Written by Jourdan-Reiss Russell
It’s been almost 5 years. Five years since Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar last released a segment of his ongoing single series, The Heart, which come out at milestones in Lamar’s career. If you’ve never heard of The Heart, Part 4 may just be a new hot single, but its release signifies a need for him to address what’s happened, and there’s a lot; two classic albums and a 2016 victory run consisting of Untitled, Unmastered and his Grammy performance. He has a lot to say, and he doesn’t waste any bars here doing so.
“Don’t tell a lie on me, I won’t tell the truth ‘bout you.”
The song lumbers with a ritualistic instrumental and androgynous croon from singer Khalid, disorienting the listener while Kendrick’s first bars hint at the beefs and naysayers he’s had to deal with while ascending to the top. It’s a morose start, a sign of a musician who feels weighed down by his ramifications of success. However as the first verse begins we hear the slick flow from tracks like Hood Politics, Lamar guiding us through his past successes and current state of mind with alliteration, half rhyme and subtle references such as connecting revenue, maths and D’Angelo’s Devil’s Pie in as short as two bars. It’s vintage Kendrick storytelling, engaging yet veiled and verbose.
“My fans can’t wait for me to son your punk ass”
And then, everything changes. Jarring and aggressive, the switch from Kendrick to K.Dot is appropriate as Lamar has to address all the shit he’s been getting recently. Rappers like Big Sean don’t want to admit he’s the best. Since To Pimp a Butterfly, Drake has released 3 projects, bridged grime and hip-hop and called himself the new Hov. In response, the second part is a breathless barrage which flattens everything in its path. Over a thumping neo-G-Funk beat and a sparse, haunting instrumental which stands in complete contrast, Lamar throws shots at rappers who’ve called him out or used his bars while “tiptoeing around [his] name, declares himself the greatest rapper alive”, expresses disappointment with socio-racial inauthenticity and even the controversy around the government’s supposed collusion with Russia. Everything is included considerately such that the subject never supersedes songcraft. It gives the track such urgency, belying the almost 5 minute runtime and immersing us in Lamar’s mindstate while he asserts his dominance.
Definitely a frontrunner for track of the year, it’s perfectly timed; countering the creeping whispers and big moves being made locally and globally. While not my favourite in the series, it’s definitely one of his strongest singles, following the “The Blacker The Berry” formula of longform aggressive and topical rapping. What’s next is uncertain, but all we know is:
“Y’all got till April 7th to get your sh*t together.”
Check out The Heart Part 4 below: