Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly didn’t just flutter to the top of the charts — it soared.
The rapper’s sprawling, experimental sophomore effort debuted atop the Billboard 200 album chart this week with 324,000 copies sold, according to Nielsen SoundScan — resulting in Lamar’s first No. 1 album and the second biggest sales week of the year (behind Drake’s surprise If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late, with 495,000 last month).
Lamar’s follow-up to 2012’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City arrived eight days ahead of its planned Monday release when it was dropped onto iTunes early last week. It earned rapturous reviews from critics and broke Spotify’s record for most album streams in a single day (9.6 million).
And while massive sales for a surprise release are nothing new, as Drake andBeyoncé have shown, Butterfly‘s success is particularly staggering, given the album’s lack of commercially viable singles (save for i, which peaked at No. 39 on the BillboardHot 100 singles chart last fall), unconventional sound (fusing jazz, funk and rap), and racially charged themes of inequality and police brutality.
Lamar “is willing to experiment in a lot of ways, and right now, mainstream rap isn’t always doing that,” says Erik Nielson, an assistant professor at the University of Richmond (Va.), who teaches courses in African-American literature and rap music. With the sales and conversation Butterfly has ignited, “I start to wonder how relevant people coming after him are going to be if they don’t at least start to consider these themes as well.”
“Kendrick has had faith in his audience and hip-hop at large that they would get his message and see he’s striving for more than a Hot 100 hit,” Lipshutz says. “The fact that (he) was able to unleash this 16-song opus, he really believed in his audience that they’d want to hear something this deep, and obviously it’s connected.”
So could Butterfly mark a resurgence of political- and issue-driven rap in the mainstream? One should be cautiously optimistic, Nielson says. Lamar “has been kind of exceptional from day one, so what’s true for (him) may not be true for anybody else.”
And while the genre is undoubtedly on a winning streak — with Lamar, Drake, Big Sean (Dark Sky Paradise), Rae Sremmurd (SremmLife) and Joey Badass (B4.DA.$$) all scoring Top 10 albums in 2015 — it may be due to pent-up demand from rap fans more than anything. While last year was peppered with new albums by Nicki Minaj,Lecrae and Schoolboy Q, many big-name artists have waited to debut new material until this spring, with major releases from Kanye West, ASAP Rocky and Snoop Doggstill on the way.
“After a long period of silence, everything’s coming out now,” Nielson says. “But I’m hopeful that the Kendrick Lamar version is what takes. If it does, it at least opens a greater space in mainstream hip-hop to explore these issues.”
Source: USA Today
Image: Kendrick Lamar, performing at Reebok’s #GETPUMPED event. on Tuesday, has set a high bar for social commentary in hip-hop. (Photo: Chris Weeks, Getty Images for Reebok)