(album artwork for the To Pimp A Butterfly album)
Yeah this album didn’t come out this year, but I’m sat in my room now just grooving to the sly and sleazy feel of the To Pimp A Butterfly album and I just wanted the chance to run my mouth about how much I love this album. I have a very long list of albums I should be looking at, but after the travesty that was Tony Conrad I felt like I had earned the chance to write about something that I actually know I enjoy. I have a request to review the Automaton album by Jamiroquai (which I am very excited about) but right now I am more interested in rambling about something I couldn’t stop blowing if Lamar himself asked me to stop.
Where do I even start with this? Well a brief overview, I suppose! Kendrick Lamar is a shining star amongst many right now, as far as I know he has only been in the mainstream eye for a couple of years now and his reputation is doing nothing but grow. The music itself is just a joy to describe, or it is in this album at least: the album combines various aspects of Jazz and Fusion with a smooth and sexy modern R&B vibe to incredible effect. Like Thundercat, my previous musical obsession of this year, it’s more or less a Best Of from all Soul, Jazz and Hip-Hop through the years – a glorious exhibit showcased in a beautiful, state-of-the-art casing.
There is so much to sing about with this album. With ideas and variety and a mass combination of genres, it really does scream colour in a way nothing of its kind does – the only thing coming close being the aforementioned Thundercat, who actually appeared on this album. One seductive bass groove and creativity behind lyrical content is normally enough to make me like a track, but when you use these aspects in conjunction with Parliament–style bass imaging and soulful vocal harmonies? Well you have me swimming in the palm of your hands! Lamar performs this frequently throughout the album, the only times I’m not creaming over that glorious Funk being the times I explode violently over the incredible incorporation of Jazz. Serious, the saxophone in tracks like Alright will burn through you.
(image sourced from the official Kendrick Lamar Facebook page)
Thinking of Alright also brings up the point of the rhythm and the way instruments are suddenly cut out. It’s pure mastery. The way he uses the silence between certain notes, does so much to force the impact of a returning drum beat or bass line and does so much to accent the incredible flow to Lamar’s rapping. Rap and Hip-Hop have always been inspiring genres for me and I respect the rhythmic quality to so many great rappers, but one thing that sets Lamar aside is the way he raps throughout the entire album – incorporating his voice and using it as one would use a percussive instrument to drive the entire ensemble. The creative genius extends to how it benefits the melodies of the harmonies and lead lines by retaining a monotone, freeing space for the phenomenal backing vocals and soundscaping to really soar and experiment to glorious result.
The mentality behind this album feels amazing. Lamar himself feeling less like the star of the show and more of a part of a larger product, making use of the incredible skill, experience and imagination of the incredible musicians he involves. The whole album possesses a wonderful tongue-in-cheek vibe with some parts sounding outright silly, but in a way that enables nothing but pure enjoyment, as evident in For Free? – Interlude and the intro to Wesley’s Theory, however, it seems to resolve in a deeper and more meaningful concept of unity amongst black people in a way that riveted me, held me and wouldn’t let me go until I truly understood the intensity to it.
My only issue with the album is nothing to do with the music itself, but society’s view on appropriation – the amount of times I want to rap along with the album almost seems to ruin the experience when I remember that my own ethnicity allows me little chance to relate to the lyrical content and, regardless of any opinion of appropriation, there is no justification for a geeky white Cornishman to drop the “N-Bomb”.
Regardless, this album is easily one of my favourite discoveries of the year, to the point where I’m saving my first listen and sub-sequent review of the DAMN. album until my birthday. With a combination of great-feeling music and some deeper, heavier concepts in places, this album has so much heart and music like this should be cherished and celebrated. With that I cannot give it a higher recommendation – listen to it, feel it and just fall in love with it.
And did I really make it through this entire review without explosively ejaculating over George Clinton’s phenomenal character, feel and skill? Of course not.