Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly vs. Common’s Like Water For Chocolate. Which Is Better?
One year ago, Ambrosia For Heads launched a debate among its readers seeking to answer one of Hip-Hop’s most hotly-contested questions: who is the greatest MC of all time? “Finding The GOAT MC” lasted between September 2014 and May 2015, engaging millions of readers and ultimately producing its winner, as determined by hundreds of thousands of voters. Now, “Finding The GOAT” returns to ask a new question: what is the greatest of all time Hip-Hop album?
“Finding The GOAT Album” will consider 120 albums from three individual eras (40 in each), with options for wild card and write-in candidates. You and your vote will decide which album goes forward, and which one leaves the conversation. While there will no doubt be conversation between family and friends (virtual and real), only votes cast in the voting tool below will be counted, so use the power of your click.
Kendrick Lamar and Common both represent illustrious MCs who may be in a world, but not of it. Both artists have detailed their respective environments, devoid of judgement. Along the way, their albums educate the rest of the world about the city of Compton and Southside of Chicago, while also urging their neighbors to strive for self-improvement, self-love, and self-sustainability. Two albums that highlight these rappers’ gifts are To Pimp A Butterfly and Like Water For Chocolate. Released almost exactly 15 years apart, these albums led the industry—from their captivating artwork to their courageous singles. Each MC’s fourth album is often credited as their best work. Which LP is better? Your critical vote sends the winner to the Final 32 (click one then click “vote”).
To Pimp A Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar
- First Round Winner (against Blu & Exile’s Below The Heavens, 61% to 39%)
Kendrick Lamar followed up his platinum major label debut good kid, m.A.A.d. city in the most atypical way. 2015’s To Pimp A Butterfly was not a concept album. Rather, it was conceptualized around the medium of albums. In a year where streaming platforms would officially become the consumptive means to music, Kendrick Duckworth cast a light on his album’s sums, not its parts. That sum was an evocative work that dealt with uplifting messages to the oppressed, assertions for self-love, and poetic odes to the female reproductive organs. Between G.K.M.C. and T.P.A.B., Kendrick Lamar shocked the industry with his “Control” verse. For an MC known for his kind, competitive spirit, none of that was at play on his second album with Aftermath/Interscope. This time, Lamar aimed to make a statement for the times. Informed by Tupac Shakur, The Isley Brothers, and Parliament-Funkadelic, Kendrick scratched the zeitgeist of the Black American male experience of the mid-2010s. While those seeking more “Swimming Pools” dips may have been left sweaty, this dense listen almost immediately proved its weighty worth in the counter-culture, while the mainstream leaned in for a closer listen.
“Alright” is the triumphant centerpiece of T.P.A.B. With Pharrell on hand for the track, the song meshed a rally cry with Trap and Jazz. Arguably the most significant MC in present-day Hip-Hop still found a way to stand with the underdogs, and offer hope, courage, and assurance. The song would organically become a soundtrack staple to the Black Lives Matter movement. Album closer “Mortal Man” measured the heart of the people. Whether the lyrics applied to loyalty, Rap careers, or daily stakes, Kendrick Lamar checked in with his audience for their commitment. Symbolically, the song closed with an edited conversation between Kendrick and Tupac, who once shared the same treacherous South Central skyline as the MC. “The Blacker The Berry” spoke bluntly about the images of Black men in America. Unrestrained in his writing and his delivery, Kendrick Lamar not only spoke to oppressors, but to himself for hypocrisy surrounding violence. Breakout single “i” was one of the pillars of 2010s cool, reminding the world that love starts at home, with oneself. In order to be alright, and see walls for what they could be, it was about giving yourself the mental nutrition that social institutions would not. Surrounding Kendrick’s dense message, the TDE in-house producers and close affiliates offered complex, dynamic, but understated production. The music queued to the influences (DJ Quik, P-Funk, The Roots), but never once stepped out in front of the message. In the era of the beat, the MC in business with Dr. Dre demanded to put words first. While Dre, Pete Rock, Robert Glasper and others played minor roles in the album’s sound and recording, those features were lost on most. With a clear mind and a pure heart, Kendrick Lamar did not seem to intend to make a classic album. However, in sorting out his perception of the world (and its perception of him), K-Dot stapled his art on the consciousness of 2015, and beyond.
Album Number: 4
Released: March 15, 2015
Label: Top Dawg/Aftermath Entertainment/Interscope Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #1 (certified gold, February 2016; certified platinum, February 2016)
Song Guests: Snoop Dogg, Tupac, Rapsody, Bilal, George Clinton, Ronald Isley, Thundercat, Anna Wise, James Fauntleroy, Dr. Dre, Whitney Alford, Lalah Hathaway, Josef Leimberg, Robert Sput Searight, Rogét Chahayed, Robert Glasper, Brandon Owens, Ab-Soul, Craig Brockman, Marlon Williams, Darlene Tibbs, Wesley Singerman, Matt Schaeffer, Dave Free, Ash Riser, Larrance Dopson, Talkbox Monte, Pete Rock, Javonte, Paul Cartwright, Gabriel Noel, Pedro Castro, Sam Barsh, Kamasi Washington, Gregory Moore, SZA, Adam Turchin, Terrace Martin, Jessica Vielmas, Pharrell, Candace Wakefield, Dion Friley, Preston Harris, Wyann Vaughn, Chris Smith, Keith Askey, Kendall Lewis, Edwin Orellana, Junius Bervine, Devon Downing, Ambrose Akinmusire
Song Producers: Sounwave, Pharrell, Terrace Martin, Taz Arnold, Flying Lotus, Thundercat, Flippa, Rahki, Knxledge, Tae Beast, Lovedragon, The Antydote, Boi-1da, KOZ
Like Water For Chocolate by Common
- First Round Winner (against Lupe Fiasco’s Food & Liquor, 54% to 46%)
Like De La Soul’s Stakes Is High (which featured Common), Like Water For Chocolate represented an artistic pivot for Common. Stepping away from mentor/producer No I.D., Common found the mainstream success that evaded him on the first three albums, despite vast Hip-Hop credentials. Now a full-on MCA Records act, Comm’ Sense relocated to the East Coast and embraced his ties to The Roots and D’Angelo, for an album bolstered by the role of The Soulquarians. The appearances Rashid had given Rawkus Records projects and the like in the late ’90s helped him hit a pocket that was brilliantly introspective, sensitive, and yet commanding on the microphone. More than his previous works, Common knew how to bring his mental strengths to an album that had knocking beats, and an offering that showed the mainstream the greatness submerged beneath radio and video.
Common raised the bar in singles like “The Light.” The J Dilla-produced moment made the Rap serenade cool, as the MC took chances in courting a lover, over a massaged Bobby Caldwell moment. However, Common refused to be taken as a soft rapper. Songs like “The 6th Sense” played the deeply-introspective lyricist against the Gang Starr sound. There, he hurdled over DJ Premier’s chops as exceptionally as Guru, Nas, or Jeru The Damaja. The album carried with it songs akin to those Common had made since Resurrection (“Dooinit” and “Payback Is A Grandmother”), but somehow with a more knocking sound. As The Roots were getting Grammy nods, and Neo-Soul and the Okay Players were booming, Common blended in brilliantly by association. Like Water For Chocolate was Common rising to the occasion. Still in the long night after the death of Tupac and The Notorious B.I.G., the gold-certified album was the suggestion that perhaps Hip-Hop’s next leader need not be a thug, a gangsta, or a polarizing figure. Not without his own on-album controversies (“A Song For Assata”), Common made the album his well-heeled peers would later admit they wished they could. Before the Oscar, Golden Globe, or the multiple Grammy’s, Like Water For Chocolate was Common’s first major pivot, demanding a bigger stage than the Underground had previously allowed.
Album Number: 4
Released: March 28, 2000
Label: MCA Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #16 (certified gold, August 2000)
Song Guests: Mos Def, D’Angelo, Cee-Lo, Slum Village (T3, Elzhi & J Dilla), MC Lyte, Bilal, Jill Scott, Vinia Mojica, Femi Kuti, Roy Hargrove, Lonnie Lynn
Song Producers: The Soulquarians (J Dilla, Questlove, James Poyser, D’Angelo), J Dilla, The Roots, Kelo, James Poyser, Karriem Riggins, DJ Premier
So which is the better album? Make sure you vote above.
Related: Finding The GOAT: The Albums.