By Matthew Gundrum —
When Kendrick Lamar released the “Overly Dedicated” project in 2010 he was already four mixtapes into his discography. The tape received very minor success with a spot on the Billboard peaking at number 72.
At that point Kendrick wasn’t exactly new to rapping but his artistic identity was still under development. “Overly Dedicated” was the first project of his to showcase the Kendrick we know today—specifically the track “Ignorance is Bliss,” where he speaks on the seemingly foolish nature of gang violence.
Kendrick followed up “Overly Dedicated” with his first official album “Section.80” which cemented him as a reputable player in the rap scene. With songs like “Hiii Power,” a commentary on self-enlightenment and working for what you deserve, he continued to push his philosophy of positivity.
The second album Kendrick released, “good kid, m.A.A.d. City” was one of epic proportions. It was a conceptual masterpiece that featured small vignettes at the beginning and end of each track acting as a narrative for his Compton upbringing. It was met with wild critical acclaim and offered listeners a look into Kendrick’s life in the unforgiving streets of Compton.
Today Kendrick Lamar is astounding fans everywhere with his new record “To Pimp A Butterfly.” As is the latest trend in rap music, the album was surprise-released a week early on March 16.
“To Pimp A Butterfly” has been out for over three weeks now, but this is the sort of timeline some listeners will need to process its contents. The album is dense. Each song packs a hearty narrative on a variety of different topics including race equality, self-empowerment, violence, envy and the human psyche.
“Kendrick is the fresh face of rap,” said Professional Communication student Jacob Doherty. “He touches on all sorts of societal issues which is extremely important in this day and age.”
It is this type of narrative that sets Kendrick apart from his peers. He is not only a conscious rapper, a term used to describe hip-hop artists with socially aware lyrics, but an individual with instantly relatable struggles. He speaks on depression in “u” and overcoming that feeling in order to love yourself in “i.” He also includes commentary on the inherent difficulties of relationships and the paradoxical nature of inequality in a nation built on the opposite.
The album ends with Kendrick mock interviewing the deceased 2Pac. They share a conversation on today’s climate within the sphere of social justice: a somber, yet enlightening moment. After Kendrick finishes the interview he explains the album name to “Pac.” When Kendrick asks for Pac’s thoughts, he’s no longer there.
The title “To Pimp A Butterfly” is rife with meaning. It symbolizes an evolution of self. The way Kendrick sees it, a caterpillar is someone that has yet to transform and has not yet realized his or her potential in life, whereas a butterfly is an individual who has realized their self worth and has met their ultimate destiny (i.e. coming from the cocoon as a butterfly). Kendrick sees himself as a butterfly but, although he has fully undergone self-realization, he is still being used, or pimped, by the music industry.
“To Pimp A Butterfly” is not “turn up” music. Rather, it asks the listener to sit down and analyze the bigger picture. The album goes so far as to demand change in a world that so desperately needs it. It is more of a message than an album and, without a doubt, the most important piece of music in the last five years.