Billboard is celebrating the 2010s with essays on the 100 songs that we feel most define the decade that was -- the songs that both shaped and reflected the music and culture of the period -- with help telling their stories from some of the artists, behind-the-scenes collaborators and industry insiders involved.
The connection hip-hop has with its black music ancestry -- raw innovation; racialized pains and the desire to overcome them -- is often drawn with traceable lines. That link is the crux of To Pimp a Butterfly, the Kendrick Lamar sophomore major label album, which grew from a highly anticipated rap record to a cathartic monument by the time it dropped in March 2015. The opus’ brightest moment came from something as intangible and clichéd as perfect timing.
Kendrick Lamar and company sat for months on choir of Pharrell voices that became “Alright.” During that timespan, Akai Gurley and 12-year-old Tamir Rice were introduced to the nation not as sons, but corpses. “Alright” was finished a week before To Pimp a Butterfly’s release as its conspirators decided they needed that one beacon to shine through the album’s multi-genre thicket. In that quest for an undeniable LP centerpiece, they stumbled onto a generational hymn.