Kendrick Lamar’s good kid m.A.A.d city was a gem. It amassed critical acclaim and spawned conversation on its instant classic appeal. It championed the west coast’s gangsta rap origins and reminded the rest of the hip-hop world—saturated with club bangers and punchlines—that we will listen to, and appreciate, the narrative of a full album, not just a one-off hit. It showcased Lamar’s storytelling abilities and vocal range, from enraged ferocity to high-pitched hysterics. Above all, it proved that a project, not specifically built for commercial appeal could still be a mass hit.
With the drop of “i,” the long-awaited first single from his anticipated sophomore LP, Lamar seems to be gunning for a commercial success straight out of the gate. Bolstered by a sample of The Isley Brothers’ “That Lady?,” “i” is where feel-good Pharrell and an uplifting André 3000 meet. The track opens up with a preacher deeming Lamar “a young brother that stands for something” and “believes in all of us.” “He’s not a rapper. He’s a writer. He’s an author,” the speaker professes. “And if you read between the lines, you’ll learn how to love one another. But you can’t do that, without loving yourself first.”
Cue a Carlos Santana groove, Lamar’s versatile flow, and a message that will ultimately reverberate from Billboard charts and carve out a new sect of Lamar fans—those who resonate with pop more than they do a hard-hitting sound straight from Rosecrans. For loyal followers, those who’ve followed since the early 2000’s when Lamar went by K. Dot, it’s certainly a departure from “Backstreet Freestyle” and favorite “Money Trees.” If anything, “i” is a testament to Lamar’s evolution, a continuation of the joyous overtones of “Black Boy Fly” and “Now or Never.” He’s shared plenty about his hard times; let’s let him have a little fun.