Closing out his first single of 2017, “The Heart Pt. 4,” and his first solo release since the acclaimed b-side LP “Untitled Unmastered,” Kendrick Lamar states that we all (who “we” exactly means is ambiguous) have until April 7 to get our sh•t together. An ominous warning to an ambiguous target. Is it his audience? The music/rap industry at large? Or is it a direct targeted attack to the artists Lamar sees as below him, such as those suggested by the internet, Big Sean and Drake?
“The Heart Pt. 4” created quite a bit of buzz when it premiered, especially with the closing line that many considered a less than subtle hint of an album drop on March 7. This was further strengthened on March 30 when Lamar dropped the lead single from his debut album, a trap-flavored three minute long diatribe that spans from Lamar telling someone or some group of people to “sit down, be humble,” to him complaining about societal pressure on women’s beauty, rapping that he is “sick and tired of the photoshop.” “Humble” was released along with a visually striking music video that contains incredibly creative and complex camera angles and scenes with Lamar’s quick punctuated flow and the song’s dirty, southern inspired Mike Will-Made It beat.
April 7 has come and gone, and there was no new album. Instead, Lamar released the preorder and composer list for his upcoming fourth album, a 14 track nameless LP due to release on April 14.
What this album will entail, and how it will affect the rap industry, is truly unknown. Lamar reinvents himself on both sonic and content levels every album. His debut commercial LP and masterpiece of storytelling and ghetto upbringing, “Good Kid, Maad City” bares little resemblance to his sequel, the acclaimed introspective, political and jazz-based 2015 album, “To Pimp a Butterfly.” With “Humble,” Lamar once again departed from his past sonic endeavors. Instead of the jazz and funk inspired poetic jams of “To Pimp a Butterfly” or “Untitled Unmastered,” we instead are gifted with a fast flowing, trap inspired song that seems to be sending a message from Lamar that he is at the top of the game, and that he can flow with precision and a certain hint of malice over any type of beat.
The typically press shy Kendrick gave us a glimpse into his upcoming album on March 1 via a profile piece in the New York Times Style Magazine. In it, he states “I think now, how wayward things have gone within the past few months, my focus is ultimately going back to my community and the other communities around the world where they’re doing the groundwork. ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ was addressing the problem. I’m in a space now where I’m not addressing the problem anymore.” Lamar then goes on to expand, saying that his album will deal with issues of femininity and personal growth, using the example of having a daughter and watching her grow up dealing with the issues of societal pressure.
No matter the content, Lamar’s fourth album will debut in a time of fast-rising radio singles and internet momentum within the rap industry. A time where catchy hook laden singles enjoy greater success than complex concept albums. Success in the industry at the moment is just as dependent on radio play and media attention as it is on social media and how the internet can quickly turn songs into massive successes with the help of fast spreading memes. The Migos’ hit song “Bad and Boujee” rose to the top of the charts off of a round of Instagram memes that brought the songs catchy hook to the forefront of the mainstream.
For Lamar, whose music does not enjoy mass radio play and is rarely heard blasting from the average car or in the clubs, it is always a risk to provide a deeply conceptual and complex full length album. However, Lamar is also the kind of artist that can provide both extremes. He’s at times both rap lyrical savior and a composer of replay worthy, bass heavy tracks that might talk on elaborate subjects, but with a catchiness that rivals many of his peers.
Whether his next album will be an attack against politics, society or those he disapproves of remains to be seen, but whatever he debuts, Lamar will make a mark on a music scene that at the moment thirsts for his voice.