Well what a Monday it’s been for new music! Not only have we had album releases from Marina & The Diamonds but today also saw a wealth of artists unsuspectingly drop their albums on fans via streaming sites with little to no warning. Chief amongst them; the return of Kendrick Lamar whose third album ‘How To Pimp A Butterfly’ wasn’t scheduled for release for another week and a half.
Kendrick shot to more mainstream fame on his second record, the incredible ‘Good Kid, M.A.A.D City’ which came out in 2012. ‘How To…’ has been detailed by Kendrick as the process of a caterpillar becoming a butterfly. Recruiting George Clinton and Thundercat on opener ‘Wesley’s Theory’ for me personally, is Kendrick at his most unpalatable for me personally, the sampling is all over the place making it quite a tense listen. As the track progresses to open up the stage for Kendrick’s lyrical prowess, there is a vast improvement as the rhymes come thick, fast and agile. But just when it seems the chaotic caccophany of melody ends, it begins again and any joy the brief verses once brought to me are overwritten. Perhaps this mess is a deliberate conveyance of the aforementioned theme, attempting to highlight how young and naive baby caterpillar Kendrick once was.
The following interlude ‘For Free?’ is fuelled by big band New Orleans swing band production and big soulful backing vocals. Whereas many use interludes as a way to digress and bring about a change of tone in a gradual fashion, it seems baby caterpillar Kendrick is having somewhat of an identity crisis in his early teen years. Reinventing himself on the next track as a cooler, more edgy version of himself. All I will say is, thank god for puberty!
A post pubescant Kendrick is back to the up-tempo sharp tongued and fast-paced on ‘King Kunta’. Honestly never thought I’d be writing about a rapper becoming a butterfly but it’s good fuel for metaphors and whatnot. Following this chrysalis stage in some sort of East Coast rap coccoon, Kendrick’s game is well and truly upped. Calling in favours from Snoop Dogg on ‘Institutionalized’ and Thundercat once more on ‘These Walls’ HTPAB develops into the album I wanted it to be from the beginning. It’s a disappointment that it took until four tracks in for Kendrick to really get going and deliver, but so high was the expectation placed on Kendrick’s still young shoulders, he can be forgiven for faltering a little.
Skipping forward a little, ‘Hood Politics’ is a fundamental commentary of sorts on the state of modern day America. ‘The LAPD gamblin’/scramblin’/football numbers slanderin’ contains many subtle references to the spate of murders of young teens as a result of police brutality of recent times. The most powerful resonating line of the whole album is ‘they give us guns and drugs/call us thugs’, indicting the American Justice System and the idiosyncracies of what it’s like to be part of such a heavily prejudiced against group of people. Following the recent events in America, Kendrick’s is perhaps one of the first records to contextualise and narrate what we across the pond have heard little to nothing about. Awareness is a powerful tool and Lamar should be congratulated for bringing social issues to his now massive audience.
2015 is set to be the making of Lamar in the mainstream. This summer he faces perhaps one of his biggest professional challenges to date, as he builds up the crowds of Reading + Leeds ready to receive The Libertines headline reunion slot. Whilst ‘How To Pimp A Butterfly’ isn’t quite the totally together masterpiece that many have been expecting it to be; at least for me personally, the thought, context and ideas are all there even if on some of the opening tracks these are a little hard to find. It’s not great, it’s not amazing, but it’s also not an absolute car crash. It still feels like Kendrick is holding back on us slightly ready for something bigger, and I think I’ll wait for it to kick in that little bit longer when tracks like ‘King Kunta’ exist.