The rewarding complexities of Kendrick Lamar's 'u'


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Kendrick Lamar
  • Christian San Jose/TDE
  • Kendrick Lamar
I try to avoid writing about a single artist too much, but I can't get through this week without at least a brief mention of Kendrick Lamar's new album, To Pimp a Butterfly. I've cycled through it several times a day since its surprise release Sunday night, and each time I've taken away something new—which is one of the things I love about an album. Actually, To Pimp a Butterfly displays almost everything I could want from a new release by a musician I admire. It's dense and complex, a mammoth text that requires the kind of undivided attention that's hard to come by these days. I love that To Pimp a Butterfly rejects the perceived notion of how mass-produced music should be created and consumed, from its length (it's close to 80 minutes long) to the noticeable lack of anything that could be described as a radio single. Hell, I love that Lamar mutated his Grammy winning hit "i" into something approximating his loose, in-the-moment live performances—he alters his flow, misses some bars, and fights off the noise of the crowd.

And yet, at first I didn't love To Pimp a Butterfly. Everything I appreciate about the album and its presentation also made it a bit of a challenge to absorb in one sitting—or several after that. But as quickly as the last track comes to a close, there's usually something in To Pimp a Butterfly that compels me to wade through the heavy affair again. Lamar demands a lot with this record, but he rewards in kind: he reveals plenty about his complex inner strife, the burden he carries (and the extra weight he thinks he has to carry) as hip-hop's new golden idol, and his surreal life at the top (with a keen sense of every place to fall off).

On today's 12 O'Clock Track, "u," Lamar rips off the Band-Aids covering up the emotional wounds he's suffered since his last album—some of those were a byproduct of his success, such as an inability to provide emotional support for the most important people in his life. At the second half of the song Lamar's voice breaks out and cracks, and he sounds like he's holding back sobs while doing everything in his power to get every last word out. On this tune, like so many others on To Pimp a Butterfly, Lamar does more to evoke the contours and colors of life than adhere to a status quo for song structure.


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