“Y'all got 'til April the 7th to get y'all shit together.”
That was the defining statement of intent from Kendrick Lamar’s surprise new track “The Heart Part 4,” dropped without warning last week and all but confirming the release date of his next project. Interestingly, a post on Joey Bada$$' Instagram saw the rapper announcing that the exact same date would be "...officially the new global appreciation of hip-hop day and I'm sure dot would agree."
So is Kendrick bigging up Bada$$ with the sign off on the track? Or does Bada$$' comment actually reveal that both rappers are dropping projects on the same date? It seems unlikely that Kendrick would be backing anyone else but himself. Especially Bada$$, who is a pretender to his throne. Either way, it's set to be a big day for the genre - and the expectation is that the follow up to To Pimp a Butterfly is imminent.
K.dot really throws down the gauntlet on "The Heart Part 4." Despite Top Dawg confirming to Rosenberg that the track won't feature on the album, Kendrick reportedly wrote the track on March 21st - almost certainly to steal the limelight from Drake's More Life. The message is clear - ensure you know Kendrick is the king. He shoots off dismissals to Big Sean and Drake, which got fans frothing. He switches between four different flows, illustrating his dexterity on the mic. The authority and the weight to his bars is unrivalled.
Even in the down-tempo, Khalid-assited hook, "“Don’t tell a lie on me / I won’t tell the truth bout you,” Kendrick takes aim at rappers attempting to test his authority over the game. His next album will find him solidifying his place as number one in the game, as well as providing a nuanced reflection of the current sociopolitical scenario in the U.S - with a particular focus on educating the next generation, “I’m satisfied when I strategize my kids future.”
But the key question from the release is what happens next. “Dropped one classic, came right back. Another classic, right back / My next album the whole industry on an ice pack,” leaves everyone thinking the same thing - where does the self-proclaimed best in the game go from the once-in-a-lifetime spectacle that was To Pimp a Butterfly?
The potential tracklist that surfaced over the weekend is evidently not true, and has already been confirmed by multiple-collaborator Cardo as fake. It was extensively, yet clumsily, compiled; do tracks entitled “Trust Everyone” and “Commercialised, Failed Experiments” really sound like they’d come from the mind of Kendrick? It is undoubtedly the work of an overexcited Kendrick stan/expert-level troll who has way too much time on their hands. He’s about to go a whole lot deeper that that.
Whilst he has been cashing in on high-key collaborations with the likes of Maroon 5, Mike WiLL Made-It and Travis Scott for features on radio-records and bubbly-trap/pop hits, it’s unlikely an album of this magnitude will feature anything like Kendrick in get-that-paper mode. It’s about to be the polar opposite.
Kendrick’s interview with the New York Times T Magazine also revealed the key areas that the Compton rapper will explore. During the in-depth conversation, Kendrick spoke of three, key areas the next album will address - spirituality, resistance and an authoritative message for the next generation.
It’s not that spirituality has been absent from his work in To Pimp a Butterfly - with both the “Lucy” lexis and appearance of God as a beggar in President Obama’s favourite song of 2015, “How Much A Dollar Cost,” ensuring it still reflects a large part of his mantra. And yet it’s becoming apparent that Kendrick will go further in amplifying this motif. Despite the United States electing a president whose policies are rooted in tradition and religion, Kendrick will provide a truer reflection of spirituality that Donald Trump’s divisonary policies through the preachings of unity and religious morality.
With his new album, Kendrick will open up about how his faith has been consistently immersed in his music. "To Pimp a Butterfly was addressing the problem," he says, talking about the themes of religion and politics in his music. "I’m in a space now where I’m not addressing the problem anymore." So whilst K.Dot will seek to pertinently reflect the current social and political climate within the album, he will also transcend it in looking towards religion. The socio-political climate has shifted from one of survival to resistance.
The need for a major musician to offer a definitive message of resistance is, in Kendrick's own words, "urgent." Kendrick’s message of black empowerment will undoubtedly still play a large role - but not necessarily through the floating, jazz-infused stylings he employed with Thundercat, Kamasi Washington and Flying Lotus. Those sonic elements celebrated black excellence in an era in which it was essential to be released into; an era where the Black Lives Matter movement was at its peak. It will manifest into a soundscape that will equip itself to a wider audience in what is now a time of fragmentation and division through political upheavals like Donald Trump’s presidency and Brexit. His themes of survival have moved to themes of resistance, so expect an album that will be far more robust in language as it will be in sonics.
No-one in the game is better placed than Kendrick to deliver an assured, authoritative message. “You have to accept it and you have to have your own solutions to figure out how to handle the action and take action for it,” Kendrick says in the same interview with the New York Times. You can already hear some of the commanding message he’ll provide for the next generation in the lyrics from “The Heart Part IV,” where his scathing social critique pulls no punches - millenials, Trump and Russia are but a few to face the brunt of Kendrick's wrath. With this next project, Kendrick will exert controlled self-assurity at the top of the rap game and manifest it into providing the message this generation needs most.
Whilst it’s going to be an unenviable challenge to follow up on both the depth and brilliance of his Grammy Award-winning To Pimp a Butterfly, with the potentiality of the themes discussed involved, Kendrick’s next album just may end up being his best work to date.
For more takes on new music, read our review of Drake's 'More Life' right here.