When Kendrick Lamar tells Rolling Stone that his album "To Pimp a Butterfly" (Aftermath) will be "taught in college courses someday," it is no idle boast.
In fact, "someday" should probably be today. Lamar's follow-up to the acclaimed "Good Kid, M.A.A.D City" is a raw, ambitious, messy look at race relations in America that is so densely packed with current references to Ferguson, Missouri, and Trayvon Martin, historical allusions and sociological theories that simply footnoting it all would provide enough fodder for a successful doctoral thesis. What hits harder, though, is the way Lamar speaks personally and passionately about the effects of racism in America.
"My hair is nappy . . . my nose is round and wide," he declares in "The Blacker the Berry." "You hate me, don't you? You hate my people. Your plan is to terminate my culture. You're [expletive] evil." Lamar then calls himself "the biggest hypocrite of 2015" for his own missteps against his culture.
He makes his arguments -- against racism and against himself -- using jazz, blues and funk to build a broader base for hip-hop. In the sprightly "i," built around an Isley Brothers funk sample, he works out his own esteem issues, mixing the "I love myself" chorus with reminders that "everybody lacks confidence." The flip side of this is "u," where things are far darker and his inner demons take over and he chants, "Loving you is complicated," over avant-garde jazz and thoughts of failure and hate.
In one of his more mainstream moments, Lamar channels a bit of "Dirty Mind"-era Prince on "These Walls," which doubles as a funky meditation on sex and stardom, where he reveals, "I remember you was conflicted, misusing your influence, sometimes I did the same."
"To Pimp a Butterfly," however, is actually an amazing use of Lamar's influence and impressive rapping and writing skills to take on a broad topic that most try to avoid. The risk pays off spectacularly.
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"To Pimp a Butterfly"
THE GRADE A
BOTTOM LINE Thrilling, ambitious hip-hop rage against the machine -- and himself