Kendrick Lamar’s ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ gets a surprise early release

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Kendrick Lamar’s new album, “To Pimp a Butterfly,” arrived Sunday night, a week before its scheduled release date on March 23.

Although the release initially appeared to be an accidental leak, major-label distributor Interscope confirmed to The Times late Sunday that the early drop was indeed intentional, likely a stunt in the same vein as previous major releases, like Frank Ocean’s “Channel Orange,” which also dropped a week ahead of schedule, hours before Ocean’s seminal appearance on “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon” in 2012.

On Sunday night, Lamar’s album went live on streaming platforms Spotify and Google Play, and a clean version became available for purchase on the iTunes Store. The buy option for the explicit version, however, did not go live until an hour later. By Monday morning, the explicit version had been taken down, only to reappear a few hours later. The streaming platforms maintained availability throughout.


At the time, Lamar himself seemed fine with it — or at least resigned to it. He tweeted Sunday night, “Keep calm. All is well.” The boss at his label Top Dawg Entertainment, on the other hand, wasn’t so zen.

“I WOULD LIKE 2 PERSONALLY THANK @Interscope [Records] FOR ... UP OUR RELEASE... SOMEBODY GOTS 2 PAY 4 THIS MISTAKE !!!! #TOP,” tweeted Anthony Tiffith, Top Dawg’s chief executive, about 20 minutes after the clean version appeared on iTunes (and 40 minutes before the explicit became available).

As for the glitch of the album being available and then not? An Apple source with knowledge of the rollout who requested anonymity because she wasn’t authorized to speak publicly said a programming error had wiped out the album and had pushed it back to its previously announced release date, although the advance release was always “supposed to happen.” Interscope and parent company Universal Music Group could not be reached for comment on the nature of the intermittent availability as of press time.

Before the album’s release, all songs on “Butterfly,” except for its first three singles — “i,” “The Blacker the Berry” and “King Kunta,” the latter of which dropped Friday — had been unannounced and listed on iTunes without titles.

Now revealed, “Butterfly” features guest spots from the likes of Flying Lotus contemporary Thundercat, funk supreme George Clinton and Snoop Dogg, who is the keynote speaker Friday at the music portion of the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. Isley Brothers frontman Ronald Isley even makes an appearance toward the end, independent of a prominent “That Lady” sample on the single “i.” Drawing from Afrofuturistic funk, free jazz and early ‘90s hip-hop influences — not to mention a heavily dramatized, almost operatic spoken-word component — the album is as energetic and kaleidoscopic as its first singles foreshadowed.

“Butterfly” is Lamar’s third full-length LP and comes in the wake of his five-time Grammy-nominated sophomore album, “good kid, m.A.A.d. city.”


Twitter: @dynamofire

Times staff writer Gerrick Kennedy contributed to this report.