Explained: Kendrick Lamar's Chaotic (and Planned) Surprise Release of 'To Pimp a Butterfly'

Ramona Rosales
Kendrick Lamar photographed on Dec. 3, 2014 at Smashbox Studios in Culver City, Ca.

Update, 3:34PM, March 16: To Pimp A Butterfly is now available for purchase on iTunes.

Around 11:45PM last night (March 15), Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly appeared on the iTunes Store and Spotify, a week earlier than initially expected, although insiders had been tipped off Saturday that the album was coming late Sunday evening. The web quickly erupted over the news -- Lamar's follow-up to 2012's Good Kid, m.A.A.d City was a leading choice for the most-anticipated release of spring.

Hours later, however, the album had been yanked from iTunes, with links leading to only a preorder, while remaining available for streaming on Spotify.

Anthony Tiffith, CEO of Lamar's label Top Dawg Entertainment, seemed confused over the drop, pointing an accusatory finger at  label partner Interscope on Twitter.


While Tiffith's tweets had not been explained at press time, Lamar's manager, Dave Free, tells Billboard that the album's "pre-order lock" iTunes was a glitch that would be resolved shortly. An Apple representative contacted by Billboard said the company was "looking into it."

Spotify's representative had touched down in Austin for SXSW minutes before a phone call with Billboard. "It went up at midnight last night." When Billboard pointed out that Spotify wouldn't release a record without a plan, the rep said that no, the company would not. There is still an issue with finding the record on Lamar's artist page within Spotify, which was characterized as a glitch and that would be corrected shortly.

Requests for comment from Interscope were declined.

Given the complexity of high-profile surprise releases, it's not surprising when errors occur -- last fall, Apple made several seconds of static available on Taylor Swift's Store page, which subsequently topped the Canadian iTunes chart. Today's glitches make the smoothness of the surprise Beyonce and D'Angelo albums (the latter of which even included a surprise physical release) all the more impressive.  

As for the actual music on To Pimp a Butterfly? A cursory first listen strongly backs the case that Lamar has, again, made a monumental piece of work.

Additional reporting by Jem Aswad.