One Week Later, A “To Pimp A Butterfly” Reader

It has now been a week since Kendrick Lamar unexpectedly released To Pimp a Butterfly. It didn’t take long for the reacts, thinkpieces, and hot takes to roll in, including writers pretending that they had sufficiently digested the album within hours of its release, as well as writers on major platforms complaining about how the album wasn’t “fun to actually listen to.”

Well, fuck that noise.

Here are a few pieces on Butterfly worth reading:

To Pimp a Butterfly Review (Craig Jenkins for Pitchfork)

I don’t love much of Pitchfork’s writing on hip-hop, but I found Jenkins’ review of To Pimp a Butterfly keenly insightful. Jenkins illuminates what this album means against the backdrop of both the manifestations of injustice and Kendrick’s “respectability politics”-ish comments: “This is an album about tiny quality of life improvements to be made in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. It might not be the message we want in a year where systemic police and judicial inequality have cost many the ultimate price, but that doesn’t bankrupt it of value.”

To Pimp a Butterfly Review (Justin Charity for Complex)

“Where good kid, m.A.A.d. city was literature of a time, a place, and precious personal details, the Kendrick Lamar of To Pimp a Butterfly is a disembodied outpouring of rage, dread, and irreverence. “

The Overwhelming Blackness of Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly (Clover Hope for The Muse at Jezebel)

In this piece, Hope is not so much concerned with deciphering what the album means as she is with the blackness of the album, and how she experiences that: “I still can’t remove the knot in my throat at the thought of having to consume this or the feeling that this type of music provokes. It’s funny how much the suffocation of writing about it overlaps with the reality of experiencing it, and how Kendrick has managed to capture that: The dailyness and beauty of black.”

On Kendrick Lamar and Black Humanity (Carvell Wallace for Pitchfork)

Wallace observes how To Pimp a Butterfly is an album that frustrates attempts by white consumers to prove that they’re “down” by their consumption of hip-hop (you can extend that to NBPOC consumers, as well): “Kendrick’s hip-hop is not the hip-hop that allows white guys to breathe. He does not break off pieces of blackness as a hood souvenir that you can post on your wall or bump in your car in order to feel like it’s all good. He doesn’t even mention you at all. It is not about you. It is about him and his complete humanity.”

Loving U Is Complicated (Carl Wilson for Slate)

Wilson’s piece asks, “How should white listeners approach the “overwhelming blackness” of Kendrick Lamar’s brilliant new album?” To work through this question, Wilson brings in Claudia Rankine’s poetry on micro-aggressions, as well as Kenneth Goldsmith’s recent use of Michael Brown’s autopsy as “a piece of found poetry.”

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One comment

  1. stepping aside for a minute from the thought provoking and steady-handed content… the production is near perfect. i read in a sounwave interview that they started working on the record about a week after ‘good kid’ dropped – that’s a long time to be working on a record when most rappers are pooping out mixtapes built using whatever beat sounded best when they were on lean the night before – and it shows. terrence martin shows up beautifully, pushing the lines of late 20th century style jazz into pop music again, sounwave brings in the dark brooding kendrick-on-TDE sound that is borderline nostalgic to listeners now.

    fuckin awesome

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