Read an Extract from Kendrick Lamar's First Biography

Marcus J. Moore's 'The Butterfly Effect: How Kendrick Lamar Ignited The Soul of Black America' is a must read. Whet your appetite with a chapter portion here.

Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly is one of the greatest albums of all time. That’s facts. Released in 2015, its profoundly impactful lyricism and jazz infused production both exceeded and defied expectation. Following up his critically adored and socially revered breakthrough album good kid, m.A.A.d city, TPAB solidified Kendrick Lamar as a true visionary – a bonafide king of rap, an innovative storyteller and a beacon of great social hope.

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The album makes for a startling listen both now and then. Kendrick employs elements of blues and soul, but combines them with the booming, crisp g-funk leaning production of good kid. Listening to it is like hearing jazz but – as Kendrick once told TPAB producer Soundwave – “made nasty”.

Songs like “Alright” live on as protest anthems, while many themes of the album are indelibly connected with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement both here in the UK and in the United States. It’s a must-listen.

And now, five years after its release, there’s also a must-read accompaniment – a book giving deep insight into To Pimp A Butterfly and Kendrick Lamar’s trajectory from upstart rapper K.Dot to his current status as a leading rap superstar.

The Butterfly Effect: How Kendrick Lamar Ignited The Soul of Black America is the first biography of Kendrick Lamar. It’s also the first book by award winning journalist Marcus J. Moore, and it’s the best bit of literature currently out there on Kendrick Lamar. Zooming out on Kendrick’s career, it’s a fascinating read that lays out the context of his output in a way that hasn’t been done before. Packed with detail, like the fact “King Kunta” was inspired by an early 2000s rap song called “Get Nekkid” from Comptom rapper Mausberg, as well as intimate info from recording sessions, it is recommended reading for any fan of music, society and culture.

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VICE has been granted permission to publish an extract from the book, from the chapter ‘King Kendrick’.

Read on below.

Copyright © 2020 Marcus J.Moore.

To Pimp a Butterfly was revolutionary in the way it included jazz and other traditional forms of black music. Jazz was thought to be for older people, performed by gray-haired veterans in smaller clubs to particular audiences. Kendrick’s album took the lid off that: these musicians were the new cool, more likely to show up in L.A. Dodgers baseball hats, knitted beanies, African dashikis and, well, raccoon suits. This wasn’t the 1950s and they weren’t John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, or Charlie “Bird” Parker. “They didn’t use jazz samples, and they didn’t need old jazz musicians,” [Robert] Glasper said of the To Pimp a Butterfly sessions. “That’s the ‘real hip-hop meets jazz’ right there. That was something I was already doing in my world, but for Kendrick to do it, it changed everything. It had everybody.”

Ryan Porter saw the Butterfly sessions as a way to give new life to what were already great instrumentals from the likes of Taz Ar-nold, Sounwave, Rahki, and Whoarei. They had a song like “King Kunta” to work with, which was created by Sounwave and Thundercat as they watched the Japanese anime Fist of the North Star and ate from Yoshinoya, a Japanese fast-food chain. Because Sounwave was such a jazz head, and because that was the sound he and Kendrick were using for To Pimp a Butterfly, the original beat to “King Kunta” was incredibly jazz-centric, “with pretty flutes,” Sounwave once told the Recording Academy. Kendrick said he liked it but to “make it nasty,” he recalled. “I added different drums to it, simplified it, got Thundercat on the bass, and it was a wrap.” Kendrick didn’t want it to sound like hip-hop; it had to be rough and straight-up funk. He asked Sounwave to start peeling away all the jazz elements, and in its finished form, “King Kunta” is a dusty loop that sounds like Rosecrans Avenue in summertime Compton. The beat itself pays homage to a Compton rapper named Mausberg, who in 2000 released a song called “Get Nekkid.” Kendrick’s song has the same hard drums, synth chords, and deep bass line, and was meant to salute a talented musician who never made it big. The title nods to a slave named Kunta Kinte, the protagonist in Alex Haley’s 1970s TV miniseries Roots. In the series, Kunta gets his foot cut off for trying to run free; Kendrick used that as a metaphor to combat hate. “No matter what type of acts or sword you’re bringing my way,” he told NME, “you’ll never cut down the legs that’s running by the forces of God.”

Photo: The Butterfly Effect

Lyrically, Kendrick took cues from another black music legend – one Mr. James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, the Hardest Working Man in Show Business. Brown was an architect of modern black music, and in a way, a pioneer of hip-hop music. The poet Gil Scott-Heron is credited with bridging the gap between rap and poetry, but Brown – with his restless funk grooves and call-and-response style, is one of black music’s foremost icons. Kendrick channeled Brown on “King Kunta” and employed the same cadence, flipping a line from “The Payback” into a diss of other rappers who use ghostwriters instead of writing their own bars, a cardinal sin in hip-hop. “I can dig rappin’,” he spit, “but a rapper with a ghost writer? / What the fuck happened?”

Then there are certain points in the song that seem to refer to the new crowd beginning to form around Kendrick: the song depicts the rapper’s triumphant return to Compton after years of being on the road and seeing new things. Upon his reentry, the same people who doubted his ascendance are the first ones shouting his name throughout the city. That goes back to what Matt Jeezy says about the nonbelievers who criticized Kendrick in 2009 for eschewing gangsta rap for other forms of music. They shunned him and questioned his newfound direction. So, on the hook, when he asks, “Bitch where you when I was walkin’? / Now I run the game, got the whole world talkin’,” he’s pointing his finger squarely in the faces of those people, proclaiming himself as the king – of West Coast rap, of Compton, of hip-hop as a whole. At that point, who could deny it – Drake, maybe, but while he crafted viral pop hits, he wasn’t digging deep like Kendrick. He kept us at arm’s length and chose surface-level topics that didn’t resonate beyond Spotify streams. Kendrick and TDE were trying to make music that would last forever in history books and school syllabi. For the song, Terrace Martin blended eras, genres, and geography. “You could take the energy of Quincy [Jones] with Michael [Jackson], the harmony of Stevie [Wonder],” Martin once told Revolt. In that way, he continued, “These Walls” felt like “Human Nature,” a hit Michael Jackson song from his 1982 album, Thriller.

The Butterfly Effect by Marcus J. Moore is published by Hodder & Stoughton on 1st October, priced at £20 Hardback. It’s also available in audio and ebook.

Tagged:

Books, Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly

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