Rapper Kendrick Lamar went three years without releasing an album, taking his time to craft an impressive sophomore effort in “To Pimp a Butterfly.”

This new album was certainly worth the wait following Lamar’s classic studio debut “good kid, m.A.A.d city,” which helped boost his stature as one of hip-hop’s best.

Already a two-time Grammy winner, Lamar continues to demonstrate that he’s one of music’s best on the compelling and thought-provoking “To Pimp a Butterfly,” a play on the title of the Harper Lee novel “To Kill a Mockingbird.” And much like Lee’s novel, Lamar’s album overflows with metaphor, focusing on how innocent minds can be influenced by money, fame and worldly matters.

The album’s 16 tracks flow masterfully from one to another, a fusion of jazz, funk and hip-hop. It’s a compelling piece of work that features production by Pharrell Williams, rapper Terrace Martin, Boi-1da and Rahki.

Lamar’s socially conscious messages are once again easy to digest, especially on “Institutionalized” featuring Bilal, Anna Wise and Snoop Dogg. Lamar is strong on the Pharrell Williams-produced “Alright” and “How Much a Dollar Cost,” where he raps about the struggle of his fame with the assistance of James Fauntleroy and Ronald Isley.

The rapper touches on how some black entertainers such as actor Wesley Snipes have fallen victim to the entertainment industry on “Wesley Theory,” featuring George Clinton and Thundercat. He offers other thoughtful tracks such as the upbeat “Momma,” “Hood Politics” and the album’s single, “i,” which took home a Grammy for best rap song.

“Mortal Man” is a 12-minute song that finds Lamar questioning the loyalty of people in troubled times. He speaks about the betrayal of influential leaders from Moses to Martin Luther King Jr., reads a poem then closes the song with a hypothetical conversation with Tupac Shakur before asking the late rapper about his perspective of today’s changing world.

Jonathan Landrum Jr.


It’s been eight years since Modest Mouse’s album “We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank” smashed onto the U.S. charts at No. 1. Will lightning strike twice for frontman Isaac Brock with the long-gestating “Strangers to Ourselves”?

Stranger things have happened.

After aborted sessions over the course of three years — in Atlanta with Outkast’s Big Boi and Portland, Oregon, with Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic — and countless hours of studio tweaking, the resulting album is a hodgepodge of styles and ideas that improves with every listen.

Although the 15-track release lacks a cohesive structure — with experimental space rock such as “Pistol (A. Cunanan, Miami, FL. 1996)” rubbing up against calypso-influenced travelogues like “Ansel” — the joy of “Strangers to Ourselves” is in anticipating what challenging curveball will be pitched next.

Every time Brock and Co. flick on the Modest Mouse-autopilot (leadoff single “Lampshades on Fire” and acoustic lament “Coyotes”), they veer thrillingly off-course, throwing out a funk-flecked, brass-coated track like “The Ground Walks, With Time in a Box.”

Brock has said fans won’t have to wait long for a sequel to “Strangers” — we can only hope he’s as good as his word, as Modest Mouse is the very rarest of breeds — a chart-topping rock act with brains.

Matthew Kemp