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Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly (Music Review)

To Pimp A Butterfly (Album Cover)

Nestled in the liner notes of Butterfly is a black and white photo of Kendrick Lamar cradling a baby as they both see something in the distance, with a similar perturbed expression on their faces. On the cover is the striking image of young boys and grown men alike, flashing fistfuls of cash and holding up bottles of liquor in triumph, a dead white man at their feet as the White House looms eerily in the background.

American author Mark Twain is reputed to have said: ‘History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes.’ However accurate the attribution is, it is an irresistible aphorism. It has been said that America is in a state of flux, repeating the same vicious cycle of discrimination against African-American minorities. Ferguson is not some tragic anomaly. It is an active oppression of black people and a deeply pervasive institutionalised racism, highlighted recently again by the Department of Justice’s investigation into the Ferguson Police Department.

‘Ain’t nothin’ new but a flu of new DemoCrips and ReBloodicans / Red state versus a blue state / Which one you governin’? / They give us guns and drugs, call us thugs / Make it they promise to fuck with you / No condom they fuck with you / Obama, say what it do’ – Hood Politics, Kendrick Lamar

To Pimp A Butterfly (Liner note image)

Lamar’s newest project is not ‘safe’ Hip-Hop, powered by corporate endorsements or memorable adlibs. You and your white friend in your Mum’s car will not be able to turn this up to ignorant levels on the way to Macca’s. You will feel uncomfortable, as well as we should.

Butterfly is a dense, non-linear narrative that unfurls over exhaustively detailed production. The music is powerful and emotive, and often feels like an anachronistic history of black music, where frenetic bebop swings over trap 808’s and under double time raps; where future funk straight out of the Mothership can give way to New Orleans style dirge blues. It is atypical of modern Hip-Hop, born of the left-field, a position that Lamar plays brilliantly. Lamar raps masterfully in character, sometimes personifying America’s temptations and evils in verse before switching back to introspection or other perspectives.

I do not know Kendrick Lamar, nor do I pretend any special insight, but it seems that at the heart of Butterfly is Lamar’s desire to break that cycle, and if not for himself and his loved ones, then for the next generation that he cradles in his arms. This is an incredible album.

Text by Palimah Panichit

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