It opens with a frenetic trumpet jam that includes a baton-passing monologue from Dr Dre, a bonkers hook from George Clinton, and the Taylor Swift-referencing line, "F*** the haters". It's followed by a free-jazz odyssey about his penis. At this point, two tracks into the year's most anticipated hip-hop album, it's clear that Kendrick Lamar can do whatever the hell he wants to.

Surprise-released on Monday night, To Pimp A Butterfly goes out of its way to deflect expectations with those eyebrow-raising opening tracks. Thankfully, the Compton rap poet soon settles, delivering a deep, dense and daring follow-up to his bonafide classic Good Kid, M.A.A.D City.

Backed by prog-jazz blueprints and beats steeped in G-funk hip-hop history, an introspective Lamar shows there are some heavy loads on his shoulders, using up much of the album's 78-minute run time with full-scale rants that run so long he occasionally does them acapella.

On the woozy lope of Hood Politics, Lamar lays out his complaints against politicians, rapping about "DemoCrips" and "ReBloodlicans" alongside lines like, "They give us guns and drugs, they call us thugs ". The Blacker the Berry is a fierce examination of race issues that mimics Kanye West's post-New Orleans rant against George W. Bush: "You hate my people, your plan is to terminate my culture". And on King Kunta he compares himself to slave figure Kunta Kinte: "From a peasant to a prince to a motherf***in' king."


It's a tough listen at times, but Lamar's an enthralling rapper, switching up styles at ease and layering his songs with so much lyrical style it's impossible to take it all in over a few cursory listens.

Underpinning it all is his newfound obsession with his untimely demise. The album's centrepiece is 12-minute closer Mortal Man, which references Martin Luther King, includes a spoken word segment from late rapper Tupac Shakur, and repeatedly asks Lamar's fans if they would stick with him when "the shit hits the fan".

After dropping his second classic album in three years, the answer has to be a resounding "yes".


Kendrick Lamar


To Pimp a Butterfly





Best rapper alive refuses to settle for less

- TimeOut