Kendrick Lamar has flown in with his third effort while wearing an unexpected pair of wings. He’s not swooping in like an overbearing eagle. Instead, Lamar arrives with the complex, delicate flutters of a butterfly. Other hip-hop artists with such big names wouldn’t dare to let themselves be so vulnerable, but the new album To Pimp A Butterfly is as courageous as it is honest. An elegance is wound up in dichotomy, where elements of a Compton upbringing are the wrap and the yearnings, accomplishments, the unforeseen guilt and insecurity that comes with success are the ingredients.
Kendrick leaps into a big band sound from the start and blends in effortlessly without compromise. He lays groundwork with comical storytelling that is vulgar, complicated, and caught between two worlds. Reeling from his rise in the industry, Kendrick sheds skin to unveil a blanket sewn with both depression and hope, and a permanent kinship to his roots. Outward, he spits with anger, frustration and hubris. He expresses that he isn’t proud to admit it, though.
That’s where the delicate wings blossom.
The album feels like Flying Lotus & Dr. Dre resurrected J Dilla from the grave and brought him to the studio. Two-years-mature his last record, good kid, M.A.A.D. City, Kendrick paints a vivid portrait of himself. A young man still attached to the hood, even if in some abstract sense, it is and always will be part of him. The five-foot-something boy wonder has grown up with as much internal conflict as he might have external, and his footprint on the rap world is bold, brave, and sophisticated.
Desperately, Kendrick is seeking clarity. That’s something he might not gain anytime soon.
Further into the concept, …Butterfly becomes reminiscent of the last of the glory days of rhythm and blues in the early 2000’s. His dissertation served over instrumentals that could just as well be blessed by the likes of Bilal, Dwele, or Jill Scott is cohesive and steady. Kendrick has control over his specific and diverse sound.
Where M.A.A.D. City was a journey through the streets and the gangbanging that Kendrick averted but nonetheless lost loved ones in the thick of it, something else is now lost of him. …Butterfly is the search for the right words to explain his complicated predicament. The cinematic traversing feels like a conversation Kendrick is having with the walls.
Then, he wonders if these ‘walls’ could talk. But he swears it’s going to be alright.
To Pimp A Butterfly arrives at a conclusion that is as enchanting and conspicuous as a butterfly. The vision Kendrick has is exclusive. Taking a walk in his shoes for the nearly eighty minute LP involves heavy plodding, puddles of spilled blood and shattered glass hearts. The hike would be beautiful, because within its tragedy is light, evidenced by spoken word, jazz beats, and G-funk in this sui generis catharsis.