One of the most intriguing insights into the making of Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly — the highly anticipated follow-up to 2012’s good kid, m.A.A.d. city — is that Lamar revealed his own personal listening material going into the album was heavily made up of Miles Davis and Parliament records. That Lamar filled his ears with revolutionary black music of the ’60s and ’70s seems to parallel the statements that Amir “?uestlove” Thompson made about D’Angelo’s Black Messiah before it came out, when he said it was in the tradition of records like Davis’ On the Corner or Sly and the Family Stone’s There’s A Riot Going On. But Lamar never actually said that’s what he set out to create; he didn’t really have to. On some level, he already has. No album in recent memory has made the personal seem so political as Lamar did with his 2012 opus, but as newly released single “King Kunta” makes clear, this time he’s actually putting an effort into making something that doesn’t just carry the spirit of classic funk, soul and fusion records — he’s making something that actually sounds like them.
In contrast to the triumphant and fiery sound of “The Blacker the Berry” before it — itself a top-1o contender for track of the year — “King Kunta” filters Lamar’s newly intensified fury into a g-funk thump solid enough to unify this one nation under its groove. Early rumors placed DJ Quik behind the boards of the standout track (though it was actually produced by Sounwave), though it definitely echoes that Compton producer and emcee’s signature funk sound, to which Lamar adapts nicely with a fitting me-against-the-world outlook. “Bitch where you when I was walkin’? / Now I run the game got the whole world talkin’, King Kunta,” he boasts. “Everybody wanna cut the legs off him, Kunta / Black man taking no losses.” It’s pure badassery, plain and simple — complete with nods to Richard Pryor, Michael Jackson and Bill Clinton — and it’s the kind that’s likely to blare out of car windows all summer long. As the track wraps up, Lamar and his backup singers chant “We want the funk!”, echoing George Clinton’s famous catch-phrase on top of the stylistic homage that runs through the track. The request is superflous, though; the funk’s already here.[from To Pimp a Butterfly, out March 23; Top Dawg Entertainment]
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.