Weekly updates:

Posted by

Weekly updates

Kendrick Lamar‘s third album is an incredibly self-indulgent ride on the Mothership which has already been hailed as the most important hip-hop album of the century by the internet. In comparison to endless Migos clones it certainly sounds new and original, but on closer inspection To Pimp A Butterfly owes a heavy debt to groups like The Coup from Oakland, who were cooking up exotic Funk Rap gumbo since the early 90’s. Musically, it drifts between some tight, intriguing riffs and messy, chaotic-for-the-sake-of-being-chaotic dirges that sound like the work of someone who bought a ‘Best of P-Funk’ box set a week ago.

There are moments that begin like a clever parody but then you realize that maybe he’s actually being serious, such as the ‘For Free’ interlude which seems like a gag on the Last Poets style but then it keeps going and you begin to think, ‘Wait up, is this guy is actually trying to get his modern-day griot on here?’ The frustrating thing is that when Kendrick isn’t rapping in Gremlin voices and trying to be extra experimental, he can be very effective, as ‘How Much A Dollar Cost’ and ‘Alright’ demonstrate.

‘Complexion (A Zulu Love)’ gives us a glimpse of Kendrick really hitting his stride, as the loop stays in the pocket and flips into a brilliant beat change for Rapsody’s section while they both address the ever-poignant issue of identity, before sliding into the driving force of ‘The Blacker The Berry’, which features some of the most potent vocals of the entire album. But before we know it we’re back into some Erykah Badu-lite nonsense for ‘You Ain’t Gotta Lie (Momma Said)’ and an overly-ambitious attempt at channeling Sly Stone on ‘i’ before we hit ‘Mortal Man’ (aka the song no one will ever play in their car on account of the seven minutes of poetry and fake Tupac interviews that follow the actual song). ‘Mortal Man’ is Kendrick’s way of saying ‘Good luck with making your own iTunes version of my album, dickheads!’ since you’d have to fuck around and split the file up to get rid of that spoken world action. Bonus points for trolling, sir.

While I respect Lamar’s ambition here, To Pimp A Butterfly is let-down in the execution. He clearly has a lot on his mind and addresses a number of topics worthy of discussion, in particular the allegations of hypocrisy that have been leveled at any rapper who hasn’t conveniently fit into a box marked ‘conscious’ or ‘ignorant’ since KRS-One stormed the stage of that PM Dawn show in 1993. The problem is the music, which often sounds amateurish when compared to the sophisticated reinterpretations of P-Funk previously achieved by Above The Law, Dr. Dre and DJ Quik.

For all that is compelling about this record on paper, much of it is simply a drag to listen to to anyone who’s familiar with the source material and the how much better the same thing was done twenty years ago (albeit without the same level of lyrical mastery). On the five songs where him and his production team get it right, Kendrick nails it. But when the music falters, so does the the listeners attention span, making what could have been an amazing EP into a frustrating cosmic slop of an album.

Keep up with Robbie’s weekly ‘No Country for Old (Rap) Men’ here.