By Chris Adams, March 29 2015 —
The follow up to Kendrick Lamar’s acclaimed Good Kid, M.A.A.D City (GKMC) dropped unexpectedly on March 16, giving fans an early look at To Pimp a Butterfly (TPAB), which may be the best hip-hop record of the decade.
Sonically, the album is a noticeable departure from his last record. Prolific electronic producer Flying Lotus and bass player Thundercat are all over this record, giving the album a far more jazzy sound than his previous work.
Where GKMC told tales of growing up in Compton, TPAB depicts a man who made good, but then falls victim to his vices and loses touch with his community before reconnecting with who he truly is. On “For Free?” Lamar snaps, “This dick ain’t free!” over a jazzy backdrop before he waxes on black oppression with a little slam-poetry.
At first, Lamar is happy to get famous if he gets a house, a record deal and out of Compton — “When I get signed, homie, I’mma act a fool.” But that doesn’t last long.
While Lamar’s finding success, he misses the death of a friend slain in the street and grows apart from his old home.
“U” finds Lamar locked in a hotel room, contemplating suicide. The narrative turns a corner when he recognizes and frees himself from oppression on late-album tracks like “The Blacker The Berry” and “i.”
TPAB is a dense album layered with nuances I don’t expect to fully unpack for months. Lamar has written a record that transcends the generation of hip hop that came before him. This is the musical equivalent of a great American novel.