by AARON MEGAR
Two years after the release of his platinum hit and one of my favorite albums ever, Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City, Kendrick Lamar finally released a new single on Tuesday and like any obsessed fan I flocked to the track like it was the reopening of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. My reaction to “i,” however, did not nearly match my excitement.
The song features a 1970s guitar riff sampled from the Isley Brothers’ “That Lady,” that creates an up-beat and exotic background that reminds me more of a Hawaiian luau than a Kendrick Lamar track. While Kendrick’s rhymes are sharp and on point throughout the entire song, it isn’t until the third and forth verses that we are reminded of the man who created the masterpiece that is M.A.A.D City.
The track’s uplifting and positive message, made clear by a chorus featuring the line “I love myself,” is sure to help generate mainstream success – it stood as the 6th top song on iTunes by the end of the day of its release – but it is nothing like Kendrick has ever put out before. Yes, Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City consisted of themes that stood vehemently for self improvement and against violence and hate, but Kendrick illustrated these themes through the dark stories of his life and growth in Compton, not through a chorus that mirrored one of 2014’s hottest (and most annoying songs), “Happy” by Pharrell Williams.
Contrary to everything I have said, however, I really do like the song. Its peppy mood only upsets me because its not the Kendrick I expected, not because it isn’t good. It’s going to be one of the best songs on the radio this fall, and its mix of a catchy hook and Kendrick’s incredible rap technique come together for a great track. But the record’s “Top 40” sound worries me for Kendrick’s career and, in result, the future of the rap industry.
The fact of the matter is that I’ve seen too many of my favorite rappers change their styles, whether it be towards or away from the mainstream, and in effect have lost my interest. I am not ready to lose Kendrick like I have lost interest in rappers like Eminem, Kid Cudi, and Mac Miller, all of who were atop my list of rappers at one point or another. I am not totally against an artist growing and altering their sound, but if Kendrick Lamar shifts towards radio-appropriate music (his only other song to make it big on the radio was the dark and eery “Swimming Pools”), that is another great talent lost to the mainstream and a big blow to rap fans across the world.
There is hope, however. In an article published by Rolling Stone on Tuesday, Kendrick told the magazine “to expect ‘aggression and emotion'” from his upcoming and unnamed album, hopefully to be released by the end of 2014. Kendrick also stated to Rolling Stone that he has yet to call on another artist to feature on the record, insisting that he is not going to put out any of the Rihanna and Skylar Grey choruses that buried Eminem into the genre of mainstream hip-hop.
To make things clear, I’m not writing this article with any hate for Kendrick. Like I said, I dig the song, and the Rolling Stone article definitely eased my worries about where “i” fits in with the upcoming album. The only point I’m trying to get across here is this: if “i” is any indication of a new style coming from Kendrick, the rap genre may be about to lose one of its most authentic and talented rappers to what I like to call “radio-rap,” and it is because of this that I call the song a danger to the genre.
Like the song? Think its mainstream? Tell me what you think!