Kendrick Lamar’s first release for the maniacally anticipated follow-up to good kid, m.A.A.d city just dropped and the reception is extremely mixed. Other than the obvious criticisms like “his voice!” and the idea that it’s a bit softer than his usual goodness (some even going so far as crossing his face with Macklemore’s because Twitter has zero chill) there’s just the idea that it’s almost completely different from anything he’s done so far.
Fans are fickle, and in the Internet era, they’re more fickle than ever. His classic debut came out almost two years ago, and fans have been patiently waiting for a continuation to king Kendrick’s reign. Since then, he’s lost a Grammy and toured constantly, but he’s released nothing but a few guest verses, mostly for artists in the TDE compound along with Imagine Dragons and more recently Young Jeezy and Flying Lotus. You can imagine how excited we were, then, when the new song dropped. First the artwork showed members flashing colors and making heart signs, and then on the song, well… Here’s what we thought. And by we, I mean Andres Tardio our Sr. News Writer, Justin Hunte our Editor-in-Chief, and myself, Andre Grant.
Andres: Just before good kid, m.A.A.d. city was released to critical acclaim from nearly everyone, including HipHopDX, I saw Kendrick Lamar at a music festival full of many drunk and high teens, 20 and 30-somethings who were waving their hands in the air as K. Dot performed. There was something inspiring about hearing them all chant along to “Swimming Pools (Drank)” in enthusiastic unison. The sober and not-so-sober folks were emphatic about this anti-drinking anthem made by an introspective young man, inspired by his complicated relationship with alcohol. There was hope for a brighter tomorrow. It was beautiful.
Today, Kendrick Lamar released his new single, “i,” a celebration of self. “I love myself,” is a catchy part of the hook, which finds Kendrick once again hitting the public with an uplifting message filled with depth, layered with a cloak of intricate, thoughtful raps that examine one’s life, emotions and complexities. “i” acts as an opening act for what is set to become Lamar’s second major label album, but it also serves a different purpose. “We gotta respect the young man for using his platform to say something in music,” Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith, CEO of TDE, said before the track was released. Amen to that. Just like those teens, 20 and 30-somethings at that festival, waving their hands to a song about the negative effects of alcohol, a child today is waking up, boppin’ his or her head in front of a mirror, and saying, “I love myself.” That’s beautiful.
Andre: Not to get all esoteric, but I like to compare Kendrick to other Gemini rappers of similar ilk, and apparently, similar ideas. There was Tupac going from super positive guy to I’ll murder your family guy in a heartbeat and 3Stacks going in every direction at once on every album after Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, finally reaching for that flashing green pop light on The Love Below, and then B.I.G going from “Gimme The Loot” and “Suicidal Thoughts” to “Player Hater” and chunky, immaculate verses on “Victory” and “Hypnotize.” What I’m saying is it can be done, this abrupt switch in style, the machinery of the voice treated like some malleable thing you can use in any which way. And let’s not forget Mr. West, arguably the most mercurial representative, who’s gone through a categorical shift on each record with fans splintering and cracking with each release as a new demographic rushes to embrace him.
Overall, I think the drastic shift in tone, and the hyper-positivity is something only Kendrick could do with any credulity right now. Add in the fact that good kid, m.A.A.d City was a movement from negative to positive and you have what’s probably half of something else in the overall narrative the way “Sing About Me/Dying of Thirst” was some kind of multiple turned exponential rendering. This is K. Dot’s secret ingredient, I think. Dividing himself so much he embraces the fractured identities of of the hypershare era. “i” is beautiful in that way, and it’s made me curious for what will come next.
Justin: Baseball scouts covet something described as the 5-Tool-Player. It’s a characterization referring to non-pitchers who can hit for average, hit for power, run bases awesomely, field awesomely, and throw awesomely. If a player has all five of those tools, then supposedly that player is incredible.
Now here’s a theory for you to completely disregard: Music is most effectual if it rocks in all the scenarios that people most often use music. If an artist can create a 5-Tool-Song—a song that rocks in the car, rocks in the gym, rocks in the crib, rocks in the club, and rocks when downshifting into mack-mode—then that artist probably created a hit. Kanye West’s “Flashing Lights” is a 5-Tool-Song, for example. Prince’s “When Doves Cry” is another. So is “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe.” It’s the aural holy grail—at least for singles.
I don’t care about the mixed-to-abominable reactions to Kendrick Lamar’s “i.” I love the song. I love the dripping positivity and the shifting rhyme schemes flowing like a fountain full of words. I love the Golden Era Puff Daddy-esque throwback sampling style that’s pretty much just the original version of The Isley Brothers’ “Who’s That Lady.” I love how K. Dot somehow harnessed his inner Cee Lo Green. I love how the song feels risky yet revels in the fact that inspiration, the act of inspiring people through sound, is never truly a risk at all.
And most of all—at least through my day one assessment—I love how “i” rocks in the gym, in the car, in the club, and in the crib. There haven’t been any mack-mode tests yet. But a 4-Tool song is still loaded with Replay Value.