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Josh Hurst

Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp a Butterfly [2015]

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March is a very busy month for new releases. Bjork gets personal, Sufjan returns to simplicity (it seems so far from songs that have been released), and Kendrick gets revolutionary. Can't wait!

Edited by bloop

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March is a very busy month for new releases. Bjork gets personal, Sufjan returns to simplicity (it seems so far from songs that have been released), and Kendrick gets revolutionary. Can't wait!

 

Bjork gets personal? Oh, are your referring to the CD/vinyl release of Vulnicura? Because that was digitally released in January. Or is there something else coming?

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As if the cover image didn't give it away, the album will reportedly be politically themed; comparisons have already been made to Public Enemy (!!), or at least to D'Angelo and Black Messiah.

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Surprise! It's out now on iTunes and Spotify.

 

You're gonna need to sit down for this one.

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Rolling Stone has a track-by-track guide that actually offers some helpful insights into the samples being used, production teams, etc. I am especially interested to note the presence of Robert Glasper on piano, which explains some of the live-band feel of this. Also, this is at least the second major hip-hop album I know of to draw inspiraton from Sufjan Stevens-- following The Roots' undun.

 

Meanwhile, this Times profile hightlights the one important puzzle piece that Rolling Stone makes no mention of: Lamar's Christian faith.

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I love Kendrick Lamar and I'm growing to love this album. My sense is that Good Kid, m.a.a.d City is one of the best albums of the decade. It's too early to make any declarations about this new album, which demands time and attention, but at this moment I'd say look no further than "How Much a Dollar Cost" for why so many of us think Lamar a brilliant artist--a prophetic voice, even. But given how narrative/context driven his craft is, recommending anything in isolation is in danger of devaluing it because Lamar is an artist who avoids radio singles.

Edited by Nick Olson

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That song is an early standout for me too, Nick.

 

I agree that it's too early to say how it stacks up compared to the previous album, but I do feel pretty confident saying this: It is a musically richer and riskier album.

 

In fact, I feel as though the album is a mess-- not just in how it builds momentum on its funk grooves before collapsing into free jazz, or in how so many songs start as one thing and then mutate into something else, but also in how Kendrick is trumphal, defiant, self-doubting, and self-loathing over the course of the album, sometimes over the course of a single song. That's not to say there's no ryhme or reason to it-- repeated phrases and motifs abound-- but the fundamental characteristic of the album seems to be its sprawl.

 

Perhaps it will all congeal into something unified, but I almost hope it doesn't: Right now I love that it's such a jumble of contradictions, that it's so teeming with ideas, that it's so human.

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Beautifully put, Josh. Like you, I can't help but draw some parallels between this album and D'Angelo's from last year, but this feels like more of an emotional response to the failings of our culture where D'Angelo's album feel a bit more like an intellectual one.

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Sam Mac:

 

 

Lamar has certain things in common with 2Pac for sure, citing the icon on numerous occasions as a major inspiration. But there's no question that the personality put forth throughout To Pimp a Butterfly is nothing like the cocksure attitude the late rapper exudes in his posthumous cameo. Lamar instead shares something with D'Angelo, black music's other reluctant Messiah. Like him, he has a lot to say, but willfully obscures his intent perhaps out of the great wisdom of his fallibility, or maybe just because he knows there aren't any easy answers to the questions he's asking. "I want you to feel uncomfortable," Lamar has said of his intent for this album—because loving it is complicated, and it should be.

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David Dark reviews it for Pitchfork:

In her novel The Dispossessed, Ursula K. Le Guin makes a distinction between explorers and adventurers: "The explorer who will not come back or send back his ships to tell his tale is not an explorer, only an adventurer; and his sons are born in exile." With a constant determination to dramatically lyricize his setbacks and missteps, Kendrick Lamar has long opted to be an explorer. As early as "Fuck Your Ethnicity" on Section.80, he made clear that the table he was spreading was set out for all comers also in process: "Know that this fire that’s burning represents the passion that you have." To Pimp a Butterfly’s "Mortal Man" continues this vocation ("Let my word be your earth and moon") but he poses a question that’s different from the question of fame. He wants to make sure people are truly picking up what he means to lay down: "Is this relationship a fake or real as the heavens?"

 

Or as he also puts it, "When shit hit the fan is you still a fan?" And this is the question he tells us a prophet has to ask to even be a prophet. Are we really interested in the worlds to which he’s bearing witness? Are we receiving his witness at all? There’s many a precedent for such a move but an especially apt one is Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, whose narrator offers his own singular experience as one black man in a world ordered according to the rules of white supremacy in the hope that readers might see or sense their own experience—their own voice in a tale candidly told, a door left open a thousand times now made visible.

 

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Wow. Your news is as surprising and wonderful as the excerpt attached to it.

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And here's Robert Glasper talking about his role in the project:

 

I’m really close with one of the main producers, Terrace Martin. Originally he had me come in to play on the second track. I went there and played on that song, and Kendrick was there. I had met him a few times, but this was the first time he had seen me play the piano live. So he was like, ‘Aw man’ and pulled up this other track. It was like, ‘What do you hear on that song? Could you play something on that song?’

 

So he put up like nine different songs, and I played piano on all the songs. They only kept five or six. Actually I’m on like seven songs but I was only credited for like five songs. I actually recorded on nine songs but I guess they just kept a few of them. 

Edited by Stephen Lamb

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Ok, so mea culpa. I should have checked this album out sooner. I just read the Dark piece and followed it with a look at Lamar's Grammy performance. Immediately made a pilgrimage to Amazon. Listening now.

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I woulda been happy if this or Black Messiah (if it'd been nommed) had won Album of the Year. I liked 1989 for about a week, and felt like it was a real move forward for Swift, but have since forgotten it.

And that Grammy performance was beautiful

Edited by Justin Hanvey

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