Kendrick Lamar isn’t a savior. He’s not hip hop’s last great hope or a wise old sage, responsible for ushering black consciousness into the light for impressionable minds worldwide. He’s a rapper from Compton. A rapper who found such massive success with his commercial debut, good kid, m.A.A.D city, that he afforded himself the luxury of making any type of sophomore record he damn well pleased.
Lamar isn’t content to cash in quite yet. Instead, he spends the majority of his fantastic new record, To Pimp a Butterfly, stuck in a mode of full on introspection. He’s recognizing the flaws that being rich and famous have brought to his surface, and clearly struggling to make sense of the man he’s become in light of this wild success.
Creatively, things have never been better for King Kendrick. The record is a jazzy, free flowing opus; a dazzling display of funk flourishes and fuck you stomps. His wordplay, both playful and ferocious, is that of a man looking to be truly heard rather than garner praise. Yet, mentally he seems torn.
Race and racism in America haunt the record as a recurring theme, triggering connections to the album’s title and Harper Lee’s classic novel. Like the mighty father of Scout and Jem, Lamar is fighting a case he can’t win. For every kid he helps realize a shred of value and self worth, a hundred are lost to the mindless, violent turn up of his chart climbing contemporaries. And he knows there’s nothing he can do but step forward and make the type of record that draws attention to the plain and simple fact that black lives matter.
Where good kid took us deep inside Lamar’s Compton ride along, To Pimp a Butterfly is focused on the harsh world around him. This creative shift points simply to the true maturity of an artist who continues to rise above his peers with each and every move.