Wednesday, March 18, 2015
IN CONCLUSION, TO PIMP A BUTTERFLY IS A VERY CHALLENGING AND CONTROVERSIAL ART
He did it! On Sunday night, Kendrick Lamar released To Pimp A Butterfly on Spotify, becoming the first artist to successfully pull off a prog-rap concept album: his version of There's A Riot Goin' On, The Wall, and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. I would be shocked if he wasn't a theatre kid in high school. Check for him performing in a flower suit at Bonnaroo this summer.
The most useless writing of the year will be To Pimp A Butterfly reviews. They were superfluous from the get-go, since anyone who cared dialed up the ol' Spotify as soon as they heard news of its leak. I expected to hate this album in all its AOR excess, but after a few listens I at least have to respect the hard work that went into its making. Respecting it doesn't necessarily mean I like it, but it's sad that a lot of reviews read like Adderall term papers from someone who didn't finish the book. "On To Pimp A Butterfly, Kendrick Lamar explores many difficult themes. Posing challenging questions on race, paranoia and identity, he refuses to offer easy answers and instead forces the listener to confront the disquieting issues of our time. Through the personal narrative of a young black man, he says something about what it is to be American in the 21st century--indeed, on what it is to be human." Everyone's talkin, but no one's saying anything.
Some very talented and ambitious people worked on this album for over a year. A "this is gay" Tweet would be more profound than some platitudes and reductive abstractions cobbled together over a 24-hour period. Reminds me of the time my lil homie and I went to Art Basel and eyeballed everything for five seconds before moving on and announcing, "I get it."
To Pimp A Butterfly's early reviews have the unique quality of being fawning and disrespectful at the same time. The universal critical acclaim says less about its success than critics' laziness and failure to engage deeply with the "difficult" themes alluded to only vaguely. Maybe it's because the album dropped less than a day before they reviewed it, and they don't really know what those themes are quite yet, hence the eternal cop-out: "This album is dense." No shit, B. For an album that clearly intends to provoke conversation and make its listeners uncomfortable, it's ironic that TPAB has so far inspired only consensus and applause.
For better or worse, these surprise releases put fan and critic on equal footing. At one point in my life I was naive enough to believe critics labored over advance copies for at least a week, really marinating in the nuances of a record instead of rushing to a snap judgement. Maybe it was like that at one time, but as the ingenious gonzo-satire of Thought Catalog shows, "New Media" is increasingly an opinion factory that runs on ad revenue, fuck integrity. Traffic don't wait for considered analysis.
Can we all agree he's not making rap anymore? This is not a rap album. Not a bad thing, it just issss...ya dig?