mule, a piano, a guitar? / Anything, see, my name is Uncle Sam on your dollar / Motherfucker you can live at the mall“). Speaking from his own perspective as an artist, he speaks about the debt of an entertainer, what he has typically observed is: once the artist becomes signed, he inevitably becomes misguided by greed and wealth. (“When I get signed, homie I’mma act a fool / Hit the dance floor, strobe lights in the room“).
In contrast to the uplifting, self-loving anthem I, by speaking to himself on the track U portrays the insecurities of the rapper, moving between emotions of selfishness, brokenness, and ultimately melancholy. He successfully depicts the highs and lows, inner joys, self-hatred, bravado, and the blame. We hear the inner battle that the rapper goes through, touching upon emotions that link to mental health. A subject matter that is taboo in some communities, rather than directly stating the topic, Kendrick Lamar goes through the motions of each internal battle he faces in order to shine a light on the problems. The track listing is highly effective, following U, is the track Alright, implying no matter what is happening, everything is going to be all right – is that true? Do you believe it?
What are your views on To Pimp A Butterfly?
Until next time, stay blessed and classy,