It’s been nearly three years since Kendrick Lamar burst onto the mainstream rap scene with his critically acclaimed, major-label debut album good kid, m.A.A.d city in 2012. Fast forward to 2015, the 27-year-old Compton emcee has returned, harbouring a vengeance, with his second major-label album To Pimp a Butterfly.
TPAB is a monstrous step forward for Lamar in terms of lyricism, production and overall songwriting ability. Production that ranges from funk to jazz to conventional hip-hop all intertwines together to create a beautiful soundscapes for Lamar to express all of his emotions on. Lyrically speaking, Lamar is as polished as he’s ever been especially on tracks like “The Blacker the Berry”, “Hood Politics” and “How Much a Dollar Cost”.
“Blacker” is the cry of the forsaken black man who, although tormented, is not afraid of speaking against the tyranny of his oppressors: “I’m the biggest hypocrite of 2015 / Once I finish this, witnesses will convey just what I mean / I mean, it’s evident that I’m irrelevant to society / That’s what your telling me, penitentiary would only hire me.” Lamar viciously tackles the hurdle of being a minority in America, yet holds no punches. It’s evident that geis angry and had a lot of get off of his chest.
“Politics” describes how, despite no relation to government, poverty stricken areas determine their own brand of law. Lamar’s vocal inflection is somewhat high-pitched, alluding to the fact that a person’s mentality in the hood about politics is seemingly childish. Lamar explains that music critics are fed up with how little modern day rappers use potent lyricism, but completely forget that some rappers are lyrically skilled such as Run the Jewels member Killer Mike: “Everybody want to talk about who this and who that / Who the realest and who wack, or who white or who black / Critics want to mention that they miss when hip hop was rappin’ / Motherfucker if you did, then Killer Mike’d be platinum.”
Overall, the true essence of this album can be summed up as an exercise in Lamar’s obsession with staying true to himself, not compromising his music for the sake of radio hits. His ability to weave words together to create tales of grief, passion, anger and happiness are abundant throughout, and he oozes of creativity as he rhymes over somewhat obscure production, not correlated to the typical rap sound. It’s incredible, methodical, maddening, and malicious at the same time.
This is the age of a new Golden Era in rap and Kendrick Lamar is leading the charge.
Words by: Colin Piedad