Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Read This: A year later, critics revisit their To Pimp A Butterfly reviews

Illustration for article titled Read This: A year later, critics revisit their To Pimp A Butterfly reviews

There’s almost no such thing as a “do-over” in the world of professional criticism. Most reviews of a particular work are written when it is brand new, and the vast majority of those reviews are never revised or revisited. Critics have deadlines to meet, and often, they’re still sorting out their thoughts about a film or a book when their reviews are due. These problems are intensified when a work, such as a highly anticipated hip-hop album, is released a week early. On the one-year anniversary of Kendrick Lamar’s controversial but widely praised and complicated To Pimp A Butterfly album, the lyric-annotation site Genius did something original and interesting to mark the occasion: it asked several critics to annotate their own To Pimp A Butterfly reviews. The aim of this project, according to writer Christine Werthman, is to let reviewers answer some basic questions, like “Do they agree with their words from a year ago, or do they feel differently now that more time has passed?”


Craig Jenkins of Pitchfork admits in his marginal comments that he was still struggling with the album at the time of his original, highly positive review:

After just under a week with the album it was hard to make a conclusive call on what all the plot points were adding up to, like the opening cautionary Wesley Snipes tale and ducking visits from the mysterious Lucy (hits blunt “That’s Satan, right?”) and God masquerading as a homeless person.

Complex’s Justin Charity uses the opportunity to share some additional insight into the album, based on conversations with those who worked on it:

I’ve spoken with a few of the musicians who worked on this album, including Assassin, Terrace Martin, and Bilal. While most of them described the studio sessions for TPAB as intimate and familial, Assassin was a rare exception: he and Kendrick hadn’t even met by the time this second single dropped. Assassin recorded his hook for “The Blacker The Berry” remotely, in Kingston, Jamaica.

Has the intervening year changed anyone’s opinion about the album? Rawiya Kameir of The Fader has some thoughts on that. In reading her own 2015 review, Kameir admits: “In retrospect, a lot of this feels like hyperbole.” Kameir doesn’t regret giving Butterfly a good review, but her enthusiasm is dampened 12 months later:

At the time, just a couple of days after its release, I was overwhelmed by the experience of listening to TPAB. That doesn’t happen often. There was something about those few months—going from Black Messiah to To Pimp a Butterfly—that felt significant. A year later, my take on Kendrick as a rapper and TPAB as a record has shifted quite a bit—I’m still a fan but I’m a little bored. It’s not easy to admit but I think the reality is that I was impressed, and remain impressed, by the album and its ambitions more than I actually feel connected to. Good Kid, M.A.A.D City gets way more plays from me than To Pimp A Butterfly does.