I’d respect it, if you’ve managed to avoid the fact that this morning, Kendrick Lamar‘s new album To Pimp A Butterfly, the follow up to his earnestly successful good kid, m.A.A.d city album hit iTunes and Spotify a week earlier than was intended. I really would. But the unexpected and rather sincere impact the album’s had on commentators across the board today has been pretty humbling. There’s always (obviously) an element of competition for publications to reach out and stake a claim on their interpretation of the record in question and the unexpected release has had journalists clamouring to wield the correct level perspective once again. And whereas Drake’s recent If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late album dropped as a surprise digital release more as a kiss off to a label with whom it’s widely reported that he’s been unhappy with for a while, Lamar’s seems to have come today as more the victim of human error, with it dropping a week earlier than it was intended. But whatever and however it got here is kind of inconsequential now that the record’s here and that you can hear it for yourself and let it in as much as you care to. That’s why I wanted to hone in on one of the pieces that stood out the most on the first listen: ‘u’…
Billed as a contrasting companion piece to the …Butterfly project’s lead single, ‘i,’ it finds the Compton rapper shedding a lot of the fever and hype of his reputation along with ‘i’’s chorus proclamation of self-love and, once again, opening up about his internal struggle with his depressive tendencies. Phrasing his verses from multiple angles, ‘u’ feels even more like Lamar’s struggling to vocalize his conscience against his inner demons and those thoughts or mistakes that might linger in his mind’s eye just before sleep. As an isolated moment, on its own, it’s a pretty powerful and portent thing but presented alongside ‘i’ it illustrates even more of the rapper’s cerebral see-sawing. On the upbeat ‘i’ he talks about having grown enough to be able to love himself and how, in being able to stand firm, he knows he’s done the right thing in presenting his whole self to the world, warts and all. So on ‘u’ when he appears to dissect his mistakes, his worries and his weaknesses in a voice that’s constantly on the edge of cracking with emotion, it’s obvious that a lot of these niggles with himself and his actions haven’t really gone away.
Talking frankly about his perceived failure in the teenage pregnancy of his sister and the death of a friend who he was evidently unable to visit in hospital, it’s clear that given the exposure, the album sales, the money and the freedom to create, the guy’s still struggling to hold down his own basic emotions. And yeah, I know, he does it a lot. Talking in character, conversing with himself and using awkward or confusing phrasing (or pasting a sincere cognitive behavioural platitude onto an upbeat funk lick for a chorus on his comeback single) is kind of his thing, but that imbalance is what makes Kendrick Lamar such a unique prospect. Where someone like Drake pouts and taunts himself with the contrast of his meagre roots and the trappings of his fame, Lamar spouts about what he’s learning, documenting most every contradictory thought; as if he was using his raps as affirmation.
As a couplet ‘i’ and ‘u’ embraces the ongoing curse of depression: the balancing of the constant threat of relapse with the serenity of his own acceptance.
Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly is out now.
Buy at iTunes.