Kendrick Lamar’s breakthrough second album, good kid, m.A.A.d city, left such an impression that hype for a follow-up has been through the roof. So forgive the Compton rapper if he kind of Beyonce’d To Pimp a Butterfly, teasing singles before announcing a release date and suddenly putting it out a week early. Pulling the rug out from hype and inevitable backlash, it gives us a change to all hear To Pimp a Butterfly at once, in all its glory. Butterfly doubles down on the idiosyncracies of good kid, eschewing club-friendly tracks in favor of those that cast a light on Lamar’s pure skills as a rapper and wordsmith—always celebrated, yet perhaps distracted by stellar production and good kid’s concept-album style—as well as his ability to put together a layered and compelling album. Tracks like the “For Free” interlude are showcases for Lamar’s dexterity, while “u’s” desperate, verge-on-tears delivery find him at his most vulnerable —Drake’s never done anything like this. The production across To Pimp a Butterfly, courtesy of such luminaries as Flying Lotus and Thundercat, like those artists’ work (and similarly to D’Angelo’s recently released Black Messiah), effortlessly melds hip-hop, R&B and jazz on excellent tracks like the off-kilter “Institutionalized” and gorgeous “These Walls” to exist in some mystery middle space, without drawing attention away from Lamar’s star power. While headier tracks dominate the album, Lamar unleashes a couple of huge singles at the album’s closing. At first, “i” could come off as Lamar’s “sell out” track, catchy enough to sit alongside Pharrell’s “Happy” as a crowd-friendly that sands off his rough edges, but it serves as a bit of a breather here, dressed up in The Isley Brothers’ unstoppable “Who’s That Lady,” though Lamar’s lyrics remain deeply dark, exposing his own depression, and a spoken word passage that delves into a discussion on racial slurs adds context. Following the reclaiming of racial stereotypes on the absolutely killer “The Blacker the Berry,” To Pimp a Butterfly ends ultimately feeling conflicted yet triumphant. It’s a deep, complicated work, yet not one that feels the slightest bit overstuffed or overwrought. Kendrick Lamar successfully defies all expectations yet again, on what’s sure to be one of the year’s best albums.
Kendrick Lamar – “The Blacker the Berry”
A razor-sharp indictment of racism in the United States without sounding heavy-handed, “The Blacker the Berry” is one of the best things we’ve heard yet from Kendrick Lamar, which, given the overwhelming quality of good kid, m.A.A.d city, is saying something. The Compton rapper hasn’t yet announced the details of that album’s follow-up, but having heard this track and “i,” we’re betting it’ll be every bit as remarkable.
The Black Ryder – “Let Me Be Your Light”
Australian shoegaze duo The Black Ryder are now Angelenos and have a new album on the way called The Door Behind the Door, due Feb. 24. If you’ve ever fantasized about a collaboration between Slowdive and The Verve, this is for you. Washy guitars, a post-punk bassline and soothing female vocals combine with angelic synths for a song that sounds like what they play when the Pearly Gates open. Go to the light!
We've tallied up our top sellers for the year at Amoeba Hollywood and Amoeba.com, including CDs, vinyl and downloads. Take a look below at what Amoeba shoppers picked up in 2014.
Arctic Monkeys megahit fifth LP from 2013 continued selling right into 2014 on the strength of hits like "Snap Out of It."
Jack White's experimentally bluesy second album helped his legion of fans grow larger by the day.
Here is our list of gift ideas culled from recent Hip Hop releases (with a few classics thrown in), plus 10 Hip Hop vinyl reissues from 2014 every fan should have.
Diabolic - Fightin' Words
Fightin' Words is a long delayed release from East Coast rapper Diabolic which has been in the works for four years. Originally intended to come out on Viper Records, the album instead got released via the recently founded WarHorse Records. Mic collaborators include such hard hitters as Vinnie Paz, Apathy, and R.A. the Rugged Man, while production is handled in most part by DJ Premier.
Freddie Gibbs & Madlib - Pinata
The new single from Kendrick Lamar is an upbeat ode to keeping your chin up when everything's trying to tear you down.
"How many times the city makin' me promises?" he raps over a sample of The Isley Brothers' "That Lady" before declaring "I love myself." It's a song closer in vibe to Pharrell's "Happy" than a song like his own alcoholism-laden "Swimming Pools," the lead single from his last album, good kid, m.A.A.d city. But Lamar promises in an interview with Rolling Stone that the follow-up to that album will have more tales of growing up in Compton that couldn't fit on m.A.A.d city. Sessions continue for the new album, and a release date has yet to be announced.
Speaking of m.A.A.d city, the album is enjoying neo-classic status, having been named the second best album of the 2010s by Pitchfork.
Hear "i" below: