There is brilliance In To Pimp A Butterfly. The fusion of jazz and electronica is going to forward hip hop musically. Kendrick speaks are a lot of truths about the pain of being a black man in America. There are breathtaking moment’s here: ” U” is gut-wrenching, Complexion( A Zulu Love Story) is a beautiful love song, and ” These Walls” is a mixture of both. There is enough brilliance to confirm his status as the MC of his time. To Pimp A Butterfly is art, messy, complicated art.
But it isn’t something that should be worshiped. And it isn’t something that should be above critique .
He was in on how fucked up misogyny in M.A.A.D City. NOT SO MUCH on Pimp A Butterfly, so much so that he went the full Yeats and cast the god as a crackhead and the devil as the home girl in the mall.( Jesus Christ, Kendrick). The 27 year old self pitying black male superstar too often trumps his inner unreliable narrator, which is a shame because his inner unreliable narrator is the most one of the most compelling and complex storytellers I’ve ever heard. Kendrick deconstructed the get out of the hood narrative so brilliantly in M.A.A.D city, so much so that I could listen for days and still find something new in his interpretation. I am still processing taking in about half of Pimp A Butterfly. The other half of it is simply Kendrick not being able to get past his pain and dumping it on a city’s worth of “Bitches and Hoes”. The “I’m coming back to the hood to fix my mind and kick it” narrative in Pimp A Butterfly is compelling but too self aggrandizing by half, full of contradictions that he doesn’t examine anywhere near the way he did the ones before.
Will this be big? Yes. Frat-houses will have their new pop 2pac, and Pimp A Butterfly has more artistic worth to it than the brutally sadistic gangsta shit that was All Eyes On Me. But he has regressed from his own standards. He also hasn’t come close to the standards set by Mr Archer last December. The music world was floored by D’angelo’s radical musical innovations( Afro beat meats Bowie!). But a lot of Black People went crazy about Black Messiah because in so many ways he faced his pain and invited everybody in on his processing it. Messiah is much more militant than Pimp A Butterfly: 1000 deaths and Charade are tear the paint off the walls protest songs that have no patience for the respectability politics of “I” and Blacker the Berry. But Messiah is infinitely more friendly to women, and the album has an openness and a pluralism that made every smart ass black person feel that we were all in this together. People felt for the struggle and humanity of D’angelo because D’angelo could see the struggle and humanity of other people.
Kendrick has a hard time with that in Pimp a Butterfly, and that ties him to such gifted yet flawed race men as Ralph Ellison, Chester Himes, Richard Wright, and Claude Brown (and if you want to back farther than that, The Blacker the Berry, Wallace Thurman’s misanthropic, overrated novel of the Harlem Renaissance that Kendrick namechecked). If you want to say that i’m bringing up misogyny again, fine. My only answer to that( outside of ‘fuck you, bro’) would be that we have had iterations of the same talks about race, privilege and power for a hundred fucking years. Kendrick had the power to alter that. He didn’t. Pimp A Butterfly, upon three listens, is the greatest failure I have ever heard or will ever hear.