Rapper Kendrick Lamar is going to save hip-hop. At least, that’s the promise every reviewer, blogger and hip-hop enthusiast has made after La- mar dropped his latest hit “i” off his highly anticipated soph- omore album on Sept. 23. After hearing “i,” I myself might just believe that statement. “i” is a whole new sound style for Lamar, reminiscent of Outkast. It’s not just Lamar’s high-pitched singing, flow and rapid-fire drums that remind me of Andre´ 3000; there’s something fun in this song that I haven’t heard much of in hip- hop since the days of “Roses” and “B.O.B.” That something is a catchy, feel-good beat and lyrics that––for once––are not about money, molly or the degradation of women.
There are undoubtedly other hits with “fun” beats and lyrics within the ever-growing genre of hip-hop––take “A$$” by Big Sean for example. Yet, they have nowhere near the same level of the lyrical and rhythmic exploration that La- mar employs in “i.”
Lamar certainly isn’t ap- pealing to the average pop-rap demographic like Mac Miller or Childish Gambino might, but his song is still accessible for a casual listener. “i” feels universal; it isn’t meant for just one crowd.
The brilliance of “i” is that when it comes down to it, the song is simple and up- lifting. It’s just about learning to love yourself and having fun. There’s no gimmick and there’s no stereotype to ful- fill, as demonstrated in recent hits like Nicki Minaj’s “Ana- conda.” Lamar’s message to listeners is to just dig yourself for who you are and you’ll be happy.
Don’t be mistaken, how- ever, it’s not vacuously cheer- ful like the intolerable Pharrell hit “Happy.” There is some real darkness in the track. Lines such as “I went to war last night/ I’ ve been dealing with depression ever since an adolescent,” remind you that Lamar has been to some sad places and seen some messed up things. Still, these don’t mean he can’t be happy. This honesty and poignancy are what distinguish any Lamar hit from the mainstream rap that most are used to.
If the rest of this album is thematically linked to “i,” then Lamar’s highly anticipated up- coming album will be the anti- Yeezus. Whereas Yeezus is about the unexpected pains and strug- gles from a man on the top of the world, Lamar’s album could be about unexpected joy from a man at the bottom. The contrast in lyri- cal content creates a nice dichot- omy for the hip-hop community.
For a long time, I’ve felt like you can either write fun hip-hop or you can write serious hip-hop. Lamar has certainly broken down those boundaries. By taking seri- ous, profound lyricism and mix- ing it with upbeat bars and catchy hooks, Lamar may truly save hip- hop.