Album review: Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Butterfly’ is a modern hip-hop masterpiece

Max Plenke

Five stars

Kendrick Lamar To Pimp a Butterfly

Kendrick Lamar’s latest isn’t just an amazing second big-label record, backed up with and produced by titans in their own right. To Pimp a Butterfly is a response. It’s hope that Compton’s very own can lead a charge for social change, an incredibly necessary confrontation to a series of unanswered questions. Specifically: What the hell is going on right now?

The album has its hits (the Pharrell-produced “Alright,” the Isley Brothers-sampling “i,” the Assassin-assisted “The Blacker the Berry”), monstrous excursions into jazz and spoken word and free-form insanity all, and molds other artists will inevitably go crazy trying to fill. But this album isn’t for the singles. How could Lamar write another “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe” when “u,” a self-reflective assault both jarring and sincere, was threatening to pour out? How could he write another “Swimming Pools (Drank)” when staring down the barrel of police brutality, its incredibly dark headlines dripping down the face of the national media and pooled at the feet of culture’s consciousness?

These are songs that need to be heard, for present’s sake. And what’s reassuring is they are. Butterfly reached a Spotify record-breaking 9.6 million streams its first day up. That means Lamar’s mainstream appeal will finally put something important in front of masses who badly needed a beacon of hope in a hurricane of contrived pseudo-contemporaries.

When we look back on music of the early 21st century, this will be a standout. Lamar’s last record, Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City, made a lasting impression on hip-hop. But To Pimp a Butterfly will make a lasting impression on damn near everything.

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