“Y’all got ‘til April the 7th to get y’all shit together” Those were Kendrick Lamar’s words as he laid down the gauntlet to all his rivals, challengers and pretenders ahead of the release of his hugely anticipated fourth album this Friday. He’s right to be confident though. Kendrick Lamar is at the peak of his powers and the release of his new album - if that's what we're to expect - promises to be one of the events of the year. The king has returned to claim his throne.
Kendrick’s genius has always been obvious. Go right back to his earliest mixtapes and major label debut ‘Good Kid M.A.A.D City’ and it was clear that we’re dealing with a special talent. It was 2015’s masterpiece ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ though that really established the Compton rapper as a phenomenon. It’s a record of stunning breadth and vitality. Dealing with the big social issues of our time filtered through the prism of Kendrick’s family, his beliefs and his community, it was a record that had something important to say and did it set against some of the most experimental and dazzling music we’ve heard on a major hip-hop album. That was then though, Kendrick’s jazz odyssey is over so what comes next?
No matter what the new album sounds like it’s certain to be bound to a concept. Kendrick doesn’t do anything in half measures and a trademark of his career has been his storytelling skills and ability to tie everything around distinct themes. Everything he does, every rhyme, every video, every beat and every image is for a reason.
So far, the two tracks teased from LP4 indicate a different style than the sprawling creativity of ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’. ‘The Heart part 4’ is Kendrick setting the scene for what comes next. He’s achieved major success and superstardom but he wants more. As a rapper Kendrick has always valued the power of his lyrics and his words. They’re his greatest weapon. On ‘The Heart part 4’ he celebrates his untouchable rhyme skills, “Thirty millions later, my future favours, the legendary status of a hip-hop rhyme saviour”.
The second track trailing the album, ‘Humble’, highlights a harder-edged bluntness to Kendrick’s sound. Pulling no punches and cutting no corners it’s a straight up banger driven by Mike WILL Made -it’s dirty deep piano hook and 808 bass line. Again, it sees Kendrick baiting and taunting his challengers. In the face of his superiority they have no choice but to step back and be humble.
Ultimately though, no one quite knows what the album will sound like but Kendrick. He’s already spoken in various interviews about his desire to further address the things no one talks about and continue to represent his community and the values they believe in. Speaking to the New York Times in March he said: “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 throughout the world that are doing the groundwork.” Where ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ addressed social ills, the future is about looking at solutions and inspiring change. “I’m in a space now where I’m not addressing the problem anymore.”
There’s one other reason why April the 7th is a significant date. For someone with such forensic attention to detail as Kendrick it’s surely significant and intentional that the date his fourth record drops is the day that Tupac Shakur, one of hip-hop’s all-time icons and Kendrick’s greatest influence, becomes the first solo rapper inducted into the Rock and Roll hall of fame. If LP4 is as special as we hope it will be Kendrick Lamar’s legacy will be further enshrined and they might just need to create a new hall of fame just for him.