“To Pimp A Butterfly” A Provocative and Ground-Breaking Collage

March 26, 2015 1:14 AM

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Kendrick Lamar has already proven himself to be the sort of artist one can take seriously when he proclaims, “Now I run the game, got the whole world talkin’”; 2012’s astonishingly impactful “good kid, m.A.A.d. city” was more than enough to establish him as one of the best rappers active today. Of course, Lamar is far too subtle a writer to sing his own praises so simply—in the same line, and in the track’s title, he refers to himself as “King Kunta,” simultaneously adopting the roles of ruler and slave. This degree of lyrical complexity is characteristic of the album as a whole: Though Lamar abandons the compelling storyline structure of his previous release, he more than makes up for the lack of a central storyline, displaying an even greater command of language throughout “To Pimp a Butterfly.” Even the album’s title, initially jarring, gains a deep significance through a frankly beautiful extended metaphor in the outro of the final track, “Mortal Man.” What’s more, Lamar’s progress since “good kid” is not simply limited to his increasing skill as a writer: Throughout “To Pimp a Butterfly” wend strains of jazz and funk elevate its tracks far beyond anything Lamar has previously accomplished musically. “To Pimp a Butterfly” is artistically exquisite and emotionally profound— Kendrick Lamar is not simply a rapper but an artist of the highest caliber.

The upbeat production of lead single “i” constitutes an apt introduction to the substantial shift in style Lamar has made since his sophomore release. “To Pimp a Butterfly”’s opening track, “Wesley’s Theory,” produced by Flying Lotus, builds on Lamar’s new musical diversity by featuring a funky synt...

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