A Look Back at TPAB, Kendrick’s Timeless Classic

by Aarav Kochar, Sports Editor

Length: 78:51
Parental Advisory Explicit Content

The month of February is Black History Month. This means acknowledging and shining light to African American culture and contributions to the current day United States and putting them to a center stage.
One massive part of African American culture is the genre of hip hop/rap. Beginning in the 1970s, for decades hip-hop has spoken truth to power and challenged the status-quo. Protest and resistance have been common elements of the music, evoking the fight for racial equality and communicating anger at socio-economic conditions that shaped the lives of many Black people. Arguably the most notable hip hop artist is Tupac, as he redefined what a rapper could be in a life that didn’t even stretch past a quarter of a century. He was another of the rappers to unabashedly reflect what was going on in the environment around him – the racism, the poverty, the toxic masculinity – and took it to a global audience, selling millions of records in the process. His legacy lives on to this day, especially in the 34-year-old rapper Kendrick Lamar, who is undoubtedly one of the best in the industry of all time due to the classics he releases from time to time.
Lamar is also the author of the best album in this millennium, titled “To Pimp a Butterfly.” “To Pimp a Butterfly” is a metaphor for the actual pimping of something as beautiful/free as a butterfly, as well as a sly homage to Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” a clever play on words. Lamar starts off the album with his song “Wesley’s Theory,” Kendrick begins with a theme of self love as well as sets the pretense for the entire album, with some really empowering lyrics.
He then transitions into an interlude titled “For Free?” in which he describes himself as the victim to a toxic music industry. After the interlude, he transitions to my favorite and arguably the best few songs on this track. Some of these hits include “King Kunta, Institutionalized, These Walls, Alright, and U.” These songs reflect some common themes, such as systemic racism, wealth and its corruption, and self love.
“King Kunta’s” enticing beat, the chorus, and Kendirck’s flawless flow and lyricism makes the song one of the best on the album. Lamar speaks about how he fears to have too much power, as he knows that he will have to face the inevitable downfall that others want on him. He conveyed this by bringing up his rough upbringings as a kid in Compton, CA, where he was exposed to the gang violence epidemic in Southern California. He also makes the subject of black empowerment as an undertone of the song, as the song is named after Kunta Kinte, who was a slave born in Gambia in 1750 who was captured and enslaved in America, which he later died in 1822.
Kendrick’s next song, “Institutionalized,” shares similar meaning with “King Kunta.” He raps about his upbringings in a m.a.a.d city (Compton, CA), with his two main verses really standing out to me, as he rapped about how his Compton CA upbringing covers wealth’s corruptive powers, and how many people are negatively affected, almost brainwashed, by the idea of getting rich. He also gets Snoop Dogg who comes in and delivers a couple of verses here and there.
One of the 10/10s in this album is “These Walls,” which features a beautiful introduction, with singer Anna Wise’s melodious voice mixed with Kendrick’s rapping. It mixed perfectly. In this song Lamar puts a lot of metaphorical meaning on “These Walls.” Kendrick uses this conceit to explore sex, abuse, his own career, his enemies, and the human psyche. The walls represent being imprisoned by the entire situation: an allegory for a cycle of murder, lust, seduction, revenge and guilt. I also liked the poem he included at the end of the song, which was a profound way to end the single.
Lamar’s singles “U” and “I” act as a sequel to each other. Both share antagonistic themes, as “U” has a cynical tone as Lamar raps about overcoming the self hate he conflicts with daily. In “I,” Kendrick’s flow is phenomenal as he spits out flawless bars with tremendous flow, delivery, and lyricism. For me, the blend with the chorus and Kendrick’s upbeat beat as well as the flow is a recipe for perfection making it such a good song. It also just stood out to me from the rest of the songs. Though “To Pimp a Butterfly” revolves around spiritual turmoil, self-doubt, as well as negative temptations, this song offers redemption. The mixing and production on this version emulates a live performance, as opposed to the clean production on the single.
Followed after “U” is Lamar’s hit song “Alright,” which is another 10 on this album. The song has won many awards, and a grammy is one of the many it has won. After “U” – where Kendrick lays out his burdens – “Alright” responds by detailing how Kendrick means to escape his troubles. By trusting in God, Kendrick is able to look past his failures and have confidence that everything will be okay. This is evident as he repeats one lyric throughout the song: “We gon’ be alright.” The message is driven by specific pain and struggle. Awareness regarding the disproportionate police brutality against blacks has left many wondering if the US has made any progress toward racial equality. Rather than despair, “Alright” assures listeners that, through solidarity, “we gon’ be alright.”
Another theme present in “To Pimp A Butterfly” is the theme of the devil and self redemption. Lamar projects this in his interlude titled “For Sale?” and “Momma.” In his interlude, he raps about how the devil is trying to lure him with the promise of wealth away from God and virtue. A similar meaning could be found in “Momma,” as “Momma” tells of the personal growth and self-realization that Kendrick experienced after having persevered against the internal struggles he described as “Lucy” in the preceding track, “For Sale?”
Kendrick Lamar then continues this story of an album with a sequel, per say. His two hit singles, “Hood Politics” and “How Much A Dollar Cost” bring up the racial undertones of this album. Kendrick’s delivery on Hood Politics is at a higher pitch than normal to signify his younger self, his past, and his roots. On the record, he discusses issues such as American politics in the second verse and the rap industry in the third verse, with the latter being based on his observations of the stir caused in response to his “Control” verse. I found the lyrics and his tone empowering. In his second track, Kendrick talks about the themes of overcoming selfishness caused by higher levels of wealth. He mentions how his decision to deny the old man a dollar was influenced by Lucy (Lucifer) and Uncle Sam (Capitalism).
Kendrick wraps up the album by talking about love and unitedness, which we can see in “Complexion (A Zulu Love)” and “The Blacker the Berry,” as well as “You Ain’t Gotta Lie (Momma Said).” Complexion is a song about educating society on beauty standards, especially colorism. Colorism affects the black community profusely due to its roots, which spawn from the history of slavery in America. In the song, Kendrick details the importance of loving all people no matter how light or dark. I really like the sense of unitedness that Lamar is trying to form with his vocals and lyrics. In “Blacker the Berry,” Lamar uses very empowering lyrics as a message of revolt against the racist past of America.
Lastly, “You Ain’t Gotta Lie” speaks level and challenges the music industry. It’s a powerful message of the figurative purgatory that rappers and entertainers can enter if they are not stratospherically successful, yet not anonymous enough to return to their “hood” without receiving unwanted attention. There are racial undertones here, and the use of stereotypical black imagery paints Kendrick as a “hood figure”- an individual that spent the majority of their childhood or grew up in a low income area where crime was prevalent. “Hood figures” take part in criminal activities, and they are known to leave a stereotypical fallacy that many African Americans face. However, the racial undertones can be applied to other aspects in life, where you feel pressure to perform or act a certain way.
Kendrick finishes the masterpiece of an album with “Mortal Man,” as he includes a talk he had with Tupac. Inside this lengthy “song” are deep ties to Kendrick’s life and the reason for writing all the songs in this album and producing it. I think it is definitely worth it, because it makes for a perfect ending to a storybook of an album, similar to his earlier classic, Good Kid, M.A.A.D City. All being said, I definitely do recommend listening to this album, as although it will be turning seven years old this year, Kendrick Lamar has solidified this album as a timeless classic which will be played for the next 20. From the deep racial undertones in this album to the themes of self love and devotion to faith, I really loved the messages the songs held, as well as we got to see the talent’s Lamar put on display, such as his lyricism, delivery, tone, and beat production.