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ALL THINGS KENDRICK

Hip-Hop’s Brightest Young Star Makes a Timely, Transformative Album

It’s been stated time and time again over the decades that if you make a great record, it will sell. Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly (TDE/Aftermath/Interscope) serves as dramatic proof of the ongoing validity of this maxim. The fact that this brilliant and challenging album is a runaway #1 in its debut week, with 319k in sales and 355k SPS, should be cause for celebration throughout the music business. It’s that important, on several levels.

The album had an unorthodox release, to say the least. It dropped without warning a week earlier than scheduled, trumpeted by a single tweet from Lamar shortly after midnight on Sunday (3/15). For a good part of Monday, technical glitches at the iTunes Store kept the new release offline and unavailable, frustrating countless fans eager to download the album, but if anything, these problems only ramped up the excitement, as full-on social-media frenzy ensued. It centered on the music Kendrick had delivered, and the provocative message behind it, ultimately catapulting To Pimp a Butterfly into the record books.

The album was streamed more than 9.6m times Monday on Spotify, setting a new record for most worldwide streams in a single day on a new release. By day four on the service, TPAB had had eclipsed the tally of former champion Drake’s monster mixtape If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, chalking up a mind-blowing 24m plays.

Kendrick has struck a deep emotional chord, delivering a powerfully vivid portrayal of what it’s like to be a young black man from the hood in our country at this moment in time, with race relations in turmoil. This is a reality we hear about on a daily basis, whether it’s police outta control, racist fraternities or insane gun violence—it’s living hell, from Compton to Congress.

There’s an apparent nod to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird here, because, like that classic novel, this record tells a compelling tale about walking around in someone else’s skin—black skin. Through these 16 tracks, you are made to view the world through Kendrick’s lens and whoa, seriously feel him—the rage, confusion, adversity, tragedy, responsibility, guilt, dogma and fear he’s experienced. Lamar’s self-admonishing song “u” moved me to tears, and in “How Much a Dollar Cost,” the protagonist brushes off a homeless person who turns out to be God, which had me and millions of others listening in stunned silence.

Ever been to a movie that hit you so hard that you left the theater in silence while you tried to process what you’d just seen? That’s what listening to this incredible album is like.

Lamar is equally poignant musically, layering his intense verses with a jazz and funk fusion filtered through collaborations with an eclectic assortment of collaborators from Flying Lotus to Pharrell. TPAB is so future-forward it’s on par with what OutKast achieved when they dropped their debut Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik—a record so ahead of its time that the mainstream white hip-hop fans didn’t get it. That album was packed with the sounds of another life, intelligent observations about being black in Atlanta as the ATLiens they were back in the day.

What makes the timing of TPAB even more remarkable is that Kendrick has delivered this work of pure artistry at the height of his fame rather than at the start of his career. By pushing every emotional button possible, he’s pushing the entire genre ahead in both content and character. Hearing this game-changing album has undoubtedly sent plenty of artists right back into the lab. It’s a real conversation, and one that’s desperately needed.

HITS LIST: AMPERSANDS
Dynamic duos (12/3a)
TAYLOR'S TREMENDOUS YEAR
She'd make one helluva CEO. (12/3a)
THEY CALL THE WINDFALL MARIAH (HOLIDAY EDITION)
Ch-chingle bells (12/3a)
SONG REVENUE:
BOWS OF HOLLY
Adele is money. (12/3a)
UTA MUSIC EXPANDS IN NASHVILLE
Reshuffling the deck (12/3a)
CHESTNUTS
Roasting.
STOCKINGS
Stuffing.
PIPERS
Piping.
SANTA
Coming.
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