Rapper Kendrick Lamar challenges his listeners, but the way he packages the messages he delivers through is music is what propelled his third album, To Pimp a Butterfly, to set a new first-day streaming record on Spotify. Lamar cloaks his messages in some of the most exciting, pulse-quickening lyrics and songs he has ever sung, rivaling in the eyes of some his hit album from 2012, good kid, m.A.A.d city.
Drake owned the record for how many times an album was streamed on Spotify previous to Kendrick Lamar. Drake’s latest album, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, was streamed on Spotify 6.8 million times in a single day. By contrast, Kendrick Lamar’s album, To Pimp a Butterfly, destroyed that old record by being streamed 9.6 million times in a day.
What has made Kendrick Lamar’s album so popular is that he speaks from the heart, and the songs off of To Pimp a Butterfly deal with issues that are very much on the minds of many of his fans. For example, he asks questions with the songs about what it means to be a leader and a role model and take charge.
The songs that Kendrick Lamar sings are stories that are among hip-hop’s most dynamic and creative ones ever written. The stories are filled with three-dimensional characters and he sings about places that are real. His songs capture moments and scenes in time, and his words are ones that a lot of people who enjoy Kendrick Lamar’s music can easily relate to and they have sometimes gone through similar situations.
The original date that Kendrick Lamar’s album had been scheduled to be released was on March 23. Instead, it became available on Spotify on March 15. Three days later, and Kendrick Lamar’s fans and music critics are comparing To Pimp a Butterfly to good kid, m.A.A.d city, which is an album is so verbally cinematic that a statement on the cover calls it “a short film by Kendrick Lamar,” according to Time.
Kendrick Lamar’s album To Pimp a Butterfly is a play on the title of Harper Lee’s literary masterpiece, To Kill a Mockingbird. Lamar takes some of the same sorts of themes he sang about on good kid, m.A.A.d city, and takes them in different directions. For instance, Kendrick Lamar starts off singing a song, on both albums, about scheming on a woman, but on good kid, m.A.A.d city, he incorporates his own personal experiences into the song. With his take of the subject on To Pimp a Butterfly, he is singing more about “the black condition,” as Jamieson Cox, the author of the Time article, brilliantly puts it.
On many of the songs that make up To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick Lamar sings about what it is like to be a black man in America today. There is still a lot of racial injustice that is going on, with the shooting of Tamir Rice and Trevon Martin, police brutality, the riots in Ferguson following the shooting death of Michael Brown, being some of the better-known examples.
Corporate industries are also targeted, as Kendrick Lamar says that they often use black singers and athletes for their own gains. In effect, the industries “pimp out butterflies,” getting richer off of the backs and talents that others possess, searching out and preying on black musical artists and sports figures.
Kendrick Lamar has delivered an album that has very catchy and listenable songs on it, but it cannot be called an album that is necessarily easy to listen to, as the songs on it make listeners think about some very weighty topics. It is a rich musical and verbal tapestry of life, depicting various sides in the social issues that confront people on a daily basis. The songs raise questions like what is better, book smarts or street smarts, in certain situations, and topics like gang violence.
While Kendrick Lamar’s latest album, To Pimp a Butterfly, is a very listenable one, resulting in it breaking Drake’s record of being streamed the most times in one day at Spotify, it is also a thinking man’s sort of album. It is a lyrical masterpiece, perhaps as good or even in some ways a bit better than good kid, m.A.A.d city. Lamar’s latest album will very likely continue breaking records for a while to come.
Written By Douglas Cobb