Culture, Music

Hip-hop artist Kendrick Lamar puts the ‘i’ in ‘humanity’

Kendrick Lamar’s new song has the internet up in flames. The song, just by existing, is one of the most important releases of the year. The radio will love it. But, let’s get one thing straight. The song isn’t great. Kendrick is, and therefore everything he does will be by association.

The song is titled “i,” lowercase probably signifying a lack of self-appraisal, because that’s what the song is about: humility and equality. To Lamar, we are all the general “i,” as in humanity.

The song begins with a recording of a preacher preaching the gospel of Kendrick:

“We got a young brother that stands for something. We got a young brother that believes in the all of us. He’s not a rapper, he’s a writer, he’s an author. And if you read between the lines, we’ll learn how to love one another. But you can’t do that – right on– I said, you can’t do that without loving yourself first.”

So, this is how Lamar’s tour as the world’s greatest rapper begins: Self-congratulations. Lamar isn’t a rapper, he’s a writer. Oh. Wow. Well, while I applaud Lamar’s resolve to use his platform as an artist to promote positivity, I do also understand that there is a way to make positivity compelling, and this isn’t it. If you want to do positivity, do the Beastie Boys or Tribe Called Quest. Embrace the struggle of being good or celebrate the joys of being ecstatic. The issue here isn’t the message or the artist’s talent. If anything, Lamar’s potential should justify coming up with an equivalent to Notorious B.I.G.’s sophomore album single “Hypnotize,” and this song is no “Hypnotize.”

No contemporary artist has proved to be as powerful and surprising in his work as Lamar. With only one album released through Top Dawg Entertainment and mostly feature roles in others’ songs, Lamar is indeed more than a rapper. He is mythology, internet’s legend. He is the dude who turned rap on its axis through a single verse. Everything he does will fall under intense scrutiny.

Now, not all of this is negative. This song is just the latest piece of evidence showing that Lamar is willing to take huge risks within his music, and it’s a really positive step toward the future. He is the foremost people’s rapper, a dynamic interior artist. Since his first full length album “Section 80,” he’s proved to work best when analyzing himself. In delving into his humanity, the internality easily translates into relatable content.

It’s psychology veiled in urban melodrama and devastating lyrical technicality. It’s why an artist like Kanye West, who can be disliked in the social spectrum, can manage to become one of the most prominent voices of the present. Lamar, like West, is increasingly more self-aware and by providing a lens into his own self he lends us the ability to do that our own.

Hip hop, like rock ‘n’ roll before, alters the cultural landscape of the upcoming dominant generation – the college students. In Lamar lies one of our most important influences. So, while I think the art he just turned in isn’t as fascinating as I’d like, I have to admit I’m looking forward to more socially conscious music that preaches self-love over plastic and elusive concepts like money or swag. In a world where it’s easy to be cynical, here comes the voice of our generation asking us to love the one entity we can truly love: ourselves. It’s corny I know, but it’s kind of nice to think about.

October 15, 2014


Juan Bisono

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