Kendrick Krazy | Kyle Kim
Seven years ago, on March 15 of 2015, Kendrick Lamar released what many consider to be his magnum opus: “To Pimp a Butterfly.” This album, which served as a defining moment for hip hop, music at large, and perhaps even the Black experience in America, managed to propose some of the most thought-provoking messages of 21st-century music while simultaneously cementing Lamar as a creative visionary and musical genius. Thus, in honor of “To Pimp a Butterfly’s” anniversary, here are some of the many highlights from this timeless classic.
“Wesley’s Theory” (feat. George Clinton and Thundercat)
A great album intro makes a statement about the album’s lyrical themes, sound, and general direction. Perhaps no song embodies this idea more than “Wesley’s Theory,” whose beginning sample, funky basslines, and laments about the music industry sets a precedent for the upcoming tracks. It also upfrontly asserts that this album is complex and hard-hitting. Metaphors abound, double entendre is commonplace, and Lamar pulls no punches in his criticisms of the police, exploitative music executives, and even himself. It’s fresh, exciting, and uncompromising in its quality.
This was the second single from the album and serves as a catchy, funky anthem of self-affirmation and growth. It’s also beautifully placed after “For Free? (Interlude),” and serves as a reassurance of the catchy and more-mainstream parts of the album after the potentially off-putting second track. The song also introduces the poem of the album, which continuously builds upon itself throughout the project and constructs a beautiful narrative by the end of the LP.
I’ve never really heard a song like this before. One that is so openly raw, so intentionally flawed, so open to criticize the protagonist of an album. The way Lamar’s voice cracks and cries throughout the song is so off-putting, yet absolutely perfect for the message. A deeper dive into the lyrics of the song provides a shockingly clear look into Lamar’s psyche at the time of writing, as well as traumatic stories discussing suicide, guilt, and loss. Even without the knowledge of the rich context of this song, Lamar’s pain is evident.
This song has served as the anthem of various civil rights groups since its release, and it’s clear to see why. It’s upbeat, triumphant, and full of pride. It pulls the listener out of the heart wrenching depression of “u” and confidently reminds them that “we gon’ be alright.” Pharrell Williams kills it on the production end, and Lamar’s punchy bars complement the vocal sample extravagantly.
A companion to “u,” this song is a masterful juxtaposition of the screaming pain of its duo. The song is a self-love anthem with a funky orchestra of instruments, layered vocals, and an interesting recording of a live performance. It’s the perfection of a feel-good song. It’s a culmination of all of the highs and lows that Lamar puts the listener through on his album, and truly makes the emotional struggle of the music have meaning.
Hopefully, you consider listening to this musical masterpiece. The songs above are perhaps some of the most accessible (excluding “u”), but the album has so much more to offer than can be summarized. In fact, if there’s any piece of music that could change your fundamental worldview, my money would be on “To Pimp a Butterfly.”