There seems to be a colony of culture critics going around bashing Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly, for favor of nothing in particular. My immediate take on it was that the noise makes for more publicity on an album that was released two seasons ago… For better or worse, if people are still talking about it and him, it’s a good thing. That old adage, “all publicity is good publicity” is ever appropriate.
Then a little initial disgust set in, but I had to be honest with myself: I didn’t listen to TPAB in its entirety until the weather broke. It was damn near summer. I just don’t listen to new hip hop like I used to. Don’t get me wrong. I listen to hip hop, just not these new cats. But Kendrick isn’t one of those. Not to me. In truth, I’ve been bumpin’ his shit since “Bitch I’m In The Club,” back in 2009.
So I had plans to listen to this album as soon as time permitted… and when it did, I was mad at myself for taking so long to indulge. After my first session, I called it “The soundtrack to ’40 Acres & A Mule’.” It was that good. The pain, the triumph, the jazz, the blues, the heritage – the culture. It was everything I wanted it to be and nothing that I expected. I didn’t have any expectations. I just didn’t want it to sound like any of these clowns out here posing as rap artists. And I knew it wouldn’t. And that’s not an expectation. That is a fact.
Cynics and critics are allowed to dislike art and other products that call for reviews. The only problem is when the critic doesn’t actually understand what it is he is critiquing.
First and foremost, if you’ve never walked in the shoes of a Black man, a Black teenager or some other variation of a Black person, the topics of discussion on TPAB might soar right over your head. This album is unapologetic in its Blackness and Kendrick clearly made this album for Black people.
So, my little persnickety pundits of the world, if you don’t know what it means to “not have time to waste time,” if you can’t relate to “The Blacker The Berry,” or how it felt to see a handful of your brothers mistreated and/or killed because of the color of their skin – and especially, if you don’t know the difference between Negus and Niggas – know that this album is not for you.
Rap music isn’t always about rhyme patterns, clever wordplay and catchy hooks. Sometimes there’s that… and much, much more.