“To Pimp a Butterfly,” a four-year retrospective

By: Karuga Koinange, Editor-in-Chief
Photo courtesy of FACT Magazine

With the four-year anniversary of Kendrick Lamar’s iconic 2015 album, “To Pimp a Butterfly,” coming up, I decided to hop on This Week’s Spin to remind all my Hip-Hop heads just how amazing this project is. I could write an entire thesis about this record since it’s so layered, but I’ll stick to naming my top three tracks instead (highkey, all the tracks are fire though).

    1. “Alright” Fam. If you have even an ounce of soul inside you, you can’t help but vibe with this track. Lamar begins the track with a spirited cry about the hardships he has faced. Lamar guarantees that no matter what he’s been through, he will be alright. It’s a simple message, but a powerful one. Throughout the track, Lamar highlights the prejudices that Black people in America face every day. His raw, brash delivery combined with the drums and horns in the chorus pack an inspirational punch. You’re going to face people/systems that seek to keep you down, but you should never lose your will to push on. Nothing makes me want to conquer the day like systemic racism. Thank you for helping me realize that, K-Dot.
    2. How Much a Dollar Cost”– This track is one of the slowest paced songs on the record, but it’s like that for a reason. There is a lot to process in this track. Lamar tells a story about a homeless man who begs him for money while he’s trying to get gas. Lamar immediately denies the request and looks to go about his day, but he notices that the homeless man is staring at him as he pumps his car. Lamar enters his car, and the vagabond is still glaring at him. This infuriates Lamar to the point that he gets out of the car and confronts the man. The beggar asks Lamar if he has read Exodus 14 (story of Moses parting the Red Sea), implying that Lamar should use his power to lead by example. This causes Lamar to go back and forth between feeling guilty about not helping the homeless man and making excuses as to why he shouldn’t give the man a handout. Ultimately, Lamar decides not to give him even a single dollar. The homeless man reveals himself to be God in disguise and tells Lamar that he has lost his spot in Heaven due to his selfishness. To the homeless man, a dollar is everything, whereas a dollar is nothing to Kendrick, but like many, he’s unwilling to give to the homeless man because he’s trapped in greed. This is an extremely captivating tale that demonstrates Lamar’s elite storytelling prowess and wordplay.
    3. “u This track shows Lamar at his most vulnerable. He admitted that even with his fame and wealth, he battled depression. This was especially due to so many people looking up to him. Throughout this song, Lamar lays all of his insecurities out. He blames himself for his teenage sister getting pregnant and one of his close friends from Compton dying while Lamar was overseas. Lamar also doubts his standing in the Hip-Hop community, despite several west coast rap legends anointing him as the next west coast king. It’s clear that Lamar feels incredible guilt and doubt on this track, amplified by the sounds of liquor bottles clanging and Lamar slurring his words in the final two verses. Sounwave, who produced the track, said there was no shortage of tears during the recording session. Lamar stayed in the booth for three hours with the lights off during the studio session. That such a high profile artist endures the same mental health issues that plague so many people around the world isn’t surprising, but Lamar’s honesty about his insecurity is what makes this track so compelling.  



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