Friday, April 14, 2017

Good Kid, Mad Industry: "To Pimp a Butterfly" Two Years Later

   In light of Kendrick Lamar’s most recent album release (“DAMN”), I thought it’d be interesting to revisit/analyze his last body of work. What happens when a self-proclaimed “good kid” is thrust into a “mad” industry? Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly” is a complex and detailed narrative of exactly that. Though Lamar speaks openly about the negative effects of fame, he also explores many aspects of his personal life, including depression, survivor’s guilt, as well as his stance on today’s political climate. The Compton-born rapper’s noteworthy storytelling ability is one of the many things that separates “Butterfly” from other hip-hop albums of its time. Coupled with the album’s poetic nature, Kendrick’s self-deprecating honesty throughout really helps illustrate the ugly side of the rap game.
     One quality of “Butterfly” that stood out was Kendrick’s knack for presenting his thoughts and feelings with clarity and cohesion. He does so by using a piece of his own spoken word to help narrate the album, carrying listeners all the way through. He only gives you a bit of the poem at a time, however, allowing the line of the poem he stops at indicate what the next song’s theme may be. Kendrick’s song “u” (a song chronicling his struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts), for example, opens with him screaming. The line of the poem that precedes the song is “Resentment…turned into a deep depression; I found myself screaming in a hotel room.” This happens throughout the album, and another great example would be when Kendrick stops at the line “I found myself running for answers, until I came home,” which is a lead-in to “Momma,” a song inspired by Kendrick’s trip to Africa.
     While Kendrick exhibited his gift of creative writing, I also found that this album’s themes were very reminiscent of Ice Cube’s earlier work. Though these two Compton natives have a unique way in which they present these viewpoints, I couldn’t help but notice the glaring similarities in their sentiments. In an interview with “The Breakfast Club,” Kendrick stated that Ice Cube is one of his many musical influences. Therefore, by putting a modern twist on a Compton classic, this could be Kendrick’s way of paying homage to Cube, as well as his hometown.
     All that said, I thought long and hard about any real gripes I had with the album – was there anything I would have changed? Are there things I think could have been done better? Though I don’t have anything negative to say about this album from a musical or lyrical standpoint, I do wish that Kendrick would have made the album a bit shorter. Someone like me (with the attention span of a toddler) could find themselves getting lost in this dense and heavy material. Though Kendrick’s thorough writing style lends itself to helping pull listeners through, the lyrical content – political injustice, suicide, feelings of incompetence, etc. - can be a lot for people to consume.
     Overall, “To Pimp a Butterfly” is a well-constructed, cohesive account of Kendrick Lamar’s rise to superstardom. Though I feel listeners could get lost in the complex and dense content, Kendrick’s use of creative vocal effects and writing techniques helped him a great deal. The artist’s honest and open approach to his music is sure to keep listeners intrigued. That said, I cannot deny that Kendrick found a way to blend commentary on the music industry, today’s political climate, and personal issues of his own as seamlessly as possible.

XO, Meghan


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