Kendrick’s sophomore is obscure and poetic

By Chase Myers, @chasemyers_DE

The south side Los Angeles gave birth to the publicity of gang violence and police brutality in the 1980s, and has conceived some of the hottest names in hip-hop history.

The jagged experiences learned on the streets of Compton turned the music industry upside down with some of hip-hop’s greats like N.W.A. and 2Pac. 

A Compton name on the tip of everyone’s tongue for the last five years has been Kendrick Lamar, one of Top Dawg Entertainment’s most promising young artists. 

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Lamar turned heads with his debut studio album “good kid m.A.A.d city” in 2012, selling more than one million copies and winning Album of the Year at the BET Awards.

His sophomore album, “To Pimp a Butterfly,” a title playing on Harper Lee’s classic novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” was released on March 16 and serves almost as a continuation of his first album.

He also elaborates on the album title with a poem relating a caterpillar and butterfly to a struggling community.

While “good kid m.A.A.d city” told the story of Lamar’s upbringing as he dodged the police with his friends and spent time with his girl, his second album’s story is more scattered. 

The album artwork itself sends a profound message with a group of African American men of all ages holding money or liquor with the White House serving as the backdrop.

If this album could be described with two words, they would be “complete artistry.” Lamar tells a story, while also keeping a listener’s attention for more than an hour. 

The story begins with the scratchy, nostalgic voice of George Clinton singing a racial message and setting the tone for the black consciousness theme in the beginning of the album. 

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Instrumentation on the record is far superior to anything on Lamar’s first record, which becomes obvious during the “For Free? – Interlude,” which features one of the album’s only swing jazz instrumentals on a hip-hop beat.

A personal favorite is the third track “King Kunta,” one of the only single-worthy tracks on the album. Lamar speaks about his position as one of the most skilled lyricists in the game, and how he has proven his worth in the industry.

The listener also gets a sense of the emotion Lamar puts into his work with tracks like “u,” where he holds back tears as he raps his deepest and darkest thoughts over a dragging beat and saxophone.

The line “I remember you was conflicted. It’s usually your influence,” is a reoccurring motif on the album, with Lamar adding onto the statement in between songs as the album progresses. 

The album continues with songs like “Alright” and “Hood Politics,” which have the most impressive instrumentals on the record.  The saxophone makes another appearance in “Alright,” whereas “Hood Politics” starts with what sounds like a three-piece funk-jazz band.

The only two singles released, “The Blacker the Berry” and, “i,” appear toward the end of the record.  

Although a compelling story is being told, the lack of stand-alone hits on the record slightly turns me off.

On “good kid m.A.A.d city,” songs like, “Swimming Pools” and, “Backseat Freestyle” do well on their own, but the new record doesn’t have any powerful singles.  I wouldn’t expect to hear much on the radio from this album. 

Lamar ends his album with one of the most daring and creative methods in his 12-minute conclusion “Mortal Man.”  He centers around the theme of losing faith in an artist in their times of personal despair. 

After about five minutes, we hear the voice of the late 2Pac in an interview between himself and Lamar.  The two discuss life, opportunity and the struggles of the black community, as if they were actually conversing face-to-face, even though Pac’s voice is prerecorded.

Even though there it lacks hits, the record is a true piece of artistic expression and spoken word, which should be appreciated by any music fan. 

4/5

Chase Myers can be reached at [email protected]

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