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Eng 102 - to Pimp a Butterfly Album Review

Autor:   •  February 5, 2019  •  Research Paper  •  1,640 Words (7 Pages)  •  94 Views

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Jordan Henderson

English 102

2 February 2018

Album Review

        Kendrick Lamar’s heavily experimental, second major studio album, To Pimp a Butterfly, was released on March 15, 2015. Although the album is a unique fusion of free form jazz, funk, rock and soul, To Pimp a Butterfly parades around under the guise of rap album. The politically and socioeconomically charged album delivers sonically impressive tracks that excite its listener. Kendrick tells stories of black power, black struggle, challenges faced by black celebrities and black artists, and becoming the product of one’s environment. And in the process, he effectively conveys some of the issues faced by the entire black community in America, both past and present. To Pimp a Butterfly illustrates how a rap artist can gain access to public discourse and engage their audience in thought provoking discussions concerning political issues, world events, and black awareness. Mr. Lamar’s album will be rated on a five-star scale, with a different category for each star. The album will be rated on sonic quality, effectiveness of the album’s concept, diversification of story and sound, audience reception, and number of albums sold.  

To Pimp a Butterfly debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 chart. It has since been certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America, by selling over 1 million copies world-wide. The album has experienced universal acclaim from critics and audiences around the world. Kendrick begins the album with the song “Wesley’s Theory” and proclaims that “every nigga is a star”. This explicit and thought-provoking lyric immediately captures the attention of its audience. A communicator needs some sort of pizzazz or je ne sais quoi in order to more effectively convey their message. The song itself talks about Uncle Sam attempting to use (pimp out) an artist (butterfly). Uncle Sam and the artist go back and forth as Uncle Sam claims he can give the artist everything he wants (40 acres, a mule, a piano, a guitar). And, as the album continues into “For Free? (Interlude)”, Kendrick says his “dick ain’t free” as he puts a price on himself and eventually falls into Uncle Sam’s trap. By forming a story, Kendrick delves deeper into the multiple nuances of the point he is trying to make. 

Lamar’s album style is like he is telling a story. His album a book, and each song a chapter, communicating some new idea. Kendrick’s style relates to Eric E. Peterson and Kristin M. Langellier’s 2006 passage, “Communication as Storytelling”. Telling a story allows the author to be quite explorative of their topic. Peterson and Langellier claim that “storytelling draws the audience and storyteller, and the order of experience and the order of analysis, into connection by transforming one into the other or vice versa.” (p. 9) Peterson and Langellier go on to talk about communication as storytelling being “reproductive” and ever changing. They say that all forms of communication are some sort of story and argue that a subject or idea is always communicated through a stylized format dictated by its author. Perhaps therefore Kendrick creates an intense, unapologetic, and controversial setting for his album.

        Since the genres inception, hip hop music has always maintained political and social themes designed to paint a picture of one’s feelings, one’s experiences, and one’s truths. In their 2000 article titled, Beyond bitches, niggers, and ho’s: some suggestions for including rap music as a qualitative data source, authors, Ronald J. Stephens and Earl Wright II explain that while rap music is mainly described as violent and misogynistic, it can also be used to depict the real-world experiences, frustrations, and struggles faced by black Americans daily. They go on to explain that study of the music could yield qualitative benefits and help other members of the United States further understand the intricacies of the black experience.

Stephens and Wright II state that “lyrics serve as a window into the world of a young African American male rapper who is in search of an escape route from the social isolation and disfranchisement that sometimes results from living in an impoverished condition” (p. 25). This idea holds true today. And the use of lyrics as a window can be seen clearly in To Pimp a Butterfly’s content.

In the song “u”, Kendrick doesn’t talk about poverty, but he does talk about social isolation and psychological torment. Kendrick speaks in third person and says that “if I told your secrets, the world will know money can’t stop suicidal weakness”. In the process, he explains that even money can’t change one’s perception of oneself and/or give them happiness. The song “King Kunta” also speaks on isolation, and how even black celebrities can face restrictions and conflict that stem from their environment. The title refers to Kunta Kinte, the slave who got his foot chopped off for attempting to escape slavery. Adding “King” to Kunta’s name turns the slave into a King and represents Kendrick. He is a slave to the music industry, A&R’s and executives. But, he is on top of the music industry. He’s king.

As the album continues to the song “Alright”, Kendrick talks briefly talks about the pain and struggle of his past: “All’s my life I had to fight”. But, he also creates temporary positive environment filled with hope as he attempts to ease the pain of him and his young brothers. “And we hate po-po / Wanna kill us dead in the street fo sho / Nigga, I’m at the preacher’s door / My knees getting’ weak, and my gun might blow / But we gon’ be alright” The song extends feelings of pride and optimism to the entire Black community in the wake of countless police killings. In their article, Stephens and Wright II state that “By identifying the prevalence of racism, discrimination and nihilistic behavior in the African American community to expose the influence of underlying power relations therein, rap music artists give voice to those socially isolated individuals whose voices have previously been muted” (p. 35). Kendrick explains to his people that by keeping a level head and faith in God, they will make it through all their struggles.


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