Last Friday, Kendrick Lamar dropped a brand spanking new track called ‘The Heart Part 4’. It marks the 4th part of a series of songs from Kendrick’s early mixtape days. ‘The Heart Part 3’ concluded with the line “will you let hip hop die on October 22?”. Coincidently, Good Kid, M.A.A.D City was released on October 22. So when ‘The Heart Part 4’ contains verses of Corn-row Kenny honouring his background, recognising his accomplishments and his industry status, commentating on the current state of America and even making a stab at Donald Trump, his approval ratings are going through the roof. And when he finishes with the verse “Ya’ll got till April 7th to get ya’ll shit together,” everyone inevitably goes nuts. If ‘The Heart Part 4’ is anything to go by, then Kendrick Lamar’s 4th record will likely drop on April 7.
This prediction was further cemented in the last day, as K dot spontaneously released a new song and music video, titled ‘HUMBLE.’ a brag track that is anything but humble. A title all in caps and ending with a period is pretty damn bold after all. . The video featured some stunning visuals, and caused a lot of speculation into whether Kendrick was having a go at rapper Big Sean. Nevertheless, a new Kendrick song which contains a particular date, followed by another new Kendrick song and music video is pretty good evidence that a new Kendrick Lamar album could very well be released next week.
As with any album that is being released by a significant artist, it causes an immense discussion as to how its going to sound, whether the album will be a venture into new territory, whether it will be disappointing and so on. However, most of these questions can be answered if one takes a look at the back catalogue.
Let’s take To Pimp A Butterfly as an example. On September 23, 2014, Lamar released the song ‘i’, which was essentially the first single from the album. Because it was released without any wider context of an album, as at that point in time, nobody knew about the existence of the other songs on To Pimp A Butterfly, it had to be understood as a standalone song. And it was bizarre, to say the least. ‘i’ was built on an upbeat Isley Brothers sample, and seemed to be a very uplifting and pop-conditioned track, musically speaking. This in itself seemed to be a huge departure from the dark and quirky music of tunes like ‘Swimming Pools (Drank)’ ‘Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe’ and ‘Money Trees‘. When To Pimp A Butterfly was finally released 6 months after ‘i’ it changed the rules of not just hip-hop, but of modern music in general.
In a 2015 interview with MTV, Kendrick describes the track “u” as being a significant centrepiece for the entire album. The themes of the album are leadership, money, and celebrity, and how these elements can be used to ‘pimp’, for better or for worse. It is through Kendrick’s determination to be a positive leader and influence, that he exposes the darkest depths of experiences. But even in spite of such negativity and self hate, he can come through to say “I still love myself” (as heard on the track “i”). Lyrically, “i” makes an incredible amount of sense, not as a standalone track, but as a track playing its part within the narrative of the wider album.
The sonic backdrop of each track also plays its role in the narrative on To Pimp A Butterfly. The dark and chaotic sounds heard on ‘Wesley’s Theory’ and ‘For Free?’, connect the dots with Good Kid M.A.A.D. City a bit more clearly, and function as a sonic vehicle for the narrative on the album. By the time we get to “i”, the pop conditioned and innocent music make sense.
So in light of this, can we use “The Heart Part 4” or “HUMBLE.” in order to make predictions on album no. 4? The only logical expectation that one can make is that the new record will be as expected: unexpected. “The Heart Part 4” is a track in which the first verse pays its respects to the bass funk as heard on To Pimp A Butterfly. However, things completely change in verse 2. And then, things change again during the first half of the second verse. If this isn’t unpredictable, then I don’t know what is.
“HUMBLE.” seems to be a similar format to “i”, a more loop driven, verse/chorus/verse/chorus form. On first listen, it definitely doesn’t provide the same interest as “The Heart Part 4”. But as mentioned previously, analysing any of these tracks on their own is redundant; as their role on the next record (if they are going to be on the next record…) may be one that is completely unexpected.
To Pimp A Butterfly is regarded as having an incredible impact on not just the hip hop community, but also the jazz community, politics, David Bowie (who cited the album as a major inspiration for his final release Blackstar) and more. Billboard Magazine even titled Kendrick Lamar as being the “John Coltrane Of Hip Hop”. The influence of this record is obvious. We only have to look at To Pimp A Butterfly to see that it is kind of pointless to make any predictions about the artistic motives behind Kendrick Lamar. We know that Kendrick is interested in the current state of politics, the issues of society and the music industry. And we definitely know that Kendrick is not afraid of making honest comments in these areas. But musically speaking , who knows where Kendrick will go. Unexpectedness seems to be most accurate prediction. Unexpectedness is Kendrick’s specialty.