To Pimp a Butterfly left the hip hop world divided in 2015. It let down a sector of Kendrick Lamar fans who were looking for more of the same as good kid, m.A.A.d city or something with a little more bounce when he would presumably trot out songs from the LP during his then forthcoming sets. But many loved it and praised it, especially those with a critical ear, who gave it generally positive reviews. One of those with high esteem, surprisingly, was the Grammys.
The highest bastion of American music honors nominated K Dot for 11 of their awards yesterday, more than any other artist. It was also more than he’s ever been nominated for during his career combined up until this point, and it’s all thanks to his most recent album.
What’s funny is that it’s the same academy that snubbed Kendrick of actually winning the honors just two years ago, presumably because either the judges felt the album wasn’t commercial enough or they just weren’t hip.
Regardless, it seems that the Grammy voters are coming around and perhaps you should too. I know, I know, “King Kunta” and “i” aren’t as fun to dance around to during shows as “Money Trees,” “m.A.A.d city” and “Backseat Freestyle.” But you know what? That’s the great part. It’s another leaf on the Kendrick Lamar tree you can pick when you’re feeling more vigilant, or even march to during a rally for yet another innocent or slightly troubled youth gunned down by those supposed to be protecting us.
A groundbreaking and less commercial-sounding album is the reason we praised Kanye West when he dropped 808s & Heartbreak and bashed Nas when he reached with Nastradamus. They're chapters of the same book, and for everyone saying there’s a time and a place for more thought-provoking and “conscious” music, the same can be said about songs that make us dance: it’s not for every mood.
Upon first listen of To Pimp a Butterfly, I deemed it amazing — a sentiment I hold to this day. And I’m not afraid to say it. Debating why we like or don’t like albums is what makes music and specifically hip hop so great. One of my favorite things to do is debate the best Outkast album with colleagues and friends (it’s Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, BTW). Kendrick gives us that with TPAB. From his Wesley Snipes-inspired intro “Wesley’s Theory” to his mythical Tupac interview on “Mortal Man,” the project is a proper release at the perfect time.
You may not listen to To Pimp a Butterfly everyday and neither do I. You might not’ve even ran it back since first play, and that’s OK, too. Not everything is for everybody. But to have this album — which I think we can all agree is Kendrick’s most socially cognizant — certified gold can only be a good thing in an industry almost exclusively rewarding music of a far less progressive classification. It’s now being celebrated by the Grammys too. That only helps hip hop’s cause during a continued period of erroneous judgment of the Black man in America.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
Paul Meara is a Columbus, Ohio, native and resident. He’s written for Billboard, Complex, HipHopDX and NahRight, among others, and is still listening to Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, even if you aren’t. Follow him on Twitter: @PaulMeara
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