When Kendrick Lamar surprisingly dropped his album To Pimp a Butterfly a few weeks ago, a hip hop fan friend of mine called it the greatest hip hop album since Lamar’s last release. That’s the kind of hyperbole that makes me immediately suspicious of any album. But as the weeks have past, too many reviews have appeared saying basically the same thing. Even Patterson Hood of Drive-By Truckers felt compelled to chime in and sing its praises. That was when I knew it was an album I needed to hear. But before that, I thought I should get some context and Lamar history, by listening to his previous record, good kid, m.A.Ad city.
Immediately, Sherane AKA Master Splinter’s Daughter, makes me realise that the hype around Lamar might be more than just hype. The beats and production are pretty cool, but it’s Lamar’s work on the mic that stands out. It sounds like you could whack this dude’s voice on any old beat, or no beat at all, and it would be impossible to ignore. Even the super annoying, robotic chorus refrain of Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe can take away from the awesome flow of Lamar in the verses.
Comparing himself to Martin Luther King Jr might not be the most sensitive or intelligent thing for Lamar to do, but I do know that it’s pretty ballsy. And I also know that it’s just one small part of a whole lot of awesome that is Backstreet Freestyle. And while that track is all about the herky jerky visceral edge, The Art of Peer Pressure delivers just as much impact through its silky smooth rhythms and liquid feel.
With good kid, Lamar piles on absolutely everything. Amazing verses of passion, an irresistible vocal hook in the chorus, and the most accessible beats on the album up to this point. While everything before it is challenging (in a great way), this is the kind of track that would make sense to me if it blew up the charts. Which is what makes it the perfect match to its evil twin, m.A.A.d city. And while I usually think hip albums rely too much on collaborations in general, MC Eiht totally kills this song in the second half, making it one of the albums real highlights.
While I could do with a little less of the dodgy effects on the vocals whenever Lamar sings instead of raps, that’s one very small downside amidst a shit load of upsides. good kid, m.A.Ad city makes my friend’s hyperbolic praise seem kind of on the money. It also makes me officially pumped to hear what Kendrick Lamar has done with To Pimp a Butterfly, an album that what I’m told is greatest hip hop album since good kid, m.A.Ad city.