To Pimp a Butterfly – Kendrick Lamar

God, there’s so much to talk about on this album, a magnus opus that combines slam poetry, jazz, funk, and the utter genius of Kendrick Lamar to create a contender for the best rap album of all time. It begins with “Wesley’s Theory”, a complex masterwork full of strong, defined harmony (that’s why you get Thundercat on bass) that evokes intense, uncontrollable emotion; I can’t tell what key it’s in, but it still grabs me hard. Immediately, we shift into free improvisation over 9/8 jazz on “For Free? – Interlude”, full of fantastic rhythms from Kendrick and amazing drums from Terrace Martin; still not sure what time signature Kendrick’s in or how he’s feeling the beat, but it works spectacularly. This is what it means when we call someone “virtuosic”- Kendrick’s incredible abilities come from an intuitive understanding of music beyond our comprehension. His rhythms are always complex and engaging and his lyrics are constantly witty, evocative, and deep, and there are documented examples of him writing (and even freestyling) these raps in minutes. (For instance, when Eminem isolated him alone in a recording studio to write a surprise verse on suspicion that he used a ghostwriter.) There is no rap as violently intense as the one on “The Blacker The Berry”, a deeply upsetting exploration of self-hatred and cry for racial justice. So, what did Kendrick do upon discovering that rapping was no longer a challenge and that he could do anything he wanted with the form? He started writing deeply political concept albums- intense, interweaving stories of characters you empathize with, and works which highlight important realities and have genuinely influenced American politics. (For instance, “Alright” provoked a feud with our major conservative news network that Kendrick ended with “DNA”.) I love listening when this album just stops and Kendrick uses beautiful poetry to discuss personal experiences and political theory regarding race, and I completely support the way Kendrick reduced the quality of “i” from the single version for use on the album. (That said, you’ve gotta hear the original “i”.) I don’t want to spoil this album’s twists and turns, but I feel like I don’t have to- you get through the unparalleled drum-based harmony of “King Kunta”, and you’ll know you need to listen to the whole thing. I cannot do justice to “Alright”, “How Much A Dollar Cost”, “Mortal Man”, and the rest of this fantastic album in the remainder of this review. Just, this album exemplifies the utmost beauty, and Obama thinks so too, so you should listen to it.

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