In 2012, Kendrick Lamar's Grammy-nominated, radio-dominating major label debut, good kid, m.A.A.d city, was immediately measured by the same yardstick as earth-shattering albums like Nas' Illmatic and Kanye West's The College Dropout. And like those MCs before him, anticipation for Lamar's follow-up was — and remains — sky high.
However, besides a Grammy-winning standalone single, a bevy of feature performances, a missed September 2014 release date and new single, "The Blacker the Berry," there hasn't been a whole lot of concrete information out there regarding Lamar's March 23rd-bound return. Gathering the loose pieces from radio interviews, magazine features and our upcoming feature story, this is everything we can say about the record.
In a new interview with Rolling Stone, Lamar tells contributing editor Josh Eels that his third album will not be untitled or named Untitled. Instead, it's called To Pimp a Butterfly, a play on Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. "Just putting the word 'pimp' next to 'butterfly'… It's a trip," Lamar says. "That's something that will be a phrase forever. It'll be taught in college courses — I truly believe that."
Lamar would later take to Instagram to reveal To Pimp a Butterfly's artwork and share the quote that spawned the album title: "Don't all dogs go to heaven? Don't Gangsta's boogie? Do owl shit stank? Lions, Tigers & Bears. But TO PIMP A BUTTERFLY. Its the American dream nigga...."
In our feature, Lamar reveals that free jazz, 1970s funk, Miles Davis and Parliament were the main inspirations behind To Pimp a Butterfly's beats. "Every producer I've ever met was sending me stuff — but there was a one-in-a-million chance you could send us a beat that actually fit what we were doing," Digi+Phonics producer Mark "Sounwave" Spears told Rolling Stone.
In November, he told Hot 97, "Everything’s really in-house. Of course Dre, but I really stick with four producers that I’ve been working with since day one." It's safe to assume Lamar meant the Digi+Phonics crew — Sounwave, Tae Beast, Dave Free and Willie B.
In late 2013, a year after the release of good kid, m.A.A.d city, the first evidence that Lamar was working on new music at all came via a Beats by Dre commercial, with the rapper and Dr. Dre collaborating on a track later dubbed "It's Alive." However, a full version of the song was never released. In a September 2014 interview with Rolling Stone US, Lamar confirmed that he linked up Dre for some beats. "[Dre]'s just gone into the lab and made beats," he said. "He's trying to find that next thing — just really elevating himself and the team to grow as a creator." But what parts of Dre's input made the final cut is still unknown.
Lamar also admitted that he hit the studio with Pharrell Williams, but it's unclear whether those sessions were for the rapper's new album or if they ultimately resulted in Lamar's "It's On Again" collaboration with Alicia Keys that wound up on the Pharrell-produced The Amazing Spider-Man 2 soundtrack.
"You are the last Colbert Report musical guest. Honored to have you on, but keep in mind: Paul McCartney, R.E.M., Jack White and Nas were your opening acts," Stephen Colbert told Lamar on December 16th. To mark the occasion, Lamar unleashed a jazzy, experimental "untitled" track that featured a Terrace Martin saxophone solo and some of Lamar's most contentious lyricism to date. Producer Astronote later took credit for the track, which also boasts contributions from Bilal and Thundercat.
On February 10th, without warning, Lamar dropped his newest and most confrontational song to date, "The Blacker the Berry." The track, named after Wallace Thurman's book of the same title, finds Lamar tackling institutional violence, hypocrisy and the termination of his culture.
"I'm the biggest hypocrite of 2015/Once I finish this, witnesses will convey just what I mean," Lamar raps at the onset of every verse. "The plot is bigger than me/It's generational hatred/It's genocism, it's grimy, little justification/I'm African-American, I'm African/Black as the heart of a fuckin' Aryan/I'm black as the name Tyrone and Darius."
The track features engulfing, layered production by Boi-1da — adding the frequent Drake collaborator to Lamar's new album mix — as well as Terrace Martin and Boi-1da protégé KOZ.
Topics: Kendrick Lamar