Review Summary: "We ain't even really rappin', we just letting our dead homies tell stories for us."
Kendrick Lamar writes his music through colors. “Lamar works synesthetically,” says audio engineer Derek Ali in the Compton-based rapper’s Rolling Stone feature out this month. According to Ali, Lamar demanded certain colors be created within the songs on To Pimp A Butterfly
. These particular hues, whether “purple” or even “light green,” dictated the moods deemed necessary for the themes at hand. This begins to explain why this album is so musically diverse- it flies from ‘70s-styled funk to neo-soul influences, all in accordance with Lamar’s personal visions. And for anyone who’s truly immersed themselves in To Pimp A Butterfly
for the past week, this artistic feat seems more and more like cause to celebrate- the backdrop always suits the accompanying lyrical themes exceptionally well. The blueprint of the sinister “U” is as laced with rife tension as its counterpoint “I” is abundant with jaunty self-confirmation. Because of the wide array of contributors to ensure the album meets the emotional quotas Kendrick has set forth for it, every song possesses a distinctive identity, a different color fleshed out by its instrumentation. And the lyrical wonders Lamar works on top of all this is even more worthy of praise.
Kendrick Lamar writes his music about color. There’s no bigger topic on To Pimp A Butterfly
than race relations- it’s something the 27-year-old rapper has focused on throughout his musical career. Race is emphasized because it is relevant; the surrounding inequalities, after all, single-handedly spawned rap in the first place. These songs are not just about skin color but about its implications- how, for instance, Lamar is treated by the music industry for being part of a culture that is hastily and thoughtlessly thrown in with one status symbol after another. “You can live at the mall,” offers Lamar’s portrayal of Uncle Sam towards his successful rapper self in “Wesley’s Theory,” but this is not the future he wants. Now that Kendrick has found success, his main desire is to help raise up those who have helped him along the way. He is aiming to make the voices of the oppressed louder. Lamar sees this as his obligation, his duty, now that he’s garnered the audience he has sought this whole time. This can be difficult for a newfound man of means, especially when his connections from childhood could very well resent him for his success- and To Pimp A Butterfly
is about this conflict, as well as the overwhelmingly ill-founded sentiment that any particular person, regardless of skin color, deserves anything less than what they want in this world. As Rapsody, featured rapper in “Complexion (A Zulu Love,)” puts it: “we all on the same team / blues and pirus, no colors ain’t a thing.”
Kendrick Lamar wrote this album in order to point out differences between colors. They don't just exist; they have a right to be appreciated and celebrated. “Just because you wore a different gang color than mine’s / doesn’t mean I can’t respect you as a black man,” Lamar reveals in “Mortal Man,” the song containing the final rendition of To Pimp A Butterfly
’s recurring poem. Differences needn’t be a cause of conflict, especially when American minorities are given enough undue grief. This is no treatise for equal treatment, for such a concept would undermine entirely the characteristics unique to every hue. Each color has its own history, and throughout To Pimp A Butterfly
Lamar emphasizes that blackness holds a narrative of its own, extensive and long misunderstood. Kendrick Lamar sees it as a perseverance through countless adversities, a certain kind of pride experienced by those who have waded through the murk spewed from white capitalist America. Perhaps blackness is more than a color- maybe its surrounding framework suggests it is instead an ideology of togetherness, and as Kendrick would have it, respect from one to another- love for those who love you back.