‘These Walls’ by Kendrick Lamar feat. Anna Wise, Bilal & Thundercat
From the album To Pimp A Butterfly (2015)
As I predicted a few weeks ago, March was a fantastic month for music! In brief, I was slightly underwhelmed by the Modest Mouse album, pleasantly surprised by Death Cab’s Kintsugi (it’s far better than Codes and Keys anyway) and, as always, completely mystified and awed by Godspeed!’s latest effort. There were, however, two genuine album of 2015 contenders released in March, namely Sufjan Stevens’ tragically beautiful Carrie & Lowell and what we will probably look back on and call a game-changer, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly. It is from the latter that I have selected this week’s Track of the Week.
When I talk about game-changers in relation to rap, I mean albums like The Chronic, Illmatic, Reasonable Doubt and The College Dropout. Does To Pimp A Butterfly fit into this category? A cursory Google search would suggest so, with ‘to pimp a butterfly game changer’ returning 774,000 results. Another litmus test for this would be taking a look at the track listing and seeing how many of those I could feasibly pick for my Track of the Week. Predictably the answer is every single one, but I’ve gone for ‘These Walls’, which is arguably the most accessible across my entire readership (all three of you, plus the random Germans who are about two weeks behind – wie geht’s?).
There is a dark undertone running through the entirety of the album, but it is especially evident, and contrasted, at the start of this track. After the intro, it would be easy to suggest that ‘These Walls’ is a straight-up pop song, however as it moves through Kendrick’s verses, it becomes a dark rumination on an illicit relationship and a tale of revenge; a baby daddy and murderer in prison whilst the female of the story is ‘fuckin’ on a famous rapper’. The ‘walls’ of the song are, variously, vaginal, a prison cell, a bedroom and the walls of the head that incase a brain in which an internal narrative is taking place, the struggle between feelings for an imprisoned lover and a need to ‘exercise her right to work it out’ in his absence.
As I said before, I could have picked any song from To Pimp A Butterfly for this article, it really is that good. If you haven’t heard it yet, you should watch this video and then buy the album immediately.