March 27, 2015

My Gut Reaction: Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp A Butterfly (March 16, 2015)

On March 16, 2015, Kendrick Lamar's second full-length album for Aftermath/Interscope, To Pimp A Butterfly (his third album overall) was "erroneously" released eight days early to iTunes.  It was scheduled to drop on March 23, a mere two weeks after Kendrick had even bothered to announce its existence in the first place, since dropping random albums out of left field is all the rage in the music industry these days.  While the blame was shifted to the record label, To Pimp A Butterfly was eventually authorized to be sold early, making its actual release date March 16.  What this means is, by about nine-thirty that morning PST, hip hop heads all around the Interweb had declared it to be the greatest album in the history of recorded music and shit.  

And by nine-thirty two that morning PST, people were wondering why I hadn't written about it yet.

To Pimp A Butterfly, whose title is, yes, inspired by Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird, why do you ask?, is Kendrick's follow-up to the platinum-selling, critically-acclaimed fan favorite good kid, m.A.A.d. city, which was notable for not only being pretty good, but for also only including one of his Black Hippy running buddies in a substantial role.  To Pimp A Butterfly trumps that by not including Ab-Soul, Jay Rock (whose current Kendrick-featured single "Pay For It" should be bigger than it is right now), or ScHoolboy Q (obviously the second-most successful in the crew) at all.  Hell, Kendrick barely acknowledges that other rappers even exist: only female spitter Rapsody gets an actual verse, while living legend Snoop Dogg makes essentially a cameo, and a deceased legend does only a bit more with less (more on that in a few).  He at least utilized Top Dawg Entertainment's in-house production team to provide musical backing, although he pairs them up with outside influences, lending this project production credits that read like Kanye West's more recent output (you know, minimum three producers, twenty-seven writers, five different types of cheese per song).

After hitting the top of the music industry food chain, Compton native Kendrick Lamar found himself at odds with himself, trying to reconcile his success while trying to determine why it happened to him in the first place.  He considers himself lucky, and it makes perfect sense why he would question everything going on around him.  Combine that with his thoughts on racial relations and societal ills, and you'll get a very small chunk of what he threw onto this album, which is so funky, abstract, and obtuse that he honestly believes that it will be taught at the college level someday.  Given what I just heard (because these paragraphs are being written after the actual review), he's probably on to something.

Although there was a single, "i", that was released in September of 2014, there was no real promotion leading up to this project.  Kendrick didn't even really acknowledge that "i" was supposed to be a part of To Pimp A Butterfly in the first place, even though it went on to with Grammys for Best Rap Song and best Rap Performance, the Academy being quite fond of nonthreatening, postitive-themed hip hop, oh, and also even they had to have realized their fuck-up when they awarded Macklemore over Kendrick Lamar the previous year.  "The Blacker The Berry", itself a truer glimpse into the darkness and density that the listener is about to undertake, was released to radio as more of an afterthought, chosen by Empire star Taraji P. Henson as her favorite track after she received an advance copy of the record.  But even with the lack of promotion and the alleged "leak" by Interscope, the artist formerly known as K-Dot was able to secure his first number one album on the Billboard charts.

So, To Pimp A Butterfly.


1. WESLEY'S THEORY (FEAT. GEORGE CLINTON & THUNDERCAT)
Underground favorite Flying Lotus hits the big time, producing the first track on To Pimp A Butterfly, which also features vocals from Thundercat, George motherfucking Clinton, and an unmarked (except for in the liner notes) brief cameo from Kendrick's boss Dr. Dre. “Wesley's Theory” is a “What the fuck do I do now?”-kind of track, as K-Dot ponders the next step after striking gold platinum with good kid, m.A.A.d. city. Flying Lotus's work behind the boards is funky enough to set a tone, but serious enough for Kendrick's message during the second verse to not get lost entirely. Our host switches roles and plays a record executive on the back half of the song: just imagine a smarmier fake Jerry Heller from Dre's “Dre Day” video. Speaking of the good Doctor, it's odd that he stops by to lend his boy some words of wisdom when Kendrick is arguably the butterfly that Andre is pimping. Hmm...

2. FOR FREE? (INTERLUDE)
Not so much an interlude as it is a quick verse that bridges songs, which is a nice change of pace for a rap album. “For Free? (Interlude)” kicks off with Kendrick's very character being assassinated (verbally, folks: K-Dot's still no gangsta), and once the insults stop flying, our host lays into his performance, which isn't about a failed relationship as one would expect, given the nature of the barbs, but rather is a metaphor (because Kendrick loves those) for the Black man's antagonistic relationship with society, specifically the United States. Terrace Martin lends our host a jazzy beat, which isn't bad, and the track does connect the dots between “Wesley's Theory” and “King Kunta”, but as a song taken out of context, you'll probably pass on it. Kendrick's chant “This. Dick. Ain't. Freeeeeeeeee” will most likely get stuck in your head, though.

3. KING KUNTA
Sounwave and Terrace Martin give K-Dot a beat I wasn't entirely thrilled with when “King Kunta” first leaked. I thought it sounded like something best saved for Xzibit. (Side note: Xzibit, when you're finished reading all of those recent stories about how your MTV show Pimp My Ride was fake as shit, you should hook up with TDE's production squad. Trust me, it'll help.) Within the structures and confines of the album, though, it's alright, but still not great. Ostensibly drawing a comparison between himself and Kunta Kinte (which he's done in the past), K-Dot uses “King Kunta” mostly to boast about his rap dominance, even going so far as to trash his fellow artists that use ghostwriters. (So, your boss, then?) Unlike a lot of rappers today, though, Kendrick has actually earned the right to spit about that kind of shit, so...

4. INSTITUTIONALIZED (FEAT. ANNA WISE, BILAL, & SNOOP DOGG)
Utilizing a low-key beat from Rahki and Tommy Black, K-Dot laments the fact that he's trapped (or “Institutionalized”) in between lifestyles, unable to return to his pre-fame life (the “ghetto”, if you will) but not entirely comfortable with his newly-found success, using a specific example of how his friends now react whenever he invites them anyplace where there's other successful artists. The second verse is performed in the guise of one of these friends, rationalizing their behavior regarding why they still feel an obligation to steal a watch of a chain from these people who are essentially Kendrick Lamar's colleagues, and it is fascinating. Our host does a good job describing the complex and contradictory aspects of his life, and Snoop Dogg chimes in with a bridge that's smooth as hell. (I'm particularly fond of how he described K-Dot's height as “five-foot something”.) Bilal's on here too, I guess.

5. THESE WALLS (FEAT. ANNA WISE, BILAL, & THUNDERCAT)
The apparent tag team of Anna Wise and Bilal continue their partnership on “These Walls”, a song mostly about pussy, right up until when it isn't, because this is Kendrick Lamar we're talking about. You could find a deeper meaning within the first two verses without trying very hard, but even K-Dot admits toward the end that the first verse is about fucking the girlfriend of the dude who murdered his best friend during good kid, m.A.A.d. city's “Sing About Me”, pulling it off thanks to his newly-found fame. (He even instructs the guy, and by extension you two, to go back to that last album and listen to that song again.) Terrace Martin and Larrance Dopson give our host a beat that comes across as something De La Soul would use today, which is intended as a compliment. Not bad. Kendrick's ongoing poem that he's been constructing throughout the album bookends the piece.

6. U
The antithesis of the overly-positive, Grammy-award-winning “i”, “u” is depressing as shit to hear and to listen to, if that makes any sense. Kendrick reaches his low point, blaming himself for not being a better role model for his sister and for not being able to protect his best friend when he was murdered. K-Dot refers to himself as a “fucking failure”, and he somehow drops even lower than that throughout the song. He's trying to exorcise his demons on wax, which is fine, and his reference to his “mood swings” hints at something darker than even he bothers to contemplate on here, but let's be honest: you won't listen to this one more than once. You just won't. It's just tough to sit through.

7. ALRIGHT (FEAT. PHARRELL WILLIAMS)
There's some bleak shit on this Pharrell Williams-and-Sounwave-produced cut (which, thankfully, avoids any sign of Neptunes bling), and yet it's still intended to lift you from the sorrow that was “u”. K-Dot (and Skateboard P during the hook) keeps repeating the phrase “we gon' be alright” throughout, as though he's merely trying to convince himself of that fact, but that still doesn't prevent him from considering a pact with the devil to make everything easier and to “live at the mall” (the second time that phrase has been uttered on the album). The music isn't bad, and Pharrell's hook is decent, but I doubt anyone will put this on their playlists. K-Dot's poem grows in length at the very end, too.

8. FOR SALE? (INTERLUDE)
A companion piece to “For Free? (Interlude)” in name only. K-Dot uses the track, produced by Taz Arnold, to dive deeper into the conversation he had begun with Lucy (better known as Lucifer, in case those anvils Kendrick had dropped from that ten-story building had missed their intended target). Running at nearly five minutes, “For Sale? (Interlude)” is truly more of an actual song, but it dives additional insight to the temptations surrounding our boy. As a song, meh. As part of the ongoing narrative, it's okay. Astute heads will also notice that Kendrick's poem-in-progress, which reappears at the very end, is following the ongoing storyline of To Pimp A Butterfly.  Interesting!

9. MOMMA
The poem from the previous track ends with our host returning “home”, so a song with the title “Momma” begs to be taken literally. To Pimp A Butterfly isn't that straightforward, though: the words “mother” or “mom” aren't mentioned once during “Momma”, because Kendrick's idea of “home” is a cross between God (since he's deflecting the advances of the devil) and Africa (or “the motherland”; a recent trip to South Africa inspired at least a portion of this album). K-Dot is coping with his success much better than he was, and he's slowly realizing that his childhood has molded him into the man he is today and that it isn't as easily forgotten as he might have feared. Anyway, musically, this was blah until the final piece where the beat switches up and K-Dot spits in exclusively ad-libs, it appears.

10. HOOD POLITICS
As evidenced by K-Dot's higher-pitched flow and the fact that he actually refers to himself as K-Dot, “Hood Politics” is supposed to signify our host's “return” to the hood, thereby proving (to himself) that he's the same person he was before hitting it big in the first place. The hook is annoying as hell, but the instrumental, with responsibilities shared amongst Tae Beast, Sounwave, and Thundercat, was alright, and the actual verses were pretty good. After diving into “Hood Politics” during the first verse and then actual government politics during the second, Kendrick uses the rest of the track to offer commentary on how the hip hop game has changed ever since his cameo on Big Sean's still-technically-unreleased-but-that-won't-stop-us-now-will-it “Control”. Not bad. Oh, and there's that poem again!

11. HOW MUCH A DOLLAR COST (FEAT. JAMES FAUNTLEROY & RON ISLEY)
I actually really liked this one. While still in South Africa, Kendrick encounters a bum who asks him for money, and K-Dot can't bring himself to just give it to him. Personally, I feel this is his best storytelling rap since good kid, m.A.A.d. city's “The Art Of Peer Pressure”, as our host articulates his reluctance by rationalizing every reason why he shouldn't aid and abet the transient's alleged addictions. The ending is a bit off, since it has to tie into Kendrick's redemption arc, but I still enjoyed this. LoveDragon's beat is solemn and dope, and the vocals from Cocaine 80s' James Fauntleroy and, at the very end, Ron fucking Isley were a nice touch.

12. COMPLEXION (A ZULU LOVE) (FEAT. RAPSODY)
Attacks a complex problem in a simplistic-yet-moving way. K-Dot (and his guest Rapsody) show love to all of the colors on the African spectrum: regardless of whether you're light-skinned or darker in shade, our host wants you to know that you should all be treated equally, and that there is no reason for the self-hatred amongst your own people. This affects other races, too, so I wouldn't be surprised if this gets picked up as an anthem of sorts. Rapsody, an artist I admittedly have very limited exposure to, sounds pretty fucking good during her verse, but this is the Kendrick Lamar show, and his performance on here is as gushing as the next song is incendiary.

13. THE BLACKER THE BERRY (FEAT. ASSASSIN)
The best song on To Pimp A Butterfly, and by far the most accessible, although that word has no meaning when held up against this album. For that, credit goes to producers Boi-1da and KOZ for delivering a backdrop that fucking knocks, one that Kendrick spits fire over. Our host tackles racism, not just from white people, but a more-inclusive definition of what he just finished describing on the last track, pissed off at the attitudes surrounding him and destroying his people while acknowledging that he is also responsible for some of that destruction, hence his referring to himself as “the biggest hypocrite of 2015”. Kendrick's songwriting is gold-star-standard on “The Blacker The Berry”, using repetition during the verses themselves (not just during the hook, performed by Assassin) to lull the listener into a false sense of security before yanking the rug out from underneath you. Damn, this shit is good.

14. YOU AIN'T GOTTA LIE (MOMMA SAID)
On which Kendrick Lamar admonishes fake rappers who have established their careers on habitual lies that have taken on lives of their own. He doesn't name names, because why would he, he still has to work with these people, most of whom you and I would be quick to classify as “fake”, but he disses them so eloquently that most of his peers will probably not even catch that shit. “You Ain't Gotta Lie (Momma Said)” isn't great, but it has smooth components to it, so most likely you two won't shit it off.

15. I
I didn't like “i” when it dropped as a single. Grammy be damned, I felt that Kendrick's positive message about self-love and redemption was buried underneath that all-too-familiar sample from The Isley Brothers' “That Lady”. Surprisingly, the album version of “i” is drastically different. On its surface, it's the same song, except re-recorded to give it a live performance-feel: the message, the sample, and the lyrics are all identical. However, the revision comes to a head with K-Dot bringing the track to a halt when an argument breaks out within the crowd he's ostensibly performing in front of, giving him an opportunity to keep the peace as the leader he's slowly becoming, before dropping an acapella verse that's supposed to underline that evolution. Still not my favorite song, but within this new context, I appreciate “i” much more than I did. Still really shocked that he would fuck with his hit single like this, but then again, the album version of “Swimming Pools (Drank)” was sort-of different than what was played on the radio, too.

16. MORTAL MAN
Sounwave produces the final track all by his lonesome, and perhaps Kendrick felt liberated with there being less people in the studio, as his performance on the actual song portion of “Mortal Man” is thoughtful and deep, as he questions the allegiance of his fans by asking them how likely it is that they would stick around if they hear something negative about him, even bringing out Michael Jackson's child molestation charges to illustrate his point. The name-checking of African and African-American leaders is an attempt to force a connection between them and our host, and I suppose I understand that Kendrick doesn't want to waste the platform he's been given, but at the same time, having Something To Say doesn't always equate to entertaining songs (although I dug Sounwave's beat on here). The final seven minutes and twenty seconds of the track are the most controversial of the entire album, as our hosts imagines a conversation between himself and the late Tupac Shakur, one in which Pac actually responds (through means of cut-and-paste of an older interview). K-Dot tries to underline the point of the entire project by “reading” the man two poems, one of them being the one he's been writing this entire time, that establish the theme of a Black man railing against a system that is designed to oppress (the ghetto, the music industry, the United States, whatever). I fall into the category that sees this extended outro as unnecessary, although I liked how the ending is left ambiguous as the album suddenly ends. And with that, Jesus fuck are we done here.

THE LAST WORD:  There's no question about it: To Pimp A Butterfly is one of the most important rap records of our time.  But now that we have that hyperbole out of the way, we need to ask: is this album any good?  The answer is complicated, in that it both is and isn't worth your time.  Kendrick Lamar is an artist, and he clearly put his heart and soul and possibly part of his liver into To Pimp A Butterfly, and the fact that Interscope allowed him full creative control is a blessing not many rappers receive, so he takes full advantage on here.  To Pimp A Butterfly is dense, filled with nearly every idea regarding racial relations and the hypocrisy of being a successful Black man in the United States that ever crossed K-Dot's mind grapes, and the music that results from it is just as intense and obtuse.  Kendrick doesn't give any easy answers and he refuses to hold your hand through the process; for the most part, he trusts that you'll be able to pick up what he lays down, which is admirable.  I've used this analogy in the past, but it makes perfect sense on here: with To Pimp A Butterfly Kendrick was writing the Great American Novel, and he used up all of his concepts and theories as though he wasn't sure he would ever get another chance at publishing another book.  To that end, he succeeds, in that this album sounds nothing like any other hip hop project in 2015 thus far; hell, it doesn't sound like any other hip hop project in the past ten years, easily, and it damn sure doesn't sound like any follow-up to good kid, m.A.A.d. city that anyone would have imagined.  That's a difficult accomplishment for anyone, so for that Kendrick Lamar should be commended.

But is To Pimp A Butterfly enjoyable as an actual piece of entertainment?  For the most part, hell fucking no.  It's work to sit through this: you should be awarded college credit or a pension once "Mortal Man" winds its way downThere are bits and pieces of certain tracks that I loved, and the more I hear "The Blacker The Berry" on the radio, the better, but as a cohesive whole, To Pimp A Butterfly isn't designed for its songs to be listened to outside of their intended context.  There are no real singles on here (which isn't a complaint), and everything is so tied together that you miss out on an entire experience if you're cherry-picking tracks like we all tend to do.  Kendrick Lamar has crafted a narrative that demands to be acknowledged as such, but that makes it even more difficult to justify attempting to listen to any of the tracks from here for "fun", because this is simply not a "fun" album.  You won't blast this in your car, it won't propel you through your next workout, and it literally cannot be played at parties.  To Pimp A Butterfly is designed for single-person consumption with headphones and a full-blown attention span, and whether you're ready for that kind of commitment with a piece of entertainment is up to you.  

So, since this is already too long, To Pimp A Butterfly is mostly good, with some suck-ass moments, like most rap albums, but the entertainment value is nil and its replay value is damn near nonexistent, except for "The Blacker The Berry" and perhaps "How Much A Dollar Cost", which I did truly love.  Everything else on here is a four-hour art house film while the majority of people who would normally be interested in Kendrick (because of the Grammy win or because of his last project) would prefer to go see Furious 7.  It's a frustrating listen, but never because it's bad; it's just overwhelming and inaccessible to a fault.  I'll probably be the only blogger out there willing to say that, but it is what it is.

-Max

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There's a little bit more about Kendrick Lamar to be found here.


82 comments:

  1. Besides 'u', I don't think any of the tracks on hear are really as grating as you make them out to be... in fact a lot of the beats are smooth as fuck. Institutionalized, These Walls, Alright, Momma, How Much A Dollar Cost, Complexion, You Aint Gotta Lie, and Mortal Man all have chill ass beats. You didn't give the production on here enough credit IMO.

    Here's my opinion... Nas' Illmatic is considered the greatest album of all-time. His lyrics are elementary as fuck compared to Kendrick's on here. They seem almost pointless. Kendrick is on some next level shit, and this should go down as the best hip hop album of all-time. Sure it isn't as fun as OB4CL or The Infamous or Hell on Earth, but it is so much more purposeful. And I again cannot stress enough how excellent the production is on TPAB..

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    1. Strong words. "Purposeful" isn't the same as "entertaining", though, and those four examples you gave are all much more entertaining than TPAB. Those four examples weren't trying to reinvent the wheel, though, so comparing them to Kendrick's magnum opus is kind of ridiculous. If anything, TPAB should only be compared with K-Dot's other work.

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    2. Damn you Max your logic is like Fort Knox.. impenetrable. Here's my question though... when bloggers, critics, etc. rank the top hip hop albums of all-time, where do you think TPAB should be placed? Or are you saying it is in a category of its own?

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    3. It's hard to say. It's still too fresh in my mind to answer that without hint of bias. But if Kendrick wanted to get his critics talking, he succeeded.

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    4. I think everyone should be real, real careful about declaring an album that came out less than two weeks ago "the best hip-hop album of all time." Seriously, wait till the hyperbole and hype have died down before making those kinds of statements. It does a disservice to the album.

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    5. @Anon, Kendrick lives on hyperbole. His target audience dance in it. The actual music itself is flimsy and often shallow, but the hyperbole is always premium

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    6. i will gladly dance in kendrick's hyperbole

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  2. I actually agree for the most part. I have a few other songs besides Blacker and How Much a Dollar Cost in my rotation too, but around half this album I skip over if Im not giving it a full listen.

    It might be the best artistic rap album this year, but it probably won't be my most played (unless everything else flops this year)

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  3. This album will surely sell like hot cakes. So, I'd rather stream this kinda shit.

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  4. I'm pretty much all with you on the utter unreplayability and inaccessibility of this album, however much those attributes were by design. However, I was surprised that you didn't think "Alright" wouldn't end up on people's playlists. On first listen, "Alright" and "Hood Politics" were the songs I imagined people would latch onto the easiest, since their hooks are the most memorable.

    It's a small point, but the instrumental that serves as a background for the intro voicemail in "Hood Politics" is something I'd like to hear an extended version of; I felt the same way about the "I'm with the homies right now" sung transition into "The Art of Peer Pressure" on good kid, m.A.A.d. city.

    Any thoughts of the "crying voice" Kendrick uses on "u," which he workshopped earlier on tracks like "The Heart, Pt. 2" and BJ the Chicago Kid's "His Pain"? I enjoy it in small doses, but there's definitely a limit on how much voice-cracking I can stand.

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    1. First off, I love that you used "workshopped"; this might be the only hip hop blog that would look at the music from that perspective. "Alright" was alright, and it may end up on other playlists, but not my own. I do remember liking the transition into "The Art Of Peer Pressure", too. But to answer your question, I can only stand it for so long, and I honestly don't think I'll ever listen to "u" again for anything other than possible research.

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  5. I wish Kendrick the best, but I don't give a fuck about the album

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  6. Pretty much agree with you max, great enjoyable review as ever.

    I think it's certainly high ranking artistically and kendrick deserves a lot of credit there but the album just isn't enjoyable. The blacker the berry is a great song that is as strong as anything else on the album on the artistic side and tackles the issues and themes he's addressing on the project as well as the rest, but it's pretty much the only track that is also enjoyable and entertaining.

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  7. yeah um, im just gonna say i disagree Max lol. I think this is entertaining throughout, and the messages and story still come across for me. Was playing this during a long drive yesterday, and it was fine. I think this album is incredible tbh. However, i can see what you mean

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  8. I feel like if this was released by a no name rapper,it wouldnt have made a big deal.If this had been Kendricks first album before control verse,before any mixtape,people would admit more easily the non enjoyment of this.They'd just say great lyrics,but just another underground cd,boring...
    Big fan of Kendricks past work(bought this without a first listen as soon as heard about it),i think it has great lyrics.However not a fan of how those lyrics flow with the beats,flows,different weird voices he tried...enjoyed reading the lyrics a lot more than listening to the album.

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  9. Confused - so are you saying Kendrick pulled a Ras Kass?

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  10. So the actual music itself sucks and has no replay value? Cool. That's all I care about. All that extra "it's the Great American novel on some Gatsby shit" is fugazi to me.

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    1. The music does not suck. The music is incredible. I think its just not what people were expecting. Beautiful and soulful album. Lyrics are on point and take time to digest fully. He does go really hard on a few tracks too. But this is supreme storytelling like we haven't had in a long time. Like every song. And the production is as good as I've heard on a hip-hop album.

      I knew this review was wack when it didn't get the signifcance of the first track being a real P-funk sound. This review missed a lot as far I'm concerned. There are really maybe 4 songs where Kendrick is really turnt up. Otherwise he's telling a story to some seriously beautiful black music. The horns on songs like Mortal Man and How Much a Dollar Cost are just so soulful.

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  11. Unrelated, but Happy 20th anniversary of Return to the 36 Chambers Dirty Version!!!
    Ooh baby I like it RAWWWWWW!
    R.I.P ODB
    And Happy 20th anniversary of Lifestylez of da Poor and Dangerous!!!
    And when it comes to getting nookie, I'm not a rookie
    I get girls that make that chick Toni Braxton look like Whoopi!
    R.I.P Big L

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  12. This album is like a work of literature

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  13. As a piece of art, its excellent. A really great album. As a piece of music? Not so much. I only kept 5 songs off the album: King Kunta through These Walls, How Much A Dolla' Cost and Hood Politics (even with the god awful hook).

    I feel like he sacrificed the music too many times to forward the narrative of the album. Had he been more conscious of this, the album could have been great both artistically and musically. But then again (using "U" as an example), I don't know if the lyrics could allow for it to be enjoyable.

    Oh, and the only time the hook in "For Free" would be stuck in my head, is if I was in hell and the Devil wanted to really torture me. Fuck that hook. What a strange choice it was.

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  14. When I first listened to TPAB I was unsure what to make of it due to the g funk/jazz production and overall tone of the album however, after a few more full length listening sessions I understood the meaning and the point Kendrick was trying to convey, this album isnt meant to entertain the masses (how could it be) it's meant to educate, imo Kendrick has succeeded in doing this, as you mentioned he did have full creative control and has definitely crafted the album in his own vision, if you look at all his albums starting with the Kendrick Lamar EP, you can see how he has evolved on each but has still managed to remain true to himself and his beliefs - you gotta respect that especially in a time where Hip Hop music is built on fickle "tun up"singles by "rappers" who don't know themselves and are lyrically disabled. Kendrick made this album for every race to fully understand the struggle for black people in America (especially because of what's been happening in the past few years) and the fact that he hasn't sugar coated anything must be commended. With his first 2 mainstream albums he has managed to really make people sit up and take notice and appreciate good (real) music, the crazy ting is from when I first heard "Ignorance is Bliss" off of his Overly Dedicated album (the first song by Kendrick I ever heard) I just knew that he was gonna take the rap world by storm- gotta salute the Don for that! Anyway great review Max (i understand you had to take your time in order to digest it lol) I do disagree with your point about the albums reply value but do agree that "How Much Does A Dollar Cost" is a favourite of mine along with "The Blacker The Berry", "Mortal Man" and "Alright" "Hood Politics" is also a brilliant cut. I just wonder where Kendrick is going to take us with his next LP, whatever he does I'm sure it will be another game changer and we will all be talking about it! Bless.

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  15. Loving this album, the messages throughout etc. Kendrick don't give a F about radio singles! Swimming Pools and Don't Kill my vibe were not made to be on the radio it just so happens that they had banging beats and people got the messages in those songs completely wrong smh. I wonder who from TDE is gonna drop an album next - hope it's Isaiah Rashard.

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  16. Loving this album, the messages throughout etc. Kendrick don't give a F about radio singles! Swimming Pools and Don't Kill My Vibe were not made to be on the radio it just so happens that they had banging beats and people got the messages in those songs completely wrong smh. I wonder who from TDE is gonna drop an album next - hope it's Isaiah Rashard.

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  17. I've only listened to it once. Maybe a second time will allow me to notice its flaws, but I loved it the first time. The fact that it's designed to be played through is a testament to his artistry. I may be going a bit far, but I think it shows he's in it to make the most of people listening to him more than he's in it for the money.

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  18. Oh dear God.
    This album is gonna be hailed as the next Bible, isn't it?
    Kendrick Lamar is the singular savior of all that is good in humanity, isn't he?
    Critics & bloggers alike will literally worship the very ground he walks on, won't they?

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    1. Of course he will be and rightfully so, we live in 2015 when the most successful rappers are people like Drake, Lil Wayne and Nicki Minaj.Kendrick should be celebrated and loved cause he's the most relevant in 2015

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    2. He's awesome but him being relevant doesn't mean he's the best. It is what it is.

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  19. Your words mate lol!

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  20. Sarcasm gone wrong me thinks

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  21. True Rap FanMarch 29, 2015

    This album was "Too Black" and "positive" for Max. It made him feel uncomfortable unlike when the WU raps about black on black crime cause we all know he loves gangsta rap. It wasn't ignorant enough for Max. How dare Kendrick made a positive rap album and not rap about stereotypical shit. That damn Kendrick... Max stays away for Public Enemy for the same reasons. He can fool yall but he cant fool me! Dude always uses that "I have my reasons" nonsense when he gets questioned about stuff. I stopped reading this blog a year but I had to pop up for the Kendrick review because I already knew how it turn out. Mr predicable LOL.. Take a look at the sidebar and check the albums that he praises an you'll notice a trend. Peace!

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    1. Tried to give this one a listen to no avail. I couldn't get past the first few tracks.

      ^"Too Black"? Okay. "Positive"? De la soul had positive albums while maintaining their "blackness". Lamar sounds constipated; angry with some corny ass rhymes.

      After a few minutes it hit me: "I'm 33. WTF could this 20 year old possibly say artistically or beneficial to me? WTF would you know at 20 something? This album is a joke.

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    2. True Rap FanMarch 30, 2015

      Im not even a big Kendrick fan I only like good kid maad city and this album. I cant into his other stuff. I think alot of critics overhyped it and turned people off and made them hate it. I called out Max because some of his reviews come out suspect especially the positive ones. He calls people out about stuff so im gonna call him when something likes iffy in his reviews. I said it was too black for Max not for every white person. Its white people that like the album too. Its a aquired taste in my opinion.

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    3. "Too Black", which is ridiculous in its own way, isn't synonymous with "entertaining", either. Regardless of the target audience, TPAB isn't an entertaining album. As I mentioned above, it's work to listen to this all the way through. Kendrick could have kept this to a series of essays and released it in book form and it would have worked better than as a piece of music, although, once again, I commend his artistic vision. It's just not for me.

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  22. I for one enjoyed this album immensely! Its got heart and soul. If you study Kendricks other works, you will realize that this is him being true to himself and not gassing and chatting crap about popping pills & having materialistic things like 95% of the "rap" industry. I hope he continues to grow and evolve!

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  23. This album is highly educational for black people worldwide, I love the fact that Kendrick flips the script on The Blacker The Berry because black on black violence really does contradict the outrage black Americans demonstrated after the deaths of Michael Brown and Traevon Martin (may they rest in peace). As a black man from London who has been listening to rap music since Ice Cube dropped The Predator album back in 92' I can honestly say that I can see Kendrick going on to bigger and better things away from just being a supremely gifted rapper believe that!

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  24. Great album by Kendrick and a very good review Max even though, for me this album has more than enough replay value

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  25. I was interested to see your review for this one.

    Anyway, I've listened to this album once and I found it to be enjoyable, but I don't have any desire to listen to it again. I like what he was going for here but it's just not my type of album. I kept a couple of songs, but that's about all it did for me.

    By the way Max, have you seen the tracklist for Raekwon's new album?

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  26. "He's not the messiah, he's a very naughty boy!"
    Ahem, Monty Python jokes aside, I think I appreciated the album more than you did, but I'm reluctant to calling it a classic already. It has great moments, it's ambitious and definitely a step forward from his previous record (I thought some of the production work actually hindered Good Kid Maad City from delivering its full lyrical potential, but I might be alone there), and although I really enjoyed the hip hop/jazz fusion, it is a demanding (but also, ultimately, rewarding) listen.
    Great review!

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  27. Max, you must try and understand that the purpose of this album was not to entertain the people but to slap them in the head with its message. It is thought provoking to say the least and just because it doesn't go all out to "entertain", you can not discredit Kendrick for this as this was NOT his intention for the album. I'm not going to jump on the "this is a classic album" hype that everyone and their side chick/man is quick to do/say however, I do believe that this album (like a fine wine) will age gracefully and in about 3-4 years it will be heralded as such. Now, please kindly review Tetsuo & Youth.

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    1. I disagree. If Kendrick wasn't trying to entertain us, he could have released his lyrics as a book of essays or do a TED talk. Setting his thoughts to music means that he fully intended on MAKING MUSIC, which is supposed to entertain. Besides, if he really weren't trying to do that, "The Blacker The Berry" wouldn't exist: that's one of the only successful combinations on TPAB of thought-provoking criticism and a beat I believe everyone could get behind.

      Also, still not reviewing Lupe. Ask one of the two readers to submit a review.

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  28. Lol A TDE talk! You killed me with that one! But seriously is ALL music made to entertain? Aren't certain types of music made to allow the listener to reflect/ponder on the message within the song? I agree that "The Blacker The Berry" is a straight up banger, I suppose Kendrick decided he had to have at least 1 on the album - but at the same time, its also a track that makes you think deeply about the message within.... while at the same time entertaining the listener (like you said). I do think the majority of the beats on TPAB are above average though, I like the jazzy touches.

    With regards to Lupe's new joint, I know your saying you won't review it, fair enough - can I ask whether you have listened to it at all?

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    1. Sure, certain types of music are made to allow and.or force the listener to reflect on the messages within the song itself. Entertaining is still the number one job of a piece of music, although I will say that "entertaining" means different things to everyone. Maybe people like being preached at, or maybe people prefer spoken word poetry (which is well-documented on this blog that I don't personally care for). I didn't dive as much into the musical aspect of TPAB as I had hoped, but for the most part, I felt the music was kind of an afterthought had by Kendrick after he had already laid out the themes for what he was going to pursue.

      I've listened to exactly one-half of one song from Tetsuo & Youth. I don't really go out seeking Lupe Fiasco stuff. As far as I'm concerned, he had his chance.

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    2. AnonymousMay 31, 2015

      Fucking SLAUGHTERHOUSE had their chance, but you still go out to listen to (and review) their crap.

      Delete
    3. My blog, my rules. There's still an open invitation for anyone else to contribute their thoughts on Lupe, but I don't plan on doing it in the foreseeable future.

      Delete
  29. Cool,but not classic.Sounds like Del The Funky Homosapien back in the 90's. I considered that near classic.

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  30. I kinda expected you to feel this way.
    As a huge fan of jazz, and to a lesser extent funk, I thought the music on this album was breathtaking.
    Kendrick's lyrics were definitely tougher than on GKMC and his flow wasn't as immaculate, but for me, this album has had insane replay value.

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  31. Gawd Max, sometimes I feel you go into these reviews deliberately looking for things to trash upon. Like with "King Kunta", you don't have a word to say about it's groove, it's fun factor.

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    1. That's because I don't like "King Kunta" all that much. Shocking, I know.

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  32. this really is an album that requires you to be in the right mindstate and to listen all the way through, and i think its actually going to be one with some very very long lasting appeal despite what anyone may think of it right now

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    1. Sure. You could be dead on. But as this is just my "Gut Reaction", I tend to go with how I feel at the time of the writing.

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  33. I find usually myself disagreeing with at least half of what you say in your album reviews. However this one was spot fucking on. Especially everything you said in the "Last Word" segment.

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  34. Nah dead this is a great album which I listen to everyday! King Kendrick has delivered with this one!

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  35. King Kunta is a great track as is Mortal Man, I was also very impressed with Rapsodys verse on Complexion - Max, you should give her album "She Got Game" a spin when you have the time as it shits on anything put out by Nikki Minaj or that complete joke to the industry Iggy Azalea.

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    1. Maybe if I ever get around to doing another series that focuses on female emcees. I liked her contribution, too.

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  36. Quality Album! Will be looked on as a classic in about 3 years time.

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    1. Well, at least you're allowing for time in between the album release date and its alleged "classic" status, unlike a lot of folks on the Interweb.

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  37. Max can you please review The Kendrick Lamar EP and Overly Dedicated, both these albums are better than GKMC in my humble opinion. Great review by the way, keep up the good work g!

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  38. I totally agree. A very important album but very much not entertaining. So dense and at times confusing that I didn't find much of it enjoyable. Weeks later, after reading every lyric and digesting as much of it as I care to, I haven't played it again and maybe won't ever

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  39. You went mad! This album will be played throughout the ages, how exactly is it confusing?! You probably just don't understand it g, oh well not your fault, just know that not all rappers aspire to create albums that have bouncy, bullshit pop tinged beats with forgettable lyrics and random guests popping up on every track except the "Intro"! Kendrick did good with this album, its better than GKMC I can tell you that for free!

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    1. I disagree, obviously, and I'd hate to find out what kind of opinion you'd give me if you charged money.

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  40. Brilliant album its been out for a month and I'm still playing it so that dead's your theory (and anybody else's for that matter) about it having no replay value!

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    1. Sure, I still listen to "The Blacker The Berry", too. But I haven't touched the rest of the album since writing this review, and there are a lot of people who have done the same. Just because you're physically capable of playing the album over and over again doesn't mean it has replay value.

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  41. I've enjoyed reading your blog for years, but this review is the first time I've felt compelled to reply. I just wanted to say that I've had no problem spinning this album at both gatherings and at least one large event that might as well have been called a "party." None of the guests found it difficult or uncomfortable at all; everyone seems to enjoy it every time it's played. Maybe I just have cooler friends than you do. :) Anyhow, keep up the good work.

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    1. Kind of hard to discern someone's "enjoyment" of music playing at a party if the music isn't the sole reason for said gathering: I'm guessing you didn't sit everyone down in the living room for a listening session, it was just playing in the background? And I find that I enjoy a lot of different music if enough alcohol is provided.

      Thanks for reading!

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  42. Great album.. not so great review.

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  43. Thanks, bro. Lol.

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  44. I like "Alright" just the way Kendrick starts that song and his flow throughout it is on point. "The Blacker The Berry" and "How Much A Dollar Cost" are my favourite tracks though. I eagerly await a review of either his first or second album Max, I'm 90% positive that you would enjoy either of them better than TPAB while at the same time realizing that Kendrick had planned an album like this way back in 2009 (when The Kendrick Lamar EP dropped).

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  45. AnonymousMay 01, 2015

    wow 70 plus comments max be swimming in the money now

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    1. Yep. Large sums of cash coming my way because of these posts sure would be awesome.

      Delete
  46. AnonymousMay 12, 2015

    Still playing this album, you find new depths too it on each repeated listen which I must say is quite rewarding. If you have got an issue with it your just Boo Boo!

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  47. AnonymousMay 12, 2015

    As a White hip hop head I fully respect the effort Kendrick put into this future classic record.

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  48. AnonymousMay 20, 2015

    Listen carefully to the conversation with Pac and the poem Kendrick recites at the very end, you will realise that this album is really meant to be called 2PimpACaterpillar. The similarities between Pac n Kendrick are plain to see irrespective of their contrasting styles. Brilliant album.

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  49. AnonymousJune 04, 2015

    I realized that still.

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  50. AnonymousJune 04, 2015

    I put a couple of my bredrins onto this album and they were shocked at how much better it is compared to GKMC. 80th!!! comment on this, the most reviews I've seen for an album on this blog.

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  51. AnonymousJune 08, 2015

    I'm still playing this great album so fuck all y'all who think this has no replay value!

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  52. There go Max showing his true colors again LOL. How the fuck is this forgettable ass album more important than Kendricks? People are still talking about TPAB, nobody is even still listening to this shit Smh. You sound like one of the hipsters that work for Complex who prefers rappers talking about killing each other than putting a message in their music. You like what you like cool.. but dont try to diss Kendricks album to prop up this half ass by Dre. Disrespect Smh. Just say you cant relate to the messages on TPAB instead of just spewing out nonsense. No replay value, huh? He should make street music like the Wu and youll love it more.

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