As today marks the five year anniversary of Kendrick Lamar’s second major label release, To Pimp A Butterfly, it’s time we ALL give credit for one of the most authentic pieces of art.
For the masses, Kendrick was introduced through his major debut album good kid, m.A.A.d city. Add that with being from the city of Compton plus a part of Dr. Dre’s Aftermath label and you’re placed in a bubble. Especially after fellow Compton rapper YG delivered his classic debut album, My Krazy Life, in the spring of 2014.
With all eyes on Kendrick to see if he could deliver again or hit a sophomore slump like we’ve seen many do; fans and critiques were ready to hear about the Hub City again over a Dr. Dre beat when the single dropped. To everyone’s surprise, Kendrick brought the funk on the Isley Brothers-sampled “i.” This brought on many mixed reviews, confusion and questions on what he was trying to do and what more is to come.
Both K.Dot and Top Dawg Entertainment continued to push the self-loving single as they released the music video a few months later, followed by a live performance of the single on Saturday Night Live. This, this was suddenly the start of something.
You could feel the passion, love, sincerity and authenticity through the screen. It’s hard enough to express those emotions and have the audience feel them in a live show but through the TV screen is another. A few months later at 57th GRAMMY Awards, Kendrick would take home a GRAMMY for this performance.
The following day we get the second single, “The Blacker The Berry.” We go from a self-love single to something much darker; speaking on self-hate amongst the black community and the hate black people deal within this country. No radio value and definitely not something you’ll be hearing at bars/clubs but the message was clear and that’s all Kendrick cared for. The song ends with “So why did I weep when Trayvon Martin was in the street// When gang banging make me kill a n***a blacker than me? Hypocrite!”
Definitely out of the norm for a Compton rapper and for rappers in general at this level in the industry. While fans were still confused about the bigger picture at the time, one thing was for certain, we weren’t getting another GKMC.
Originally set to release on March 23, 2015, to everyone’s surprise (including Top Dawg and Kendrick) the album was released a week early on March 15th. The production and sound of To Pimp A Butterfly came out to be not only different than good kid, but than anything else in the game. Even Dot’s core fan base was having mixed feelings about this one, but that man and everyone involved with the album weren’t thinking immediate impact, they were thinking years down the road.
Fans and critiques favorite thing to do is compare artists or albums and that’s the biggest mistake when it comes to TPAB. This album was never meant to compete or outsell another, it
was is to serve a bigger purpose. Kendrick pushed fans to actually listen to the words and understand what he is saying in its entirety.
How many artists do you know that can get their hands on an unreleased Tupac interview for their album? One thing you can always expect from Dot’s albums is to be left with goosebumps and hearing him “talk” with Pac and recite his poem at the end of the album does just that, even today.
As police brutality and hate-crime began to rise as a topic of discussion in America, Kendrick’s music became the anthem for protest marching chants, more specifically “Alright.” When this album was in the works, Kendrick, Terrace Martin, Robert Glasper and others were all hoping to touch lives with the music they created and to have a song be used for empowerment in rough times like that, the feeling cannot be described.
The appreciation for Kendrick and his album grew over the year and now five years later we all need to thank him. Thank him for taking the risk of going in a completely different direction than what was expected of you, for pushing the boundaries of Hip-Hop, for bringing the world to see through your eyes and for being unapologetically black; you started something with this or at least gave artists the courage to speak on it.
Who would’ve known that one trip to Africa would set Kendrick up to make a whole new album and be freed from the expectations of a Compton rapper.
From K.Dot the Gemini to Kendrick the Unpredictable.