My favorite hip-hop album by a solo artist is the late Notorious B.I.G.’s Ready To Die, his debut venture, released in 1994 on Bad Boy Records. Captivating, gritty, and in some weird ass way, twisted fun, Ready To Die is one of the few albums, regardless of genre, that I can play from beginning to end. I’m not sure if it’s Biggie’s lyricism/wordplay, storytelling, or the overall production that still hooks me, but whatever it is, there are few hip-hop albums like this: A “classic.”
Unfortunately, the word classic is thrown around rather loosely when discussing music nowadays. Whether by journalist or junk food-eating teen, almost any merely good album can be deemed a classic. And if said album isn’t prematurely being labeled a classic, it’s compared to great albums that were released years, sometimes decades prior.
I have listened to Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly in its entirety twice now, and holy shit, is it a very good album. The production can be a bit overbearing at times and I’m not sure if Kendrick’s lyrical prowess is on full display as it has been with previous works, but all in all, TPAB is more than worth your ears. In a time when music artists across the board are seemingly content with producing mediocre work and attempting to pass it off as “art,” the Compton, CA rapper once again dismissed the pop-driven, conventional box that is today’s music to tackle issues of race, societal interaction, hypocrisy, capitalism, the Black community, and other matters of contention that unfortunately, very few prominent artists are willing to address in a remotely intelligent manner. And at a time like this, when there are individuals and groups who feel that we are essentially in “now or never” mode as it pertains to our nation’s ills, I can say that this album is, refreshing.
When my excitement over the album is tempered are the times when someone, most likely a devoted fan of Kendrick, rushes to anoint TPAB a classic. Or when someone argues that TPAB means this, rather than that, and that if you get that, you’ll get this. You know? The opinion that this album, which was just released March 16, should somehow be mentioned in the same breath as Ready To Die and/or Nas’ Illmatic, another 1994 classic release, or hell, any great hip-hop or rap album released when I was a pre-teen also serves to annoy the living hell out of me.
I find myself so annoyed because I want TPAB to grow on people. I want its messages to leap from the studio, disc, headphones, and computer to the streets; to the people. I cannot wait for Kendrick to give an interview in which he further articulates why this album is so “honest, fearful, and unapologetic,” and, does it unapologetically so, of course. I want the people who have found 99 reasons why they love TPAB to find the 100th, and those who simply aren’t sold, to find a singular reason to enjoy it, if for nothing else than George Clinton makes an appearance on TPAB and, well, that’s just awesome as hell. More than anything, I just want this album to remain a topic of hip-hop discussion. It may seem implausible for an album of this quality to ever be forgotten, but in our current fast food society, that’s exactly what happens with many forms of entertainment and the figures who share their work with us. Are the Yeezus fans even awake?
No, I do not think To Pimp A Butterfly is yet a classic, largely because a classic serves as the standard for those that follow it. We’re not sure yet what impact this album will have on the musical landscape, or even that of hip-hop, and we only do a disservice to TPAB when we rush to digest it without remembering that savoring should be a much more preferable option.
There’s nothing wrong with loving To Pimp A Butterfly. I’d just like for everyone to sit back and allow its true impact to take hold and affect listeners, the way a true “classic” would.