Samiksha Jaiswal (Editor)

To Pimp a Butterfly

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Recorded  2012–15
Artist  Kendrick Lamar
Length  78:51
Release date  15 March 2015
To Pimp a Butterfly httpsuploadwikimediaorgwikipediaenff6Ken
Released  March 15, 2015 (2015-03-15)
Studio  Chalice Recording Studios, Hollywood Notifi Studios, St. Louis Downtown Studios, New York City House Studios, Washington, D.C. No Excuses Studios, Santa Monica
Label  Top Dawg Aftermath Interscope
Producer  Anthony "Top Dawg" Tiffith (exec.) Dr. Dre (exec.) Dave Free (co-exec.) The Antydote Boi-1da Flying Lotus Flippa KOZ Knxwledge Larrance Dopson LoveDragon Pharrell Williams Rahki Sounwave Tommy Black Terrace Martin Tae Beast Taz Arnold Thundercat Whoarei
Nominations  Grammy Award for Album of the Year
Awards  Grammy Award for Best Rap Album, Danish Music Award for International Album of the Year
Genres  Hip hop music, Funk, Jazz rap, Political hip hop, Experimental hip hop
Similar  Kendrick Lamar albums, Hip hop music albums

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To Pimp a Butterfly is the third studio album by American rapper Kendrick Lamar. It was released on March 15, 2015, by Top Dawg Entertainment, Aftermath Entertainment and Interscope Records. The album was recorded in studios throughout the United States, with production from Sounwave, Terrace Martin, Taz "Ti$a" Arnold, Thundercat, Rahki, LoveDragon, Flying Lotus, Pharrell Williams, Boi-1da, and several other high-profile hip hop producers, as well as executive production from Dr. Dre and Anthony "Top Dawg" Tiffith. The album incorporates elements of free jazz, funk, soul, spoken word, and the avant-garde and explores a variety of political and personal themes concerning African-American culture, racial inequality, depression, and institutional discrimination.


To Pimp a Butterfly debuted atop the Billboard 200 and received widespread acclaim from critics, who praised its musical scope and the social relevance of Lamar's lyrics. Additionally, it was ranked as the best album of 2015 by many publications, including Rolling Stone, Billboard and Pitchfork. It was nominated for Album of the Year and won Best Rap Album at the 58th Grammy Awards. Its singles "i" (in 2015) and "Alright" (in 2016) each won Grammys for Best Rap Song and Best Rap Performance, with the latter also nominated for Song of the Year. Additionally, "These Walls" won Best Rap/Sung Collaboration. The album was certified Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). By March 2016, the album had sold 850,000 copies in the United States, and over one million copies worldwide.

The album's release was supported by five singles – "i", "The Blacker the Berry", "King Kunta", "Alright" and "These Walls" featuring Bilal and Anna Wise. All five singles received varied chart success. Lamar also went on the Kunta's Groove Sessions Tour, which included eight shows in eight cities, in late 2015 to early 2016.

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On February 28, 2014, Kendrick Lamar first revealed the plans to release a follow-up to his second studio album, Good Kid, M.A.A.D City (2012), during an interview with Billboard. In an interview with Rolling Stone, he was quoted as saying, "Just putting the word 'pimp' next to 'butterfly'... It's a trip. That's something that will be a phrase forever. It'll be taught in college courses—I truly believe that." In an interview with MTV, Lamar said: "To Pimp a Caterpillar was the original name and they caught it because the abbreviation was Tupac, Tu-P-A-C. Me changing it to Butterfly, I just really wanted to show the brightness of life and the word 'pimp' has so much aggression and that represents several things. For me, it represents using my celebrity for good. Another reason is, not being pimped by the industry through my celebrity." The album was at one point believed by many to be called Return of Enoch. In between Good Kid, M.A.A.D City and To Pimp a Butterfly, Lamar traveled to South Africa. Touring the country — visiting historic sites such as Nelson Mandela's jail cell on Robben Island, heavily influenced the direction of the record.

The album continues a nuanced dialog about weighty topics that affect the African-American community. Releasing his album in a time of renewed black activism, Lamar's song "Alright" has become a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement. With lyrics like "and we hate po-po / Wanna kill us dead in the street fo sho," He makes it clear that he is supportive of the movement and the families of black men and women like Mike Brown, Sandra Bland, and Tamir Rice who have fallen victim to perceived police brutality. Lamar takes his opinions further to lend his position on black on black crime in the song "The Blacker the Berry". He criticizes himself and his community by rapping, "So why did I weep when Trayvon Martin was in the street? / When gang banging make me kill a nigga blacker than me?" Some critics claim that his attitude facilitates the rhetoric that silences the Black Lives Matter movement. Stereo Williams of The Daily Beast wrote in response to his lyrics that "it's dangerous to use that violence as a silencing tactic when the public is angry about the systematic subjugation of black people."

Recording and production

To Pimp a Butterfly was recorded from 2012 to 2015 at a variety of studios; including Chalice Recording Studios, Downtown Studios, House Studios, Notifi Studios and No Excuses Studios. Lamar wrote the lyrics to the song "Mortal Man", while on Kanye West's Yeezus Tour. During the whole tour, producer Flying Lotus played Lamar a selection of tracks that was intended for Captain Murphy's album (Flying Lotus's alter ego). Lamar kept all the tracks, but only opener "Wesley's Theory", which also features Thundercat and George Clinton, made the final cut onto the album. Lotus had produced a version of "For Sale? (Interlude)" that was ultimately discarded, with Lamar using Taz Arnold's version of the song on the album instead. Lotus stated that it is unlikely his version of the song will see a release. American rapper Rapsody appeared on the album, contributing a verse to the song "Complexion (A Zulu Love)". Lamar had requested that 9th Wonder contact Rapsody and request her appearance. Rapsody and Lamar discussed the song but there was little instruction from Lamar regarding her contribution. Speaking about the song, she stated that Lamar had already decided on the concept of the song and stated that the only instructions he gave were the song's title and the idea that "...we are beautiful no matter our race but he really wanted to speak to our people and address this light versus dark complex".

In 2014, producer Pharrell Williams, who previously worked with Lamar along with fellow producer Sounwave, played "Alright" at the Holy Ship Festival. The track features the same unidentified sample that Williams used on Rick Ross' track "Presidential" from his album God Forgives, I Don't (2012). Reportedly, at one time it featured a guest appearance from American rapper Fabolous. The album went through three different phases before the production team could move forward with the idea. Afterwards, producer Thundercat was brought into the process, after Flying Lotus brought him along to see Lamar's performance on The Yeezus Tour. The album's lead single, titled "i", was produced by Rahki, who also produced a song for the album entitled "Institutionalized". Although the version of "i" appearing on the album is drastically different from that on the single release, both versions contained a sample of the song "That Lady" performed by The Isley Brothers. Lamar personally visited The Isley Brothers', to receive permission from lead vocalist Ronald Isley to sample the song.

Lamar began traveling to St. Louis and began working with Isley at the studio. Isley also performed on the song "How Much a Dollar Cost" alongside the singer-songwriter James Fauntleroy. Producer and rapper Pete Rock provided some backing vocals and scratches to the song "Complexion (A Zulu Love)", and as he stated, the contribution was unusual, as he was not the producer for the track. Singer Bilal features on the songs "Institutionalized" and "These Walls", and has provided un-credited backing vocals on the songs "u", "For Sale? (Interlude)", "Momma" and "Hood Politics". Bilal stated that he and Lamar were initially unsure of how many songs he would be featured on, stating he worked on various tracks, but did not yet know the outcome. "For a lot of the material, Kendrick had a idea of what he wanted. He would sing out the melody and some of the words, and I would interpret what he was telling me." On the songs where Bilal added backing vocals, he stated that "...some of it was freestyle; just adding color to make it a fuller sound." Lamar also reportedly worked with American musician Prince, however, the duo were too pressed for time during the recording session and therefore were unable to complete any work for inclusion on the album. Lamar professed to having listened often to Miles Davis and Parliament-Funkadelic during the album's recording.

In 2016, Lamar released Untitled Unmastered, a compilation album, which contains previously unreleased demos that originated during the recording of To Pimp a Butterfly. According to producer Thundercat, it "completes the sentence" of Lamar's third studio album.

The booklet included with To Pimp a Butterfly's CD version was produced with braille letterings, which when translated reveal, according to Lamar, the "actual full title of the album." Complex commissioned a braille translator, who found that it literally translated to A Kendrick by Letter Blank Lamar which Complex noted was most likely supposed to read as A Blank Letter by Kendrick Lamar.

Music and lyrics

Stereogum described To Pimp a Butterfly as an "ambitious avant-jazz-rap statement," while Billboard categorized the album as "politically-charged" conscious rap album, and The Source categorized it as an experimental hip hop release. Lamar described the release as an "honest, fearful and unapologetic" work that draws on funk, free jazz, spoken word and soul while critics also noted elements of West Coast hip hop and the avant-garde. Kyle Anderson of Entertainment Weekly described the album as "embracing the entire history of black American music." Dan Weiss of Spin noted "shades of Miles Davis' On the Corner and free jazz all over [...], as well as Sly Stone's There's a Riot Goin' On and Funkadelic and Erykah Badu's similarly wah-crazy but comparatively lo-fi New Amerykah (4th World War)," but stated nonetheless that "the sense of this album is vividly contemporary." Greg Kot of Chicago Tribune also noted the album's affinities with previous black music, but argued that "Lamar takes familiar musical tropes into new territory." The Atlantic noted the influence of collaborator Flying Lotus, writing that "his signature sound—jazz instrumentation and hip-hop layered into chaotic collages—is all over the album." Steve Mallon of The Quietus noted an "eerily warped psychedelia bursting out of its idiosyncratic arrangements."

The album's lyrics explore a variety of political and personal themes related to race, culture, and discrimination. Critic Neil Kulkarni said it appraises "the broken promises and bloody pathways in and out of America's heartland malaise", while Matthew Phillips from Tiny Mix Tapes wrote that the record offers "dialectical account of the relationship between the constantly-emerging revolutionary consciousness of black culture and the bare materialism and institutionalization that threaten to destroy it". In an interview with MTV, Kendrick discussed the meaning behind the tracks "Wesley's Theory" and "King Kunta". The album's opening track, "Wesley's Theory", is a reference to Wesley Snipes and how the actor was jailed for tax evasion. In the interview Lamar stated that "no one teaches poor black males how to manage money or celebrity, so if they do achieve success, the powers that be can take it from right under them". He continues by elaborating that "King Kunta" is concerned with the "history of negative stereotypes all African-Americans have to reconcile". The interviewer finishes by asking about Lamar's criticism of rappers who use ghostwriters on "King Kunta", after which Lamar reveals that he came to prominence as a ghostwriter, therefore having respect for writers, but says that "as a new artist, you have to stand behind your work."

"These Walls" has been described by Billboard as "pondering sex and existence in equal measure; it's a yoni metaphor about the power of peace, with sugar walls being escape and real walls being obstacles." Lamar revealed that "u" was inspired by his own experience of depression and suicidal thoughts. He also mentioned feelings of survivor's guilt as inspirations for the album. "Alright" begins as a spoken-word treatise before exploding into a shapeshifting portrait of America that brings in jazz horns, skittering drum beats and Lamar's mellifluous rapping as he struggles with troubles and temptations. Yet at the end of each verse, he reassures himself that "We gon' be alright" – a simple rallying cry for a nation reeling from gun violence and police brutality. For critics a "celebration of being alive", Lamar described "Alright" as a message of hope. "The Blacker the Berry" features a "boom bap beat" and lyrics that celebrate Lamar's African-American heritage and "tackle hatred, racism, and hypocrisy head on." The song's hook is performed by Jamaican dancehall artist Assassin, notable for performing on Kanye West's 2013 LP Yeezus, whose lyrics similarly address racial inequality, specifically against African Americans.


"i" was released on September 23, 2014 as the lead single from To Pimp a Butterfly. The video for the song premiered on Vevo on November 4, 2014. It became his sixth top 40 single on the Billboard Hot 100 and was performed on Saturday Night Live. The album was also preceded by the second single "The Blacker the Berry". Following the album release, "King Kunta" was released as the album's third single in early March 2015, with its music video being released on April 1, 2015.

"Alright" was released to radio stations as the album's fourth single on June 30, 2015. When its release, several contemporary progressive news outlets, including BET, raised the idea of "Alright" being the modern Black National Anthem, while the media reported youth-lead protests against police brutality across the country chanting the chorus of the song. Primarily for the latter, Lamar was featured on Ebony Power 100, an annual list that recognizes many leaders of the African-American community. However, Lamar's performance of "Alright" at the 15th BET Awards – which featured him standing on a graffiti-embossed police car flanked by a gigantic battered American flag – was the subject of controversy by media outlets, particularly Fox News' Geraldo Rivera, who called the performance "disgusting" and criticized Lamar by stating that "Hip Hop has done more damage to African Americans than racism in recent years". Lamar, later, responded to the comments with a short video questioning Rivera's claim, stating "How can you take a message of hope and turn it into hate?" On November 27, 2015, in celebration of Black Friday, Lamar and fellow rapper J. Cole released two separate tracks, both titled "Black Friday". Cole remixed Lamar's "Alright", while Lamar remixed the track "A Tale of 2 Citiez" from Cole's studio album 2014 Forest Hills Drive.

"These Walls" was released as the album's fifth single in October 2015. The song's music video premiered on October 28, 2015. Entitled "Behind the Walls: A Black Comedy", it features an appearance by American actor Terry Crews.

Aside from the singles' accompanying music videos, the song "For Free? (Interlude)" also featured visuals, as did "u" with "For Sale? (Interlude)" as part of the short film God Is Gangsta. In October 2015, Lamar announced the Kunta's Groove Sessions Tour, which included eight shows in eight cities.

Release and reception

To Pimp a Butterfly was first released to the iTunes Store and Spotify on March 15, 2015, eight days ahead of its scheduled release date. According to Anthony Tiffith, CEO of Top Dawg Entertainment, the album's early release was unintentional, apparently caused by an error on the part of Interscope Records. The following day, it was made unavailable on iTunes, and the release was rescheduled for March 23, although it was still available for streaming on Spotify. To Pimp a Butterfly debuted at number one on record charts in the United Kingdom, Australia, and the United States, where it sold 324,000 copies in its first week. The album was streamed 9.6 million times in its first day on Spotify, setting the service's global first-day streaming record. It reached sales of one million copies worldwide at the end of 2015, and by March 2016, it had sold 850,000 copies in the US, where it was certified Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

To Pimp a Butterfly received widespread acclaim from critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream publications, the album received an average score of 96, based on 44 reviews. Spin magazine's Dan Weiss hailed it as the "Great American Hip-Hop Album" and an essential listen, while Neil McCormick from The Daily Telegraph called it a dense but dazzling masterpiece. Writing for Entertainment Weekly, Kyle Anderson found the record twice as substantial as Lamar's debut album and more comprehensive of African-American music styles, with supremely "cinematic" production qualities but "the freedom of a mixtape". Irish Times journalist Jim Carroll deemed it "a record for the times we're in", in which Lamar transitioned from his past narratives about Compton to fierce but precise reflections on "black America". In Rolling Stone, Greg Tate deemed To Pimp a Butterfly "a masterpiece of fiery outrage, deep jazz and ruthless self-critique" that along with D'Angelo's third album Black Messiah, made 2015 "the year radical Black politics and for-real Black music resurged in tandem to converge on the nation's pop mainstream." Robert Christgau wrote in his review on Cuepoint that not many artists were as passionate and understanding as Lamar, who offered "a strong, brave effective bid to reinstate hip hop as black America's CNN" during an era of social media. New York Times critic Jon Caramanica was less enthusiastic, feeling Lamar still struggled in reconciling his density as a lyricist with the music he rapped over: "He hasn't outrun his tendency towards clutter [and] still runs the risk of suffocation." In The Guardian, Alexis Petridis found the music somewhat erratic and lamented "moments of self-indulgence" such as the twelve-minute "Mortal Man" and Lamar's reflections on fame.

At the end of 2015, To Pimp a Butterfly was the most frequently ranked record in top ten lists of the year's best albums. According to Metacritic, it appeared 101 times in the top ten of lists published by critics, magazines, websites, and music stores. The record topped 51 lists, including those by Rolling Stone, Billboard, Pitchfork, Slant Magazine, Spin, The Guardian, Complex, Consequence of Sound, The Irish Times, and Vice. NME ranked it second on their list, while Time named it the year's third best album. It was voted the best album of 2015 in the Pazz & Jop, an annual poll of American critics nationwide, published by The Village Voice. Christgau, the Pazz & Jop's creator, ranked it fourth in his ballot for the poll. To Pimp a Butterfly also earned Lamar 11 nominations at the 58th Grammy Awards, which was the most nominations for any rapper in a single night. It was nominated in the categories of Album of the Year and Best Rap Album, winning the latter. "Alright" won for Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song while also being nominated for Song of the Year and Best Music Video. "These Walls" won for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration. At the previous year's ceremony, "i" had won Grammy Awards for Best Rap Song and Best Rap Performance. To Pimp a Butterfly also received a nomination for Top Rap Album at the 2016 Billboard Music Awards.

According to Gigwise writer Will Butler, To Pimp a Butterfly was universally hailed by critics as an "instant classic" and its immediate influence was felt as "a pantheon for racial empowerment". Of its long-term impact, Butler argued that the record helped create a respected space for conscious hip hop and "will be revered not just at the top of some list at the end of the year, but in the subconscious of music fans for decades to come". According to Tony Visconti, To Pimp a Butterfly was an influence on David Bowie's 2016 album Blackstar, which Visconti produced: "[We were] listening to a lot of Kendrick Lamar ... we loved the fact Kendrick was so open-minded and he didn't do a straight-up hip-hop record. He threw everything on there, and that's exactly what we wanted to do."

Track listing


  • ^a signifies an additional producer
  • "Wesley's Theory" features background vocals by Dr. Dre, Anna Wise, Ash Riser, Josef Leimberg and Whitney Alford
  • "For Free? (Interlude)" features background vocals by Anna Wise and Darlene Tibbs
  • "King Kunta" features background vocals by Whitney Alford
  • "Institutionalized" features background vocals by Taz Arnold AKA Ti$a
  • "u" features background vocals by Bilal, Jessica Vielmas and SZA
  • "Alright" features background vocals by Pharrell Williams, Candace Wakefield and Thundercat
  • "For Sale? (Interlude)" features background vocals by Bilal, Taz Arnold AKA Ti$A, Preston Harris and SZA
  • "Momma" features background vocals by Lalah Hathaway and Bilal
  • "Hood Politics" features background vocals by Bilal, Anna Wise, Preston Harris and Dion Friley
  • "Complexion (A Zulu Love)" features background vocals by Thundercat, Lalah Hathaway, Talkbox Monte, Javonte and Pete Rock
  • "The Blacker the Berry" features background vocals by Lalah Hathaway
  • "The Blacker the Berry" features uncredited vocals by Assassin
  • "You Ain't Gotta Lie (Momma Said)" features background vocals by Thundercat, Preston Harris, Wyann Vaughn and Javonte
  • "i" features background vocals by Taz Arnold AKA Ti$A, William Sweat, Candace Wakefield, Devon Downing, Edwin Orellana, Dave Free, Dion Friley, and additional vocals by Ronald Isley
  • "Mortal Man" features background vocals by James Fauntleroy and Javonte
  • Sample credits

  • "Wesley's Theory" contains elements of "Every Nigger is a Star", written and performed by Boris Gardiner
  • "King Kunta" contains interpolations of "Get Nekkid", written by Johnny Burns performed by Mausberg; resung lyrics from "Smooth Criminal", written and performed by Michael Jackson; elements of "The Payback", written by James Brown, Fred Wesley and John Starks performed by James Brown; and samples of "We Want the Funk", written and performed by Ahmad Lewis
  • "Momma" contains elements of "On Your Own", written and performed by Lalah Hathaway
  • "Hood Politics" contains a sample of "All for Myself", written and performed by Sufjan Stevens
  • "i" contains a sample of "That Lady", written by Ronald Isley, O'Kelly Isley, Jr., Ernie Isley, Marvin Isley, Rudolph Isley and Christopher Jasper performed by The Isley Brothers
  • "Mortal Man" contains excerpts from "I No Get Eye for Back", written by Fela Anikulapo Kuti performed by Houston Person; and a sample of music journalist Mats Nileskar's November 1994 interview with Tupac Shakur for P3 Soul Broadcasting Corporation
  • Personnel

    Credits for To Pimp a Butterfly adapted from AllMusic and the album's digital booklet.


    1Wesley’s Theory4:47
    2For Free? (Interlude)2:11
    3King Kunta3:55


    To Pimp a Butterfly Wikipedia