To Pimp a Butterfly is Kendrick Lamar’s second major label studio album, and third full-length project. It was released via Top Dawg Entertainment, Aftermath Entertainment, and Interscope Records. It followed his critically-acclaimed 2012 debut, good kid, m.A.A.d city. The album was very well-received upon release, eventually earning 11 Grammy nominations, and it has gone on to be hailed as one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time.
In contrast to Lamar’s previous projects, TPAB took more heavily from jazz, soul, and funk influences, with such contributors as Thundercat, Terrace Martin, Kamasi Washington, and Flying Lotus providing instrumentation and production. Other noteworthy credits include vocals from Anna Wise, Bilal, George Clinton, James Fauntleroy, Rapsody, Ronald Isley of the The Isley Brothers, Snoop Dogg, and a posthumous appearance from 2Pac.
This album’s concept explores themes of self-love and hate, fame, depression, violence, race, and politics through a spoken-word poem that interweaves between songs, leading up to the climax. The poem is wrapped up on the final track, “Mortal Man,” where it is revealed that Kendrick was reading the poem to 2Pac all along. In an interview with MTV, Kendrick explained that the working title for the album was ‘Tu Pimp a Caterpillar,’ which spells out ‘TuPAC’ when abbreviated. It was changed to ‘butterfly’ in order to symbolize Kendrick’s personal character growth and his overall resiliency following success within the music industry.
The leading singles from this album were the studio version of “i” and “The Blacker the Berry.”
The album was heavily inspired by Lamar’s trip to South Africa in 2014, where he visited historical sites such as Nelson Mandela’s jail cell, birthing recurring motifs like Apartheid, distinctions between African and American culture, or institutionalization, among many others. Kendrick creates many allegorical comparisons between Compton and South Africa, especially on the song “Momma.”
All of Lamar’s efforts, touring, and accolades culminated in a powerful 2016 Grammy Awards performance, featuring “The Blacker The Berry” and “Alright,” for which he famously received undue criticism from FOX News.