Kendrick Lamar's 'To Pimp A Butterfly': What the Critics Are Saying
The followup to 'good kid, m.A.A.d city' was mysteriously released on Sunday night, with the clean and explicit versions of the album available for purchase before being taken down and then going back up again.
Kendrick Lamar's second major label album To Pimp a Butterfly was mysteriously released on Sunday night, with the clean and explicit versions of the album up on iTunes and Spotify at different times before being taken down from the sites and then going back up. The album has since broken first-day streaming records on Spotify.
The follow-up to his major-label debut, 2012's critically acclaimed good kid, m.A.A.d city, was introduced with its lead single, "The Blacker the Berry."
See what top critics are saying about To Pimp a Butterfly:
Billboard's Kris Ex gives it four-and-a-half stars out of five. "To Pimp a Butterfly is every bit as forward-thinking, perhaps more so, than its predecessor. It's definitely more timely, speaking to the continued discussion of race and racism in America -- the matter of Black lives mattering -- that has dominated the national discourse over the past half year. Lamar is no longer primarily concerned with his own narrative, as he was on good kid, m.A.A.d city. Because of that, he's also less readily digestible, mixing hood braggadocio, Black dysfunction, personal demons, spiritual yearning, mediations on fame with James Brown's stomp, Sly Stone's riot, a layered and stripped version of George Clinton's mothership funk, loose free-form jazz and muscular, languid soul. The result is all over the place and in one place, at the same time."
Additionally, "there's hardly a concession to radio sensibilities to be found anywhere. ... [It] defies easy listening, but it's deeply rewarding. This is an album in the old-fashioned sense -- like his debut, it makes greater sense as whole, and requires full engagement all the way through. It's a journey, released almost 20 years to the day after Tupac Shakur's Me Against the World, which doesn't appear to be mere coincidence." The final song, which features a rare interview with Tupac, is "leaving the listener to come to our own conclusions about the heady topics raised, to continue the conversations started, and to reflect on the often unbridled anger on display. ... Despite the bold declarations, beautiful beats and brash imagery, To Pimp a Butterfly is not an announcement, it's a conversation."
The New York Times' Jon Caramanica says it is "more brazen, more preoccupied with social politics and more revealing about the struggles of Lamar, the adult. It’s a work about living under constant racialized surveillance and how that can lead to many types of internal monologues, some empowered, some self-loathing. ... The album takes on bold, huge themes, reflective of Lamar’s increasing confidence and increasing dissatisfaction. It’s about ethics and community responsibility, about white terror and black resilience, about self-doubt and self-punishment, about melting under the klieg lights of fame. At its best, it’s a howling work of black protest art on par with Amiri Baraka's incendiary play Dutchman, or David Hammons’ moving decapitated hoodie In the Hood — works rooted in both pride and fear. ... That’s because To Pimp a Butterfly is bigger than any minor intra-rapper friction. An album that asks questions as big as this one does, and that will be heard by so many, is a huge taunt to Lamar’s peers — it’s a dare to ride along, a dare to be different, a dare to be great."
Los Angeles Times' Randall Roberts writes, "Lamar’s third studio album is a realm away from his breakout 2012 album, equally rich and way, way further gone. ... This record is so expansive that it's tough to wrestle into shape, even as it overflows with wit, smarts and a masterful skill of the language and phrasing. ... [It] mixes up external and internal realities and features conceptually linked lines and interludes. Musically, it loosens its structures until they're nearly liquid. ... It can be schizophrenic, as if the artist was working hard to tether himself lest he alienate his more conservative fans, those who don't know Flying Lotus from the Flying Wallendas. But the tethering, which unfolds across the record's second half, is necessary. Were he to fly too far afield, he'd lose his focus." Altogether, "Anyone seeking to understand the grievances, the frustrations, inspirations and creative power of youth culture should be absorbing every word of To Pimp a Butterfly. What they'll find is dense, ripe for exploration."
Chicago Tribune's Greg Kot notes, "Though not quite as instantly catchy as its predecessor, it expands on its widescreen musical reach and introspective intensity, and sharpens the political perspective until it draws blood. What’s lacking, if anything, is the potential bounty of singles yielded by good kid, but To Pimp is designed more as a one-sit continuous listen than a collection of radio-ready hits. ... He stitches the album's narrative together with a six-part poem — one of the few risks that Lamar takes that doesn't quite pay off. The music brims with frayed edges and conflicted characters who try to parse the meaning of black empowerment. ... It deals head on with a planet seething with divisions that have become so ingrained by history that they feel insurmountable."
The Guardian's Alex Macpherson says, "The full 80-minute epic itself is an ambitious and at times overwhelming reflection of its multi-faceted complexity. ... Throughout, there’s an important awareness of the gap between what a privileged, white audience needs to hear about injustice, its roots and effects — and what, on a personal level, an individual can find empowering. ... Still, the self-conscious literary ambition and political nature of To Pimp a Butterfly will doubtless play into the false binary critics have consistently drawn within rap, of the “good” conscious rapper concerned about his people’s standards versus the street and club rap that wallow cheerfully in good-time ignorance; it’s unclear at times whether Lamar is actively trying to untangle this or playing up to it."