|To Pimp a Butterfly|
|Studio album by|
|Released||March 15, 2015|
|Kendrick Lamar chronology|
|Singles from To Pimp a Butterfly|
To Pimp a Butterfly is the third studio album by American rapper Kendrick Lamar. It was released on March 15, 2015, by Top Dawg Entertainment, distributed by Aftermath Entertainment and Interscope Records. The album was recorded in studios throughout the United States, with production from Sounwave, Terrace Martin, Taz "Tisa" Arnold, Thundercat, Rahki, LoveDragon, Flying Lotus, Pharrell Williams, Boi-1da, Knxwledge, and several other high-profile hip hop producers, as well as executive production from Dr. Dre and Anthony "Top Dawg" Tiffith. Guest appearances include Thundercat, George Clinton, Bilal, Anna Wise, Snoop Dogg, James Fauntleroy, Ronald Isley, and Rapsody.
The music of To Pimp a Butterfly incorporates a variety of styles from traditional African-American music, including jazz, funk, soul, spoken word, and avant-garde. Lyrically, it features political commentary and personal themes concerning African-American culture, racial inequality, depression, and institutional discrimination. This thematic direction was inspired by Lamar's tour of historic sites during his visit to South Africa, such as Nelson Mandela's jail cell on Robben Island.
To Pimp a Butterfly sold 324,000 copies in the US in its first week of release, earning a chart debut at number one on the US Billboard 200, while also becoming Lamar's first number-one album in the UK. It was eventually certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and sold one million copies in the US by 2017. Five singles were released in promotion of the album, including the top 40 hit "I". Lamar also supported the album with the Kunta's Groove Sessions Tour from late 2015 to early 2016.
To Pimp a Butterfly received widespread acclaim from critics, who praised its musical scope and the social relevance of Lamar's lyrics. It earned Lamar 11 nominations at the 2016 Grammy Awards, which was the most nominations for any rapper in a single night, including wins for Best Rap Album and an Album of the Year nomination. The most acclaimed album of 2015, it topped The Village Voices annual Pazz & Jop poll of American critics nationwide, and was also ranked as the best album of 2015 by many other publications. In the years following its release, several publications have named it one of the best albums of the decade.
On February 28, 2014, Kendrick Lamar first revealed the plans to release a follow-up to his second studio album, Good Kid, M.A.A.D City (2012), during an interview with Billboard. Between the releases of Good Kid, M.A.A.D City and To Pimp a Butterfly, Lamar traveled to South Africa. Touring the country and visiting historic sites such as Nelson Mandela's jail cell on Robben Island heavily influenced the direction of the record and led to Lamar scrapping "two or three albums worth of material".
Co-producer Sounwave spoke on Lamar's visit, saying, "I remember he [Lamar] took a trip to [South] Africa and something in his mind just clicked. For me, that's when this album really started." Regarding his visit to South Africa, Lamar said, "I felt like I belonged in Africa. I saw all the things that I wasn't taught. Probably one of the hardest things to do is put [together] a concept on how beautiful a place can be, and tell a person this while they're still in the ghettos of Compton. I wanted to put that experience in the music." In addition, Lamar said, "The idea was to make a record that reflected all complexions of black women. There's a separation between the light and the dark skin because it's just in our nature to do so, but we're all black. This concept came from South Africa and I saw all these different colors speaking a beautiful language."
To Pimp a Butterfly was recorded at a variety of studios; including Chalice Recording Studios, Downtown Studios, House Studios, Notifi Studios and No Excuses Studios. Lamar wrote the lyrics to the song "Mortal Man" while on Kanye West's Yeezus Tour. During the whole tour, producer Flying Lotus played Lamar a selection of tracks that was intended for Captain Murphy's album (Flying Lotus's alter ego). Lamar kept all the tracks, but only opener "Wesley's Theory", which also features Thundercat and George Clinton, made the final cut onto the album. Lotus had produced a version of "For Sale? (Interlude)" that was ultimately discarded, with Lamar using Taz Arnold's version of the song on the album instead. Lotus stated that it is unlikely his version of the song will see a release. American rapper Rapsody appeared on the album, contributing a verse to the song "Complexion (A Zulu Love)". Lamar had requested that 9th Wonder contact Rapsody and request her appearance. Rapsody and Lamar discussed the song but there was little instruction from Lamar regarding her contribution. Speaking about the song, she stated that Lamar had already decided on the concept of the song and stated that the only instructions he gave were the song's title and the idea that "...we are beautiful no matter our race but he really wanted to speak to our people and address this light versus dark complex".
In 2014, Pharrell Williams, who previously worked with Lamar, along with producer Sounwave, played the "Alright"-track at the Holy Ship Festival. The track features the same unidentified sample that Williams used on Rick Ross' track "Presidential" from his album God Forgives, I Don't (2012). Reportedly, at one time it featured a guest appearance from American rapper Fabolous. The album went through three different phases before the production team could move forward with the idea. Afterwards, producer Thundercat was brought into the process, after Flying Lotus brought him along to see Lamar's performance on The Yeezus Tour. The album's lead single, titled "I", was produced by Rahki, who also produced a song for the album entitled "Institutionalized". Although the version of "I" appearing on the album is drastically different from that on the single release, both versions contained a sample of the song "That Lady" performed by The Isley Brothers. Lamar personally visited The Isley Brothers, to receive permission from lead vocalist Ronald Isley to sample the song.
Lamar began traveling to St. Louis and began working with Isley at the studio. Isley also performed on the song "How Much a Dollar Cost" alongside the singer-songwriter James Fauntleroy. Producer and rapper Pete Rock provided some backing vocals and scratches to the song "Complexion (A Zulu Love)", and as he stated, the contribution was unusual, as he was not the producer for the track. Singer Bilal features on the songs "Institutionalized" and "These Walls", and has provided un-credited backing vocals on the songs "U", "For Sale? (Interlude)", "Momma" and "Hood Politics". Bilal stated that he and Lamar were initially unsure of how many songs he would be featured on, stating he worked on various tracks, but did not yet know the outcome. "For a lot of the material, Kendrick had a idea of what he wanted. He would sing out the melody and some of the words, and I would interpret what he was telling me." On the songs where Bilal added backing vocals, he stated that "...some of it was freestyle; just adding color to make it a fuller sound." Lamar also reportedly worked with American musician Prince, however, the duo were too pressed for time during the recording session and therefore were unable to complete any work for inclusion on the album. Lamar professed to having listened often to Miles Davis and Parliament-Funkadelic during the album's recording.
In 2016, Lamar released Untitled Unmastered, a compilation album, which contains previously unreleased demos that originated during the recording of To Pimp a Butterfly. According to producer Thundercat, it "completes the sentence" of Lamar's third studio album.
According to musicologist Will Fulton, To Pimp a Butterfly engages in and celebrates the black music tradition. Much like the singer D'Angelo on his 2014 album Black Messiah, Lamar "consciously indexes African American musical styles of the past in a dynamic relationship of nostalgic revivalism and vanguardism." Kyle Anderson of Entertainment Weekly described the album as "embracing the entire history of black American music." Lamar's co-engineer/mixer MixedByAli praised Lamar, saying, "[Lamar is] a sponge. He incorporated everything that was going on [in Africa] and in his life to complete a million-piece puzzle." Lamar described the album as an "honest, fearful and unapologetic" work that draws on funk, hard bop, spoken word and soul while critics also noted elements of West Coast hip hop and avant-garde. Allison Stewart from The Washington Post says the album is "threaded" with G-funk. Speaking on the album's styles, co-producer Terrace Martin said, "If you dig deeper you hear the lineage of James Brown, Jackie Wilson, Mahalia Jackson, the sounds of Africa, and our people when they started over here. I hear something different every time. I heard Cuban elements in it the other day."
Stereogum described To Pimp a Butterfly as an "ambitious avant-jazz-rap statement," and The Source categorized the album as an experimental hip hop release. Dan Weiss of Spin noted "shades of Miles Davis' On the Corner and free jazz all over [...], as well as Sly Stone's There's a Riot Goin' On and Funkadelic and Erykah Badu's similarly wah-crazy but comparatively lo-fi New Amerykah (4th World War)," but stated nonetheless that "the sense of this album is vividly contemporary."Greg Kot of Chicago Tribune also noted the album's affinities with previous black music, but argued that "Lamar takes familiar musical tropes into new territory."The Atlantic noted the influence of collaborator Flying Lotus, writing that "his signature sound--jazz instrumentation and hip-hop layered into chaotic collages--is all over the album." Steve Mallon of The Quietus noted an "eerily warped psychedelia bursting out of its idiosyncratic arrangements."
The album explores a variety of political and personal themes related to race, culture, and discrimination. Critic Neil Kulkarni said it appraises "the broken promises and bloody pathways in and out of America's heartland malaise", while Billboard categorized it as a "politically-charged" conscious rap album,Jay Caspian Kang observed elements of critical race theory, respectability politics, theology, and meta-analysis examining Lamar's success and revered status in the hip hop community. It was compared by California State University, Fullerton professor Natalie Graham to the 1977 television miniseries Roots. While "Roots compresses and simplifies" black history, Graham said To Pimp a Butterfly "radically disrupt[s] meanings of black respectability, heroic morality, trauma, and memory."
In the Toronto Journal of Theology, James D. McLeod Jr. drew parallels between Lamar's examination of death's domineering significance in the African-American experience and the works of Christian theologian Paul Tillich, with McLeod calling To Pimp a Butterfly an original example of "existentialist hip hop." Meanwhile, Adam Blum discerned connections between To Pimp a Butterfly and the writings of psychoanalysts such as Wilfred Bion, Nicolas Abraham, and Sigmund Freud. In an essay published in The Lancet Psychiatry, University of Cambridge professors Akeem Sule and Becky Inkster described Lamar as the "street poet of mental health," noting how To Pimp a Butterfly (as well as its predecessor, Good Kid, M.A.A.D City) explore topics such as addiction, anxiety, depression, and resilience.
The album continues a nuanced dialogue about weighty topics that affect the African-American community. Releasing his album in a time of renewed black activism, Lamar's song "Alright" has become a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement. With lyrics like "and we hate po-po / Wanna kill us dead in the street fo sho, nigga" he makes it clear that he is supportive of the movement and the families of black men and women like Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, and others who have fallen victim to police brutality in the United States. Lamar takes his opinions further to lend his position on black crime in the song "The Blacker the Berry". He criticizes himself and his community by rapping, "So why did I weep when Trayvon Martin was in the street? / When gang bangin' make me kill a nigga blacker than me?". Some critics claim that his attitude facilitates the rhetoric that silences the Black Lives Matter movement. Stereo Williams of The Daily Beast wrote in response to his lyrics that "it's dangerous to use that violence as a silencing tactic when the public is angry about the systematic subjugation of black people."
Lamar has offered explanations of the meanings behind songs such as "Wesley's Theory" and "King Kunta". The album's, 70s funk inspired, opening track, "Wesley's Theory", is a reference to Wesley Snipes and how the actor was jailed for tax evasion; according to Lamar, "no one teaches poor black males how to manage money or celebrity, so if they do achieve success, the powers that be can take it from right under them". "For Free? (Interlude)" sees Lamar rapping in a dense, spoken word-esque manner with musical accompaniment by jazz pianist Robert Glasper.
"King Kunta" is concerned with the "history of negative stereotypes all African-Americans have to reconcile". Lamar also explained his criticism of rappers who use ghostwriters on "King Kunta", revealing that he came to prominence as a ghostwriter, and has respect for writers, but says that "as a new artist, you have to stand behind your work."
"These Walls" has been described by Billboard as "pondering sex and existence in equal measure; it's a yoni metaphor about the power of peace, with sugar walls being escape and real walls being obstacles." Lamar revealed that "U" was inspired by his own experience of depression and suicidal thoughts. He also mentioned feelings of survivor's guilt as inspirations for the album. "Alright" begins as a spoken-word treatise before exploding into a shapeshifting portrait of America that brings in jazz horns, skittering drum beats and Lamar's mellifluous rapping as he struggles with troubles and temptations. Yet at the end of each verse, he reassures himself that "We gon' be alright"--a simple rallying cry for a nation reeling from gun violence and police brutality. For critics a "celebration of being alive", Lamar described "Alright" as a message of hope. "The Blacker the Berry" features a "boom bap beat" and lyrics that celebrate Lamar's African-American heritage and "tackle hatred, racism, and hypocrisy head on." The song's hook is performed by Jamaican dancehall artist Assassin, notable for performing on Kanye West's 2013 LP Yeezus, whose lyrics similarly address racial inequality, specifically against African Americans.
The album was originally going to be titled Tu Pimp a Caterpillar, a backronym for Tu.P.A.C., itself an allusion to the rapper Tupac. Lamar decided to replace "caterpillar" in the original title to "butterfly", which he explained in an interview for MTV, "I just really wanted to show the brightness of life and the word 'pimp' has so much aggression and that represents several things. For me, it represents using my celebrity for good. Another reason is, not being pimped by the industry through my celebrity ... It gets even deeper than that for me. I could be talking all day about it." Lamar later also told Rolling Stone, "Just putting the word 'pimp' next to 'butterfly'... It's a trip. That's something that will be a phrase forever. It'll be taught in college courses--I truly believe that."
The album's CD release included a booklet produced with braille letterings; according to Lamar, these characters when translated reveal the "actual full title of the album."Complex commissioned a braille translator, who found that it translated to A Kendrick by Letter Blank Lamar which Complex noted was most likely supposed to read as A Blank Letter by Kendrick Lamar.
The album's release was preceded by the release of two singles, "I", on September 23, 2014, and "The Blacker the Berry" in February 2015. The former became Lamar's sixth top-40 single on the US Billboard Hot 100 and was performed on Saturday Night Live. "King Kunta" was released as the third single in March 2015, and "Alright" was released to radio stations on June 30. With the latter's release, several contemporary progressive news outlets, including BET, raised the idea of "Alright" being the modern Black National Anthem, while the media reported youth-lead protests against police brutality across the country chanted the chorus of the song. Primarily for the latter, Lamar was featured on Ebony magazine's Power 100, an annual list that recognizes many leaders of the African-American community. "These Walls" was released as the album's fifth single on October 13. Aside from the singles' accompanying music videos, the song "For Free? (Interlude)" also featured visuals, as did "U" with "For Sale? (Interlude)" as part of the short film God Is Gangsta. In support of the album, Lamar embarked on the Kunta's Groove Sessions Tour, which included eight shows in eight cities during October and November.
To Pimp a Butterfly was first released to the iTunes Store and Spotify on March 15, 2015, eight days ahead of its scheduled release date. According to Anthony Tiffith, CEO of Top Dawg Entertainment, the album's early release was unintentional, apparently caused by an error on the part of Interscope Records. The following day, it was made unavailable on iTunes, and the release was rescheduled for March 23, although it was still available for streaming on Spotify. In its first week of release, To Pimp a Butterfly debuted at number one on record charts in the United Kingdom, Australia, and the United States, where it recorded first-week sales of 324,000 copies. The album was streamed 9.6 million times in its first day on Spotify, setting the service's global first-day streaming record. By the end of 2015, To Pimp a Butterfly was ranked the sixteenth most popular album on the Billboard 200 that year and reached sales of one million copies worldwide. By March 2016, it had sold 850,000 copies in the US, where it was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). In June 2017, it reached one million copies sold in the US.
|Album of the Year||95/100|
|The Daily Telegraph|||
|The Irish Times|||
To Pimp a Butterfly was met with widespread critical acclaim. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from professional publications, the album received an average score of 96, based on 44 reviews. Aggregator AnyDecentMusic? gave it 9.3 out of 10, based on their assessment of the critical consensus.Album of the Year assessed the critical consensus as 95 out of 100, based on 41 reviews. According to Gigwise writer Will Butler, it was universally hailed by critics as an "instant classic".
Spin magazine's Dan Weiss regarded To Pimp a Butterfly as the "Great American Hip-Hop Album" and an essential listen, while Neil McCormick from The Daily Telegraph called it a dense but dazzling masterpiece. Writing for Entertainment Weekly, Kyle Anderson found the record twice as substantial as Lamar's debut major label album and more comprehensive of African-American music styles, with supremely "cinematic" production qualities but "the freedom of a mixtape".Irish Times journalist Jim Carroll deemed it "a record for the times we're in", in which Lamar transitioned from his past narratives about Compton to fierce but precise reflections on "black America". In Rolling Stone, Greg Tate deemed To Pimp a Butterfly "a masterpiece of fiery outrage, deep jazz and ruthless self-critique" that along with D'Angelo's third album Black Messiah, made 2015 "the year radical Black politics and for-real Black music resurged in tandem to converge on the nation's pop mainstream."Robert Christgau wrote in his review on Cuepoint that not many artists were as passionate and understanding as Lamar, who offered "a strong, brave effective bid to reinstate hip hop as black America's CNN" during an era of social media.New York Times critic Jon Caramanica was less enthusiastic, feeling Lamar still struggled in reconciling his density as a lyricist with the music he rapped over: "He hasn't outrun his tendency towards clutter [and] still runs the risk of suffocation." In The Guardian, Alexis Petridis found the music somewhat erratic and lamented "moments of self-indulgence" such as the twelve-minute "Mortal Man" and Lamar's reflections on fame.
At the end of 2015, To Pimp a Butterfly was the most frequently ranked record in top ten lists of the year's best albums. According to Metacritic, it appeared 101 times in the top ten of lists published by critics, magazines, websites, and music stores. The record topped 51 lists, including those by Rolling Stone, Billboard, Pitchfork, Slant Magazine, Spin, The Guardian, Complex, Consequence of Sound, The Irish Times, and Vice.NME ranked it second on their list, while Time named it the year's third best album. It was voted the best album of 2015 in the Pazz & Jop, an annual poll of American critics nationwide, published by The Village Voice. Christgau, the Pazz & Jop's creator, ranked it fourth in his ballot for the poll. The album placed ninth in British magazine The Wires annual critics' poll. Based on such rankings, the aggregate website Acclaimed Music lists To Pimp a Butterfly as the most critically acclaimed album of 2015.
On their lists of best albums of the decade, The Independent placed it first,Consequence of Sound second,Rolling Stone third, and Pitchfork fourth. In The Guardians 2019 poll of 45 music journalists, To Pimp a Butterfly was voted the fourth best album of the 21st century, and contributing writer Ben Beaumont-Thomas said in an accompanying that, "as a celebration of the richness of black artistry, the whole album was a riposte to bigotry." Similarly, in her March 2015 review of the album for The Verge, editor and journalist Micah Singleton had hailed it as "the best album of the 21st century, the best hip-hop album since The Notorious B.I.G.'s Ready to Die and Nas' Illmatic in 1994, and it cements Kendrick Lamar's spot as an all-time great."
To Pimp a Butterfly also earned Lamar 11 nominations at the 2016 Grammy Awards, which was the most nominations for any rapper in a single night. It was nominated in the categories of Album of the Year and Best Rap Album, winning the latter but losing the former to Taylor Swift's 1989. "Alright" won for Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song while also being nominated for Song of the Year and Best Music Video. "These Walls" won for Best Rap/Sung Performance. At the previous year's ceremony, "i" had won Grammy Awards for Best Rap Song and Best Rap Performance.To Pimp a Butterfly also received a nomination for Top Rap Album at the 2016 Billboard Music Awards.
The album's immediate influence was felt as "a pantheon for racial empowerment", according to Butler, who also argued that the record helped create a respected space for conscious hip hop and "will be revered not just at the top of some list at the end of the year, but in the subconscious of music fans for decades to come". Writing for Highsnobiety, Robert Blair said, "[To Pimp a Butterfly] is the crystallized moment in time where Kendrick became a generation's most potent artistic voice."Uproxx journalist Aaron Williams said the album "proved that left-field, experimental rap can function in both the critical and commercial realms". Jazz saxophonist Kamasi Washington said that the album "changed music, and we're still seeing the effects of it [...] [the album] meant that intellectually stimulating music doesn't have to be underground. It just didn't change the music. It changed the audience."To Pimp a Butterfly was an influence on David Bowie's 2016 album Blackstar. As its producer Tony Visconti recalled, he and Bowie were "listening to a lot of Kendrick Lamar [...] we loved the fact Kendrick was so open-minded and he didn't do a straight-up hip-hop record. He threw everything on there, and that's exactly what we wanted to do." Prince highlighted that he was a fan of To Pimp a Butterfly and Lamar in an interview, saying, "[Lamar] just has something to say [...] [To Pimp a Butterfly is] pure. And with Thundercat on the album? Come on. You're not taking "Alright" off my playlist!"
Credits adapted from the album's liner notes.
|1.||"Wesley's Theory" (featuring George Clinton and Thundercat)||4:47|
|2.||"For Free? (Interlude)"||Martin||2:10|
|4.||"Institutionalized" (featuring Bilal, Anna Wise and Snoop Dogg)||4:31|
|5.||"These Walls" (featuring Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat)||5:00|
|8.||"For Sale? (Interlude)"||4:51|
|11.||"How Much a Dollar Cost" (featuring James Fauntleroy and Ronald Isley)||LoveDragon||4:21|
|12.||"Complexion (A Zulu Love)" (featuring Rapsody)||4:23|
|13.||"The Blacker the Berry"||5:28|
|14.||"You Ain't Gotta Lie (Momma Said)"||LoveDragon||4:01|
|Denmark (IFPI Denmark)||Platinum||20,000|
|United Kingdom (BPI)||Gold||170,000|
|United States (RIAA)||Platinum||1,000,000|
^shipments figures based on certification alone