Review Summary: A message for 21st-century America, this album may be considered a modern classic in the years to come.
I turn eighteen in ten days.
I’ve been around for great releases, for modern classics, but never have I been mature enough to care enough about the music world to fully appreciate it in real time. Too young for Is This It
, for Funeral
, for Merriweather
. I was even too young to take in good kid, M.A.A.D. City
, as my freshman self was still too busy trying to be an athlete to develop my music taste. Guess a lot has changed in three years.
Yet, I had gone through my childhood without ever having the experience of discovering an album as everyone else did. I had never been around to be able to witness something that can have such a large impact on its genre, its culture, its audience. I waited as albums by respectable artists came and went with a Best New Music sticker and a small niche praising the glory no one else saw in it. There was nothing that had been dropped by any artist that could impact all listeners.
To Pimp a Butterfly
has a message that is reflected by the current state of the nation, and can reverberate for years to come. It is a manifesto of racial tension in the 21st century, in a country where we consider our civil rights movement a success, even though so much still remains the same. The themes of violence and hatred towards and within black culture maintains its presence throughout, and when Kendrick brusquely questions the listener on “The Blacker the Berry”, “You hate me, don’t you" / You hate my people, your plan is to terminate my culture,” there is no sense of braggadocio or masculinity that has so often impeded modern-day rappers. What Kendrick is speaking on To Pimp a Butterfly
is nothing but a harsh truth about afrocentrism in a continuously opposing world.
This message itself is built upon jazzy, soulful instrumentals that call back to A Tribe Called Quest without necessarily paying homage to it, with a harsh G-funk spin to further create its own unique sound. There isn’t any “banger” on here, and there doesn’t need to be. Thundercat provides fire basslines as usual across each track, horns spill out of every crevice, and the subtle crackling of vinyl can be heard throughout, providing a grimy, dark atmosphere with which Kendrick can feed his message through. Even “i” is bookended by what sounds like a fight breaking out between a live audience during the song, and Kendrick speaking over the crowd and eventually breaking out into an acapella rhyme as the crowd noise eventually fades. It’s one of a few climaxes on what was already an extremely emotional and powerful album.
I turn eighteen in ten days, and while that may not be a lot of time, at least I can say I witnessed something that may be considered a modern classic in the years to come while I was still growing up. This is a message for 21st-century America, a manifesto for black culture and the opposition they will undoubtedly continue to face in the decades to come. Should we listen, it can be a wake-up call for an oblivious nation. Should we listen, it can be a signal that we can and need to continue to change our culture towards equality for all.
Should we listen, Kendrick can be the voice that helps guide us there.