In 2015 Kendrick Lamar released his third studio album To Pimp A Butterfly. This project is a follow-up to his album Good Kid M.A.A.D. City, which is hailed to be one of the greatest rap albums of all time. Only so many artists are lucky enough to release an album that is truly defined as generational and this album is seen as just that. When released fans had mixed reviews initially, some claiming the album was boring, and that Kendrick had lost his momentum. Over time fans have turned around and realized this album to be nothing short of a masterpiece. Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly is certainly in a league of its own, when compared to his prior release Good Kid M.A.A.D City. The subject matter on To Pimp A Butterfly is dense. Kendrick uses a more jazz-like approach with many of his songs, making his story telling more potent .This album’s direction was to shed light on corruption while also preaching about accepting oneself, he also touched on other elements such as mental health, racism, and his search for god. Tracks such as “i” , “Complexion(A Zulu Love),”and “The Blacker The Berry” are some clear cut examples.
Kendrick Lamar’s song titled “Alright” off To Pimp A Butterfly has become one of the most popular songs across his entire discography, based on the fact that the song is about getting over all the trials and tribulations that life throws at you. Personally, this is one of my favorite Kendrick songs because when I’m feeling overwhelmed with things I listen to this song and remind myself that things will be okay. Throughout Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” music video, he is seen floating and using a black-and-white filter to emphasize the theme he is trying to portray in his song. The six-minute song displays constant images of violence, and black people. An image that specifically stood out throughout most of the song, was Lamar floating around the city. In his lyrics prior to these images, he mentions his once difficult life and how his “anticipation turned to depression”. Lamar feels as if it is his duty to be successful and talk about the racial injustices that happen in the black community. His floating gives the meaning that he already is above many of his people and because of that pressure he feels, he does not want to fail his community. Lamar floating around the city depicts the danger he was once a part of and now is looking down on. His success may have brought him out of that state, but many in the black community continue to face racism, violence, and/or the struggles of poverty.
“The Blacker The Berry” is another major song off of To Pimp A Butterfly. This song is revolutionary due to the fact that Kendrick Lamar raps about being proud to be black and that White America has taken advantage of black culture in entertainment and in the music industry while also turning a blind eye to racism in the black community. The track can be viewed as very controversial because of the lyrics. The theme of the song is about how many black Americans tend to fall into the same negative stereotypes that they are often portrayed as. There is a lot of talk and campaigns bringing attention to the fact that things need to change, and that there is a lot more being said than there is action taking place in order to make a change. So what better of a way to share that sentiment worldwide than to make it into a song? Through the meaningful lyrics, time, and controversy in today’s society, Kendrick uses the media to widely address issues that are begging to be addressed. African American oppression has been felt for centuries and shown through television shows, heard in songs, and even read in biographies. Ever since I was little I have experienced peers and adults around me debating whether racism is truly dead or not. Clearly, Lamar explains his personal views in the song “when I finish this if you listenin' sure you will agree/This plot is bigger than me, its generational hatred”. Adolescence is a hard time for a child of any culture, it is the time where we are expected to “find ourselves.” Of course, this will be the time we search for our individuality and freedom of expression, therefore changes in appearances, music taste, and even social identity will be more prevalent.
Still a massive commercial hit, “i” is one of Kendrick’s most radio played songs. This song is powerful because Kendrick talks about how nobody is perfect and that we all should love ourselves even with all of our imperfections. He uses lyrics such as “Everybody lacks confidence, everybody lacks confidence”. This lyric was very well received when it came out and has helped many people such as myself to stop caring about what others think and just fully be myself. The song specifically was intended to help suicidal teens and inmates by using the extremely catchy, upbeat sample “Who’s that Lady” by the Isley Brothers which also helped make the message more powerful. Kendrick talks about how he has struggled his whole life growing up in a poor black environment in Compton. Despite all that he has endured, he spreads the message about loving oneself by using lyrics such as “I have been through a whole lot, trials, tribulations but I know god”. He promotes having God in his life to help him through all the problems he has faced in his life, which many people can relate to.
The most powerful song on To Pimp A Butterfly to me is “Complexion(A Zulu Love),” this song is incredibly important to me not only because of how smooth the song is, but because of the engaging subject matter. Lamar speaks about how beautiful skin color is no matter what that color may be. He uses lyrics like “Complexion, it all feels the same '' to further prove a point that skin color is not important. Throughout the song, he makes an outcry for the end of color-stereotyping. “Dark as the midnight hour or bright as the mornin' sun Give a fuck about your complexion, I know what the Germans done (Sneak Dissin’) Sneak me through the back window, I'm a good field nigga I made a flower for you outta cotton just to chill with you/You know I'd go the distance, you know I'm ten toes down/Even if master listenin', cover your ears, he 'bout to mention”. The track also includes a couple of interesting things Lamar expresses about Zulu love. Zulu love is referring to the African Zulu tribe that welcomed a white skinned man to live with them. The reason Kendrick put this in the song was because he was wondering where the Zulu love was in America.
Overall this album is an absolute masterpiece and should be looked at as truly generation defining. Lamar showed he is not only just a rapper but an artist on To Pimp A Butterfly. He again showed his amazing ability to write compelling in-depth stories in his lyrics and flows while not giving up expert level instrumentals and just overall catchy music. He displayed his full potential and what he’s truly capable of creating. This album ages like fine wine and the replay value gets better and better as the years go on.