Tuesday, March 17, 2015

To Pimp a Butterfly; quick review

Listening fairly obsessively to the new Kendrick Lamar LP at the moment. My last.fm tells me I've racked up 99 song plays in the last day or two - am sure that'll be many many more by the weekend. It's much too early to pass judgement on 'To Pimp A Butterfly' after only five or six listens, especially as I mistakenly underestimated 'Good Kid, Maad City' on release - and only latterly realised that how incredibly rich, complex, moving and clever it is.

Something that's broadly true of his whole back catalogue. At the moment it feels like all three of his albums are classics, which puts him ahead of so many of his peers and predecessors.

By my calculation the list of rap artists who managed three consecutive classics is staggeringly short - 2pac, A Tribe Called Quest, Ice Cube and Public Enemy. That puts him ahead of Biggie, Jay-Z, Nas, Snoop, Dre, Wu Tang (although RZA managed a hell of a run if you count the solo LPs - at one point he racked up 'Only Built 4 Cuban Linx', 'Liquid Swords' & 'Ironman' a mere matter of months apart).

Anyway - Kendrick is so profoundly ahead of everyone else making rap records at the moment. The sonic palette on his new one is a perfect and logical brew given his development as an artist and the growth of his themes. Gone are the colder, harsher tones of 'Good Kid, Maad City' and in comes a warmer, more soulful sound, more in the vein of 'Section.80' (which makes sense given that GKMC speaks of a darker, earlier time than his debut).

Along with the soul comes stunning jazz instrumentation and funk breaks, drawing on the conscious rap of Native Tongues as well as the gorgeous warmth of the g-funk pioneered by Dr Dre and DJ Quik. It's the celebration of the West Coast promised by 'Compton' at the end of Good Kid, but richly developed by a rejection of gang-oriented themes and a broader enunciation of Kendrick's black consciousness. There's a lot of spoken word on this LP, including a bravura 'conversation' with 2pac at the album's close which has left the hair standing up on the back of my neck each time I've heard it.

Lyrically, Kendrick sounds like he's on amazing form, but there's so much to decipher and enjoy, and I have literally only just got started on this one. It feels like a work of genius so far.

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