Where does one begin with the audiovisual, soon to be canonical work of art that is “HUMBLE.”? I am nothing short of utterly obsessed with the cognitive dissonance in Kendrick Lamar instructing everyone to be humble over an insanely menacing beat courtesy of Pluss & Mike WiLL Made-It. On his latest track, he’s audacious yet self-aware, and just the right level of smug.
Although I would never say K Dot is laid-back, many of his best-known tracks have breezy, Californian undertones like “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe” and “Swimming Pools (Drank).” There is absolutely no sonic chill present on “HUMBLE.” The title alone is a dead giveaway - on capslock and finished with a period. A strong, silly-seeming suggestion of a track name that is to be taken seriously, but with a shot of D’USSÉ and Kool Aid as a chaser.
With just two verses of lyrical invocation at his disposal, Kendrick makes the few hundred words feel like a manifesto. There’s absolutely no surprise at all that at the time of this writing, it’s the number one song people are looking up on Genius. From likening sex to an all-night game of Tetris to referencing a Nas verse from 2012, he is completely on point throughout. He also slides in a critique of America’s obsession with Photoshop-perfect aesthetics, making clear his preference for all-natural looks, particularly when it comes to black women. Nearly every aspect of the track is staccato in a way that makes every subsequent second of the barely 3 minute long “HUMBLE.” seem worth a deep level of attentiveness. K Dot’s cutting cadence paired with that insane piano riff, layers of booming percussion, and alarming synths all hit the sinister sweet spot and highlight his supernatural wordplay.
Visually, the video oscillates between interpretations of classic Catholic iconography and clever late 20th century references to iconic films and moments in hip hop. The opening shot has Kendrick spotlit in papal robes, soon after occupying the role of Jesus in a much cozier version of the "The Last Supper" where everyone is wearing a hoodie instead of the requisite flowing tunics. He fast forwards to the mid '90s when he’s supported during the chorus by a sea of bald black men, a visual nod to the film Being John Malkovich. K Dot even adds yet another reference to the now-iconic '80s Grey Poupon mustard commercial to the hip hop archives. With pop culture homages that span the past 2000 years, Kendrick Lamar proves that he’s at the top of both the visual culture and intertextual rap game in less time than it takes Drake to explain to a love interest that she needs to “get that shit together” ad nauseum.
With the oddball funk vibes on recent track “The Heart Part 4” and the incredible intensity of “HUMBLE.” as both a bangin’ track and a concise cinematic treatise, I cannot even begin to estimate how many paradigms will be shattered nor which dimension of human consciousness we will all ascend to this Friday, April 7 when Kendrick’s new album arrives.
For more of our track reviews, check out our take on Rihanna's "Umbrella" ten years after the fact right here.