Kendrick Lamar's 'To Pimp a Butterfly' Changed Music, Says Kamasi Washington

It didn’t just change the music. It changed the audience.
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It didn’t just change the music. It changed the audience.

Kendrick Lamar scrapped several albums to make his sophomore major label release, To Pimp a Butterfly, a decision that resulted in multiple GRAMMY Awards, the highest-rated rap album of all-time, and an archived selection in the Harvard library, among countless other achievements.

Beyond awards and honors, however, according to veteran jazz saxophonist, composer and producer, Kamasi Washington, To Pimp a Butterfly has had a profound impact on the direction of the entire recording industry. 

"That record changed music, and we’re still seeing the effects of it," Washington explained to Pitchfork contributor Jeff Weiss. "It went beyond jazz; it meant that intellectually stimulating music doesn’t have to be underground. It can be mainstream. It went beyond everything else too: harmonically, instrumentation-wise, structurally, lyrically. I feel like people’s expectations of themselves changed too. It just didn’t change the music. It changed the audience."

Washington, who contributed tenor saxophone on Kendrick's "u," is one of a growing number of artists and musicians to cite the overarching influence of TPAB. During a recent conversation with DJBooth senior writer Yoh, Roc Nation emcee Rapsody revealed that her colorful new album, Laila’s Wisdom, was, in part, inspired by To Pimp a Butterfly, a project that she was featured on ("Complexion (A Zulu Love)") and that has led to a host of unfair comparisons.

Beyond his risk-taking approach to making music, Washington, who is fresh off the September release of his new EP, Harmony of Difference, also applauded Kendrick's interest in every aspect of the creative process.

"I came in later in the process and, from day one, I knew this was a classic, world-changing record. Kendrick not only brought in the best people, but he allowed them to be at their best. That’s the rare thing.

"There are the people who it just comes easy to and there are people who work at it. Kendrick is both. He can instantly write a song that’s dope as hell, but then spend the time to meticulously work it out and make it perfect. You usually get only one or the other. He’d be sitting there watching me write string parts. Not a lot of people would care. They would be like, “Show it to me when it’s done.” But he’s always in the studio giving you ideas, and his instincts are incredible. He’ll hire people to do the style that they really want to do and then take all this genius poured into this pot and use his own genius to shape it into this perfect album. It’s a real type of humility—not humble for any philosophical purpose, but a true humility."

Shortly after the album's release, Kendrick was quoted as saying, "To Pimp a Butterfly will still be relevant in 20 years."

He might have been selling himself short.