To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick’s awe inspiring album that earned him rave critical acclaim and was lauded much by his fellow peers. To some of his fans, it was in the opinion that he fell off as it lacked continuous bangers like his previous effect GKMC and to his other fans it was in their opinion that it was the not only the greatest rap album of the decade, but also the best album of the decade. I fall into the later part, but I’m going to argue much further than that. I’m going to proudly claim that To Pimp A butterfly may actually be the greatest rap record of the 21st century.
Now I know what you’re thinking, TPAB isn’t not even 5 years old how can you be making such an outlandish statement! Well there really are no rules to how long you should wait until you can judge an album against well-established previous albums that have been out longer. Why are people so terrified of comparing something new to works with an established legacy? Beats me. I believe that a year is enough, and almost two years have passed since TPAB has dropped and it still holds up tremendously well. Now there are 5 rap albums including TPAB that I believe are the best rap records of the 21st century so far. These albums include, The Blueprint by Jay Z, Madvillainy by Madvillain, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West and Good Kid, M.A.A.D City by Kendrick Lamar. These 5 rap albums represent the tremendous quality that rap has put out in the 21st century. Going back to my point, TPAB is a better album than all the above listed and the reasons below will state why.
Placing Kendrick’s second major label album against his first major rap album Good Kid Maad City is honestly always bound to happen. Both albums are complete opposites. It was GKMC that propelled him to super stardom with hits such as Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe, Money Trees and Swimming Pools (Drank). While TPAB was a critics darling and appealed more to fans who were more knowledgeable than the average music listener who solely listens to pop and mainstream rap. This may come as a surprise to you but honestly GKMC really doesn’t hold a candle against TPAB. What holds GKMC back from ever being a better album than TPAB are several weak songs on the album. Compton, Backstreet Freestyle, Poetic Justice and Real. Four tracks which undeniably fit the narrative of the album but fall short of the quality that the other album tracks possess. Real drags on for far too long, Backstreet Freestyle feels as if it was included just to be played at live concerts as an hype song, Poetic Justice could be removed and it wouldn’t be noticeable as it really doesn’t add anything to the album and Compton sounds Just Blaze’s failure to replicate his incredible Lord Knows beat on Take Care. TPAB doesn’t suffer from that, as a matter of fact it doesn’t contain a single weak track. Critics may point out that ‘Alright’ is the weakest song on the album as it was a radio theme single that was put on the album to encourage sales, however I disagree with that. Alright is a pivotal track on the album as it marks a turning point on the album. The first six tracks on the album make up the darkest moments on the album and peaks with ‘u’ (arguably the darkest song on the album). Placing the song ‘Alright’ right after ‘u’ was incredibly powerful as it represents everything against ‘u’. It symbolises positivity, hope and touched many individuals worldwide.
Overall TPAB far superior to GKMC.
The next album that I consider the fourth weakest on the list is Jay Z’s classic The Blueprint album. The Blueprint is Jay’s best album by mile, far superior to Reasonable Doubt and The Black Album which are his two other classics. Jay really hit the ball with this one and it was the album that certified him as one of the best to ever do it. TPAB and The Blueprint are two completely different albums. TPAB is an album about Kendrick dealing with depression, mental health and his rise in the music industry, while The Blueprint was about Jay Z rapping about him being at the top of the rap game and his new found lifestyle. While both albums are substantially different, they both share the same similarities too. Both albums at their time had production that was substantially different from other rap albums. The Blueprint dropped in 2001 with sweet soulful production unlike never heard before thanks to legend Kanye West. In contrast TPAB was a majestic blend of jazz, soul and funk in an era where trap rap music dominates. Stating which album was the better was no easy feat, both albums have both rappers at the very top of their game. Jay Z flows incredibly well on the Blueprint, while Kendrick raps effortlessly on TPAB. But what separates both albums is due to the fact that TPAB transcends rap and enters into the world of art while the blueprint stays within the lane of hip hop becoming a landmark album within its genre. The Blueprint is simply just like your other rap album, Jay raps about money, women, dissing Nas and being a former drug dealer etc. The production is lavish but the album essentially just feels like a hip-hop album. TPAB feels like an album that can effortless fit into the genres of spoken word, funk, jazz and soul. TPAB really doesn’t feel like a rap album and simply isn’t confined into it. I’ve heard a few albums that sound like The Blueprint or rather contain elements of the sound the album has, such as The College Dropout, Below the Heavens, Ridin Dirty and Be. As for TPAB, I’ve literally haven’t heard an album it before it came out and after it dropped. Just like Madvillainy , TPAB is unique in its own right.
Moving to the third weakest album on the list is Madvillainy by Madvillain. I honestly wish I could travel back in time just to see the reaction to when this album dropped. Underground hip-hop fans must have been crying with joy when they first heard Madvillainy. Madvillainy is the most unique rap album ever in hip hop, Madlib managed to conjure an album that will absolutely stand the test of time. Some will say that the beauty behind the album lies behind its short song formats and how different and abstract it is from other rap albums (the average rap song has three verses and a hook between each song). However what I love about the album is DOOM’s flow, Madlib’s incredible use of samples and it is comedic value (Operation Life Saver…AKA Mint Test is a funny story about DOOM talking about a girl who needs a breath mint). What I Don’t like about Madvillainy is just how short some of the songs were contrary to others. I found myself drowned into songs like Operation lifesaver a.k.a Mint Test, Figaro, Strange ways, Curls and Accordion only to find those positive experiences ending abruptly as soon as you really begin to get into them. Also there was no need for instrumentals on that album, I would have been happy if they were removed only to increase the length of the named songs above. When in all honesty all those songs above could have stretched out one minute longer. In contrast to TPAB, I have a much more fulfilling experience and the songs are of good length and not a single second is wasted.
The comparison that what all of you have been waiting for My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy vs To Pimp a Butterfly. MBDTF is without a shadow of doubt Kanye’s greatest album. It is amazing what a man can create when the world is against him and has something to prove. Kanye did what I thought was impossible and topped Late Registration. MBDTF is one of the greatest albums of all time, it is an album that uses its samples masterfully (the incorporation on the 21st Century Schizoid man is pure fucking genius), has incredible production and Kanye managed to rap his best here.
TPAB and MBDTF are for me the two greatest rap albums of the 21st century, both have the greatest hip hop production the world has ever heard. It only seems fitting to compare both albums, seeing as they both transcend hip-hop. They both don’t sound like pure rap albums. So why does To Pimp a butterfly trump Kanye’s masterpiece. Well, I am in the firm opinion that TPAB beats out MBDTF in lyrics. I mean we are talking about Kendrick Lamar right? Who is comfortably the greatest MC of the decade. Another massive reason as to why TPAB is a better album is because it was an album was much more personal and relatable to the average listener.
As stated earlier TPAB is an album mostly about depression and mental health. In ‘u’ Kendrick raps about his leaving the hood and leaving others behind, because of his new found fame and when touring he wasn’t there for his friend who died. It’s that kind of sensitivity and vulnerability that touches people. The album provides a portrait of what it is like growing up as an inner city youth, growing up with crime, peer pressure, climbing the social ladder but still being scarred by what he experienced as a youth. However in ‘i’ he wants to cure that depression by rapping about self-love and appreciating how far African Americans have come. In contrast I always felt MBDTF was a letter to Mr West himself, in the sense that it was all about him. That it was all about his fame and ego and how he was dealing with it. MBDTF was all about Ye accepting who he was and not giving a damn about what anybody thought about him. It’s a personal album for Ye. Nothing wrong with that.
In additional what also puts TPAB a notch above MBDTF is its cultural impact. The track alright became a rallying cry and anthem for the Black Lives Matter movement and essentially the voice of the oppressed. MBDTF didn’t have that type of impact, it had impact in the music industry as it can be said it influenced artists in the industry to up their game. Without TPAB I don’t even think we would have got Lemonade, A Seat at the Table, 4 Your Eyes Only, Blackstar and Awaken My Love. Ladies and Gentlemen, To Pimp a Butterfly is the best rap album of the 21st century.