In this week’s album review, we take it back to March 2015 when Kendrick Lamar‘s notorious album To Pimp A Butterfly dropped. We take an in-depth perspective on each song on the album and rate each song out of 10. Check our review of Kendrick’s To Pimp A Butterfly below, and buy it here on iTunes:
The album opens with an excerpt of Jamaican singer Boris Gardiner’s “Every Nigger is a Star,” followed by the statements declaring what “To Pimp a Butterfly” really means. The title of this track is a reference to Wesley Snipes, an actor who was involved in tax fraud, he used the “tax protestor theory” to get out of taxes. This song is Kendrick essentially representing 2 characters, one who is eager to get signed and talks about what he will do once he is signed like Platinum on everythin’, platinum on weddin’ ring . And another who is talking to Kendrick portrayed as “Uncle Sam” telling Kendrick to live the cliché lifestyle, and embrace the money and power he is receiving by “living at the mall” this part of the song is reminding the audience that there is always temptation as a celebrity to sell-out….Great bridge by George Clinton, and catchy vocals by thunder-cat, hook and the pre-chorus over a fun beat with an awesome cameo from Dr. Dre telling Kendrick anybody can get to the top of success (like Dre did) but the hard part is keeping that success.
At first glance, this song doesn’t carry very much weight as Kendrick’s playful voice emerges chanting “this dick ain’t free” as he spits tight bars over a jazzy and uptempo choir filled melody. Kendrick challenges the idea of a black mans self worth and how he is portrayed by society. He embodies this idea in his music video for the song. The duration of the video consists of a wild kdot chasing his girl around a house that represents things he can’t afford, dreams he can’t reach, and societies capped limit on his own life. This shows his lost identity and immaculate attitude towards the was he values his own body. The video is masterful in showing America (portrayed by Uncle Sam) watching and doing nothing as Kendrick makes a fool out of himself. It’s almost as if the country itself glorifies the entertaining low life of the average black man and makes entertainment out of it. The song takes a bold turn when Kendrick says “I need 40 acres and a mule / Not a 40-ounce and pitbull.” This comparative phrase stands as kendricks cry out to higher powers asking them why he has to be slapped with a stereotypical inferior lifestyle when those more fortunate are living the high life. The song ends with the girl revoking and pulverizing Kendrick’s flirtatious and scary insistence by saying “Ima get my Uncle Sam to fuck you up”.
This track starts off with Kendrick yelling “I got a bone to pick!” The beat starts to pick up and you notice that it is a very bumpy, fun, jazzy beat with a groovy bass rhythm, the song ranked #7 on Rolling Stones 50 best songs of 2015. “King Kunta” was a slave in the 18th century who had his leg cut off to prevent escaping from a plantation. KING kunta is essentially an oxymoron for Kendrick to depict himself as a slave but dominant as a king. In the song he talks about the rap game and MC’s “sharing bars like the bottom bunk in a two man cell” Kendrick explodes on this track, talking about the rap game and other topics, while not forgetting where he came from. The track ends with the begging of the reoccurring poem in the album with the line “I remember you was conflicted, misusing your influence”
The next two songs serve as the musical masterpieces of the album with consecutive features by Bilal and Anna Wise. “Institutionalized” features the west coast gangster rapper and Dr. Dre affiliate, snoop dogg. The song itself points at the box that Kendrick has been placed in from childbirth. He raps on how his city is actually his prison. Breaking free is the only option other than death by gun or by government. Kendrick says he is “trapped inside the ghetto”. He also hints at his present self when he talks about returning to his ghetto to revisit his misguided childhood in setting. Snoop Doggs verse narrates and perfectly illustrates the vision of a young kdot in his dangerous habitat. He drops he most memorable line on the track “you can take your boy out of the hood, but you can’t take the hood out of a homie” which is a theme that kendricks revisits numerous more times on the album. The song sounds great with its laid back LA vibe and lengthy bars which leaves it with a perfect storytelling feel.
The song starts out with Kendrick reciting the poem. ” I remember you was conflicted, misusing your influence,
sometimes, I did the same” we are picked up where we left off on “King Kunta” but opposed to Kendrick being a “King” in this song, he is in a cocoon trapped inside the walls. (This is a metaphor for what takes place before a butterfly is “pimped”) In this state, Kendrick is influenced by sex and revenge. We can conclude this by the voice getting louder and louder “if these walls could talk” then by a woman’s voice saying “sex.” The vocals are done tremendously by Anna Wise (Thundercat is also on this track) Kendrick paints a picture of “sex” and an image of all the downsides, such as a baby daddy, (he tells a story of a baby daddy currently serving life in prison) This is a truly beautiful song with a deep message. The walls start to break down and we are seeing first hand what happens when the walls prematurely break… The end of this track continues to recite the poem, “I remember you was conflicted
Misusing your influence
Sometimes I did the same
Abusing my power, full of resentment
Resentment that turned into a deep depression
Found myself screaming in a hotel room” which leads into the next track..
This song starts off with Kendrick screaming in a hotel room. (Just what he said in the poem) Kendrick reiterates the lines “loving you is complicated” but this message is actually directed at himself. Kendrick can make an upbeat happy song like “i” saying how he loves himself, but this song is more of a self-criticism track. Kendrick is in an unhealthy mental state and is very depressed.. The first verse is talking about how Kendrick is placing blame on himself for becoming to infatuated with fame as opposed to staying true to his roots. The first verse had a compelling end where Kendrick says “fuckin’ hate you, I hope you embrace it I swear” after the 2nd hook you get this very dreary bridge. You then hear an echo saying “loving you is complicated” and if you’re listening with headphones, this message is swishing from one ear to the other. Before it goes quiet, and you hear the voice of a Spanish house keeping lady banging on the door. Kendrick quickly returns into the song but this time his voice is breaking, it’s shaky, he sounds on another level of dismay. He’s blaming himself for things like telling his friends and family he loves them and not meaning it. In this depressed state he is second guessing himself, so even if this isn’t true, he believes it to be. The song is very dark and Kendrick’s mind state gets worse and worse as the song goes on. You can tell that alcohol is a very negative effect on his life and it pays tolls. You can literally hear when Kendrick talks the sounds of alcohol bottles clanking together and the sounds of liquids swishing in his mouth has he screams. The song ends with a very twisted line that leaves you uneasy. “You shoulda feeled that black revolver blast a long time ago And if those mirrors could talk it would say “you gotta go” And if I told your secrets The world’ll know money can’t stop a suicidal weakness”
Arguably the best song of 2015 in any genre, alright has won awards for best song, best production, and best video. The song has been featured heavily on TV commercials and was the highlight of Kendrick’s Grammy performance with his African dancers and incredible visuals. The song acts in itself as a reassurance. Kendrick’s breakdown of mind and body in “U” is enough to scare people away from the album. Alright brings them right back with the easy and memorable line spoken by he legendary Pharell Williams: “we gon’ be alright”. The song consists of two main verses and a poem at the end. The verses give Kendrick self assurance that with his troubles In his past and God by his side, he’s going to be okay. He hits the current United States racial issues with police brutality and black poverty heavily. He raises a question in the first verse that makes listeners wonder if there is any viable solution to the countries struggles. He resolves that coming together as a people with God is the only way to overcome. The song “alright” became a “black national anthem” as it was chanted at rallies for black lives matter movements across the nation. Kendrick’s first performance of the song showed him rapping his full bars on top of a cop car to the audience of the BET awards. The idea of police opposition is massively magnified as his music video shows Kendrick flying though his city and being gunned down by a police officer as he commits no clear crime but the color of his skin. The poem at the end of the song almost holds as much significance as the actual song. The poem illustrates the last couple songs as he talks about how his issues outweigh his solutions and how he feels like cracking at any moment. It’s is here that we are introduced to Lucy in his line “The evils of Lucy was all around me”. He ends the song by saying that despite his “we gon’ be alright” anthem, he is still constantly fighting for his life.
We are now introduced to a character named “Lucy” and this song analyzes this more. Lucy is actually a name representing “Lucifer.” We know this because Kendrick talks about temptation about signing deals, the hook starts with Kendrick speaking from the reflection of Lucy saying “Now baby when I get you get you get you get you
Ima go hit the throttle with you
Smoking lokin’ poking the doja till I’m idle with you
Cause I (want you)” This is essentially the devil chasing after Kendrick, pleading to get Kendrick to sell his soul. The first verse seems to be Kendrick talking to Lucy saying that Lucy took him to the mall, she also hypnotized him. There is a little nod to Kendrick’s previous album Good kid M.a.a.d. City by saying You said Sherane ain’t got nothing on Lucy
I said you crazy. Sherane was a character heavily used on that album. The rest of the song is Lucy convincing Kendrick how enticing she really is, and then pleads to him to “sign a contract”
We then get more of the reoccurring poem. I remembered you was conflicted Misusing your influence, sometimes I did the same Abusing my power full of resentment Resentment that turned into a deep depression Found myself screamin’ in the hotel room , I didn’t wanna self destruct, the evils of Lucy was all around me, so I went runnin’ for answers , until I came home.
Song is talking about the self righteousness that Kendrick eludes to. He has grown as a human being, and has experienced the struggles with “Lucy.” At the end of the end of the previous track, the last line of the poem was “until I came home.” Now this could be a metaphor for coming home to his hometown Compton, returning to South Africa, (because of this album he took a trip to South Africa) or it could mean him returning to his pre-fame former self. The hook reiterates “we’ve been waiting for you!” And Kendrick is perceiving himself back home with his friends and family. He is most likely returning to Compton where his roots are. Kendrick then starts to talk about how much he has grown by saying things like ” I know everything, know myself I know morality, spirituality, good and bad health I know fatality might haunt you I know everything, I know Compton I know street shit, I know shit that’s conscious”
This track is from the eyes of a younger (still in the hood) Kendrick Lamar. The song starts off with a voicemail from one of kendrick’s friends. This sounds very similar to a skit on Good kid m.a.a.d. City. This song is really taking you into the perspective of what it would be like to live in Compton in this time. Kendrick is more vulgar with his bars and he is talking in slang terms throughout the whole song. ” I been A-1 since day one, you niggas boo boo
Your home boy, your block that you’re from, boo boo
Lil hoes you went to school with, boo boo
Baby mama and your new bitch, boo boo”
In the second verse the first two lines are a paragon of politics in the hood. Kendrick starts to talk about rivalries in the ghetto. “The little homies called and said: “The enemies done cliqued up” Oh, yeah? Puto want to squabble with mi barrio? Oh, yeah? Tell ’em they can run it for the cardio” These lines basically mean that Kendrick got word that another hood wants beef, and he is saying if they want beef they got it. Kendrick also eludes to the government on this track by saying “They give us guns and drugs, call us thugs” and he reminds us that the president is black, but he is still with the corrupted side of the government “Obama say what it do?” With the outro of this song we are left with more of the poem.
“I remember you was conflicted Misusing your influence Sometimes I did the same Abusing my power full of resentment Resentment that turned into a deep depression Found myself screaming in a hotel room I didn’t want to self-destruct The evils of Lucy was all around me So I went running for answers Until I came home But that didn’t stop survivors guilt Going back and forth Trying to convince myself the stripes I earned Or maybe how A-1 my foundation was But while my loved ones was fighting A continuous war back in the city I was entering a new one”
How Much a Dollar Cost
Kendrick has been taking right and left turns battling it out with characters like Lucy and Uncle Sam. But now he has run into a poor man in South Africa. The man is asking Kendrick for money, and at first Kendrick thinks that the man is a drug addict and says no. The man then begins to plead with Kendrick more. Asking if he has read Exodus 14, Kendrick then feels resentment. “How much a dollar really cost” Kendrick is pondering the true value of money, and if it is all worth it. Kendrick is saying he would rather keep his soul pure and get a spot in heaven then be rich on earth. This homeless man is revealed to be God himself, and Kendrick pleads for forgiveness. Kendrick recognises his lack of humility and greed. He’s regretful, and earnestly asks God what more he must do other then prayer and recognising his sins to repent. He goes onto accept his flaws and begs to turn a new page to right his wrongs – starting the path to true redemption. Kendrick now realized he must right his wrongs.
Complexion (A Zulu Love)
Another feel good song on the album. Without any credited samples, this song features incredible artistry, musical talent, and production superiority. The whole song attacks the ideas of color but not in a harsh way. Kendrick talks about loving every color; fair, light, brown, dark. He raps as if he were a slave picking cotton, wondering why house slaves were superior in a world where they were both slaves. He continues these analogies of fictional slave masters and talks of perception of his own complexion until the end of the second verse where he speaks of his lightskinned girlfriend, Whitney Alford, who told him that complexion is irrelevant and that all black is beautiful. The third verse begins as Rapsody, a black Jedi member of the Zulu nation (a gang organization from the Bronx based on liberation), is intruduced. Her verse kicks up the pace of the song. She begins by comparing herself to Stuart Scott and Tupac, one Lightskin and one brown skin revolutionary public figure. She talks about how her early life left her questioning her skin color and self worth. She dreams of a world where black woman don’t have to sell their bodies and where the new James Bond is blacker than she is. She then extends the color talk beyond skin color and into gangs by saying “We all on the same team, blues and pirus, no colors ain’t a thing”. Kendrick outros the song by singing about how the ghetto is a depiction of the worst evils of the world. Lucy is the true cause of all his turmoils. Complexion must be overseen.
The Blacker the Berry
While alright serves as the Conscience friendly diversified anthem on the album, the blacker the berry severs all friendly bonds with kendricks “opposition” and vulgarizes the idea of pride in a gorgeous and glorious way. The song extends “Complexion” into a brutal and raw form. It was first released as a single on February 10th but the concept began years before when Trayvon Martins murder lit an anger in Lamars heart. Inspired by Wallace Thurman’s “The Blacker the Berry” novel (surrounding the issues of segregation and differences in opportunities for black people) the song is as strong as an entire book. It’s hard to look over this song and act like it didn’t happen when the first word you hear are “Everything black, want all things black. I don’t need black, want everything black…. I won black, own everything black”. A bridge after the chorus depicts a riot in the streets of Compton, similar to the famous 1992 Los Angeles riot. After telling white people that they ultimately built this monster that they are now seeing in himself, Kendrick Lamar makes the bold statement that “Black don’t crack my nigga”…. And then it begins. To understand what follows, one must first understand that this song is a direct contrast to the song “I” which had won best rap song and performance at the Grammys one day before the blacker the berry released. “I” is a a sermon from self acceptance and reveling in ones own self worth. “The blacker the berry” is when someone is tired of their social position and fed up with the world’s sickness.
The verses open by instantly diving into vividly precise analogies regarding, well, blackness. Kendrick calls himself the biggest hypocrite of 2015, referring back to “I” and the way he painted a false perception of peace in the minds of America. TDE has stressed the ideals that “I” was a depiction of the heart and mind of Dr. Martin Luther King, while “the blacker the berry” is Malcolm. Kendrick calls himself African American, but then retracts the American in the next line to personally discriminate himself from the entire country.He acts as an alien immigrant throughout this song bashing the country from the inside out. He builds a vision of a stereotypical black man who has embraced his “mokeyness” and small village heritage and then claims the label himself. Kendrick then threatens his opposition with his bars instead of a Gun by saying he will “press the button just so you know my discretion”. Verse one is over. The second bridge, sung by Jamaican dancehall artist, Assasin, comes across as brutal and purely pissed off. He describes life under oppression and how blacks have shattered the bar set for them and are flourishing. He reminds us that no matter who is against you, “Every race starts from the block, remember that”.
Kendrick once again reminds us that he is a liar. He feels hatred just like any of us do but his is evil. How the hell is he supposed to make a dent in life when most black men end up in jail rather than having a job? Kendrick talks of the lies that the government has fed him to keep on going just enough that it benefits them and not him. He then switches the picture and flaunts as he remembers pulling out of gas stations in front of his oppressors in muscle cars with a full tank while “stunting”. He ends the verse by using Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation to relate to his own freedom and “emancipation of a real nigga”. The hook by Assasin plays again and we are thrown back into a trance of hatred and longing for success.
The following verse is by far the most twisted and manipulative verse Kendrick has ever written. Once again Kendrick calls himself a hypocrite, but this time tells the world that it’s not just him, it’s them. Kendrick differentiates an idea of skin color verses what is inside. He shows that the world has painted a picture where “darker” is lesser. He reminds us that the nazis were pretty and uninformed on the outside but disgusting and dirty on the inside as he recites “I’m black as the heart of a fuckin’ Aryan, I’m black as the name of Tyrone and Darius”. He wonders if whites hate blacks because they pose a threat to their very picture perfect freshly cut lawns and lives similarized likewise. Kendricks next analogy compares African tribal warfare to his very own battle between the Crips and Blood gangs In Compton. He compares himself to a member of the Black Pantehrs, asking if he should instead follow a peaceful “Marcus Garvey” approach, embraces stereotypes like kool-aid, black history month, and chicken, wonders about the true effects of segregational programs like BET, and tells the world finally that he has no right to be wheeping over Trayvon martin when “gang banging make me kill a nigga blacker than me”.
This song builds a strict border between different colors in a unified spectrum and then breaks them apart in order to transition into the next song and fulfill the true message of the album. Masterpiece.
You Ain’t Gotta Lie
This is a very smooth track with a soothing beat and laid back toned lyrics. Don’t let the tone disrupt the message of this song though. The message for this song is tremendous. It is aimed at the people who are the “loudest in the room” and the people who think they know everything. The first verse is talking to Kendrick, saying he could be seen from a “mile away” and that all of his insecurities are “written on his face” this is basically saying that Kendrick wears all material objects to hide his insecurities. He his saying that he doesn’t need these objects and he doesn’t need to act like someone else. Kendrick then goes in to say “Askin’ “where the hoes at?” to impress me
Askin’ “where the moneybags?” to impress me
Say you got the burner stashed to impress me
It’s all in your head, homie” he is essentially presenting the stereotype of rap and saying how ignorant these people really sound to him. Despite what people think, acting like someone else and trying to hang with the wrong crowd won’t get you any acceptance.
“i”was the first single for this album. Kendrick received Grammys for the studio version of this song, even though on the album it is a live version. Kendrick said that this was the best song he has ever written because he never thought he would be in this kind of mindset given the circumstances he grew up with in the ghetto. Kendrick talks about how he faced many “trials and tribulations” growing up in Compton, but he still stays close to God. He says that the Devil wants him, but he prays he never sells himself to the devil. Kendrick also talks about how so many people are opposed to him but he doesn’t care because he loves himself for who he is. Kendrick reminds us that there are many bad things in the world we live in, like guns in the street, and drugs on the corner, but there are still many reasons to smile no matter what you are going through. Even with all of the negative things that people have to face such as police brutality and corrupt systems, Kendrick urges you to keep your head up. He says “everybody lacks confidence” and Kendrick thinks this needs to change. “How many times potential was anonymous,” this is a powerful line, he is saying that there has been so many times where people’s potential was wasted because they didn’t have the confidence to chase their dream or discover their talents.
This track was inspired by Kendrick’s trip to South Africa. “Mortal Man” is describing the leaders of African American societies such as Martin Luther King Jr. Malcolm X and Nelson Mandela.
Nelson Mandela was the most prominent anti-racism activist of Apartheid South Africa. He died in 2013, aged 95, after spending his life campaigning for racial equality. Kendrick questions us as fans, saying “when shit hits the fan is you still a fan.” This is a basically saying that if something went wrong would you still have faith in Kendrick Lamar. He knows he is revolting and fighting for a greater good, but we have seen great men fall, and made public enemy #1 for campaigning for what they believe in. So Kendrick wants to know if his fans would remain behind him if his clean reputation is corrupted. The back end of this song reveals the full reoccurring poem that we heard throughout the album. “I remember you was conflicted, Misusing your influence , Sometimes I did the same , Abusing my power full of resentment, Resentment that turned into a deep depression, Found myself screaming in the hotel room , I didn’t wanna self destruct ,The evils of Lucy was all around me , So I went running for answers , Until I came home , But that didn’t stop survivor’s guilt, Going back and forth trying to convince myself the stripes I earned , Or maybe how A-1 my foundation was, But while my loved ones was fighting the continuous war back in the city, I was entering a new one, A war that was based on apartheid and discrimination , Made me wanna go back to the city and tell the homies what I learned, The word was respect, Just because you wore a different gang color than mine’s , Doesn’t mean I can’t respect you as a black man , Forgetting all the pain and hurt we caused each other in these streets, If I respect you, we unify and stop the enemy from killing us , But I don’t know, I’m no mortal man, maybe I’m just another nigga” Kendrick has been reciting little parts of this poem throughout the whole album, and each little piece he recites resonated with each song being played. Towards the end of the poem, Kendrick details his determination to educate his community (caterpillars blinded by vices). This is something he’s touched on during the outro of “Real” from 2012’s good kid, m.A.A.d city, where ironically, K.Dot’s mother tells him to come back to his hometown and preach what he’s learned. This isn’t so much of a poem, more of experiences the Kendrick and his people have gone through. It is revealed that Kendrick is reciting this poem to 2pac. Kendrick has a conversation with 2pac (using an interview previously recorded) about society, money, and fame. It is truly a powerful “conversation” and it is truly a powerful song. Until 2pac’s ghost vanishes.
“Because the spirits, we ain’t even really rappin’, we just letting our dead homies tell stories for us” -2pac