My mother has always told me that one of my trademark tendencies is that I often give people the benefit of the doubt, “just like my great-grandfather.” It’s something that I’ve actually come to enjoy about my personality. Giving people the benefit of the doubt, and more specifically not coming to ill-conceived opinions about people prior to interacting with them, has always been something that has allowed me to meet and cooperate with an innumerous (and growing) amount of people. Whether it’s through traveling to a foreign country, through attending Firefly this past summer, or just meeting a new set of kids at the beginning of the school year (I’m still learning their names, btw…) I feel like I’ve been meeting so many amazing people over the past five years of my life. I guess it has just been a product of broadening my outreach, something that I’m conscious of and chipping away at every single day of my life. Through all of my experiences, one of my “fatal flaws” has allowed me to continue expanding.
With all of that being said, I’m also conscious of the adage that “we are the company we keep.” My family, friends, teachers, and coaches certainly impacted my moral code to be accepting of others, and without that guidance I doubt I would have ever began to listen to hip-hop music in the first place. Why? Well that’s simple. There’s a large part of our population that only knows the negative, demonized, overpublicized side of the genre. The money, clothes, girls mantra. You know the suspects. It’s upsetting that just because someone hears about the negative side of the hip-hop genre, they write it off, completely dismissing the positive offerings of the genre as well.
So what am I getting at? Well, all of this rambling introspection is the product of a song that I heard for the first time two days ago. The best rapper alive (I’ve been preaching this for roughly 18 months, 3 weeks, 5 days, 12 hours, 24 minutes, and 37 seconds, approximately), Kendrick Lamar, released his first single off of his upcoming sophomore major label album. It’s titled “i,” and to put it lightly, it’s touched a nerve in me. I pulled into the parking lot at school Tuesday morning to a text message from a friend asking me if I had heard it yet, and if so, what was my opinion? I hadn’t, but I knew he was going to put it out that day at some time. Panicked, I quickly searched for the song on my phone (Sorry mom. I know data isn’t unlimited, but desperate times call for desperate measures). I was successful, and for the next 5 minutes I sat in my car to digest the song before I began my day.
I couldn’t have picked a better source of medicine or inspiration to begin my day. Sure, the coffee helped, but Kendrick’s song is brilliance, and the perfect example of positive, modern day conscious hip-hop. And for all of you that aren’t hip-hop heads (I do hope there’s some of you out there), I hope you can at least be drawn to the song by the fact that Kendrick samples The Isley Brother’s “Who’s That Lady?” on the beat. Now, before I begin to break down the song, let’s take a five minute break and actually listen to it.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: Do not read past this point until you have listened to the song attached below. In an attempt to also help you to comprehend this musical offering, I would also like to provide you with the lyrics for your viewing pleasure:
***While you are not required to follow along with the attached lyrics, it is strongly urged for comprehension purposes that you do so.
Now that you’ve gotten the chance to digest the song over the course of the past five minutes, what are your initial reactions? Was it what you thought you’d hear? Better? Worse? Well regardless, I’ll give you my take on it…
After listening to the song a few times, I texted my friend back about it, asking him what his impressions were. He replied that it wasn’t necessarily what he was expecting, but nonetheless he thought it would get major radio play. The bottom line is that yes, Kendrick has provided us with a textbook radio offering to kick off the promotion of his sophomore album. I texted my buddy back, agreeing that yeah it was a radio hit, but I saw Kendrick’s angle, and it’s crystal clear what he is attempting to do within the confines of the hip-hop genre. He’s using his voice, position, and influence within hip-hop to become a transformative individual.
It’s easy to anoint someone as the best alive, but it’s a touchy subject to categorize someone within the ranks of the best ever, but that’s the water that Kendrick is treading these days. This is the same guy that Complex did an article about, asking how soon was too soon to call an album a classic? It’s true, Kendrick’s first major label project “good kid, m.A.A.d city” will probably go down as one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time when the dust settles. Not for a long time has a hip-hop artist released a classic first album, and followed it with a consistent, groundbreaking, culture changing follow-ups though. The list probably includes the following artists: Kanye, Jay, OutKast, Tupac (cut short). Now you can add a few of your own if you’d like, but that’s my list.
Let’s get back to the song though. As I said, if you’re Kendrick Lamar, I think it’s a hell of a way to kick off your sophomore album. The fact of the matter is that hip-hop has begun to pop up in modern day pop culture at an increasing rate these days, so hip-hop radio hits aren’t necessarily just being played by a select listening audience. I mean, if I have to hear another sixth grade kid ask me if they can use the bathroom “Or naw?” one more time, I miiiiight lose it.
Sure, there are the complaints that Kendrick has “Sold Out,” but I ask… Sold out from what, exactly? This is the kid that has been calling himself the good kid all along, and making uplifting songs like “Now or Never” with Mary J. Blige. Not to mention, you can even scale back to his previous mixtapes “Section .80” and “O(verly) D(edicated),” and you’d see that K-Dot has always upheld himself to a higher standard within the genre. The fact is that while Kendrick is a member of the hip-hop elite, he’s choosing not to adhere to the negative moral codes of some of his less influential competition. I think this song is a testament to him realizing the voice that he has in being such a public figure. Trace back for a minute and recall one of the names that I brought up earlier. Tupac. What’s your favorite Tupac song? Do you know any? Chances are that even though you may not be a devout Pac fan, you’ve at least heard or heard of the song “Changes.”
I’m not necessarily saying that this gem Kendrick has bestowed upon us is on the level of Pac’s transcendent hit, but it’s got the potential. I always think the first time you listen to a new song is such an ignorant experience. You’ve got absolutely no prior knowledge going into the situation aside from the artist’s previous offerings. With Kendrick’s new jam though, I was tentative to pass judgment too quickly. Instead, I was stuck with one word ringing in my mind. Revival.
I wonder if some of you got that same impression listening to the song as well. Could it have been the introduction of the song? It certainly sounds religious in nature. Kendrick is introduced by what sounds like a preacher, and he’s referred to as “brother Kendrick Lamar.”
“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! I said you can’t do that, without loving yourself first!”
The intro in itself sums the song up at it’s core. The song “i” preaches the importance of maintaining a high level of self-esteem through all of life’s trials and tribulations. The hook is by far one of the most noteworthy portions of the song, with Kendrick repeatedly voicing the extent of his self-love:
And I love myself
(The world is a ghetto with big guns and picket signs)
I love myself
(But it can do what it want whenever it wants and I don’t mind)
I love myself
(He said I gotta get up, life is more than suicide)
I love myself
(One day at a time, sun gon’ shine)
Each time he voices his self-adoration he is greeted by a negative counterpoint. Throughout the hook though he reassures himself that he will maintain his composure and prevail through life’s many trials.
Not only are the lyrics positive, but the beat is equally as uplifting. Kendrick has found the perfect blend both lyrically and sonically to produce a potentially transcendent track. Only time will tell, and I’m certain that the success of his sophomore album will play a huge role moving forward as to whether his star will continue to brighten.
So what have we learned here? A couple of lessons hopefully… One, I hope to have convinced you to possibly give something the benefit of the doubt (with a legitimate argument at least), but hopefully Kendrick has taught you to love yourself as well. Anyway, this was only supposed to be a short blurb about the song, but I’m glad I could share my thoughts with you as well.