LOS ANGELES — Following the success of his major label debut, “good kid, m.A.A.d. city,” in 2012, the rapper Kendrick Lamar did not indulge in earthly luxuries. Instead, he got baptized.
That album was the story of his redemption, not just from street gangs through rapping but from a life of sin by embracing Jesus Christ. His long-awaited follow-up, “To Pimp a Butterfly” (TDE/Aftermath/Interscope), which was made available online Sunday night, ahead of a planned March 23 release, is about carrying the weight of that clarity: What happens when you speak out, spiritually and politically, and people actually start to listen? And what of the world you left behind?
Mr. Lamar, who grew up in Compton, Calif., had previously been saved as a teenager in the parking lot of a Food 4 Less, he said, when the grandmother of a friend approached him after a tragedy, asking if he had accepted God. “One of my homeboys got smoked,” Mr. Lamar recalled. “She had seen that we weren’t right in the head. That was her being an angel for us.”