The Singles Party, Kendrick Lamar: ‘i’

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When Kendrick Lamar speaks…WE LISTEN. The acclaimed hip-hop artists and 2013 summer music festival staple dropped his new single “I” this week. Pop-Break’s resident good kid from m.A.A.d. city, Nick Porcaro suggested we check this song out immediately and the staff responded in kind.

Nick Porcaro: “We got a young brother that stands for something! We got a young brother that believes in the all of us! 
Brother Kendrick Lamar! He’s not a rapper, he’s a writer! He’s an author! 
And if you read between the lines, we’ll learn how to love one another!
But you can’t do that, (right on!) I said, you can’t do that without loving yourself first!”

What more is there to say? How much more praise can we heap on King Kendrick? He’s the truth. He’s hip-hop’s savior. He’s the mastermind behind Section.80 and good kid, m.A.A.d city, two of the best rap albums of the past decade. His earth-shattering contribution to Big Sean’s “Control” tore a new one in the egos of industry superstars like Drake, Meek Mill and A$AP Rocky. And he’s back again, bolstered by a blistering soul sample, dropping some much-needed street knowledge on the masses.

In a genre plagued by trend-hoppers, pig-headed misogyny, tired flows, lackadaisical production, the intelligent positivity of “i” is exactly what rap needs right now. It’s almost as if Kendrick took his multiple (undeserved) Grammy losses to heart by deciding to one-up Macklemore and Ryan Lewis at their own game. Don’t get me wrong, “i” won’t be nearly as successful as “Thrift Shop” or “Can’t Hold Us”, but this single has ambition to match its mainstream appeal.

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Speaking of ambition—somehow Kendrick always manages to have his cake and eat it, too. He pays tribute to his checkered past while advocating for a better tomorrow, pens dizzying flows alongside catchy choruses, drops a Platinum-selling 70-minute concept album, and slings his addictive raps with the swagger of a dope boy. Look back no further than the good kid single “Backseat Freestyle”, an ignorant banger of a track that left longtime fans scratching their heads until they realized the rapper had adopted the role of a 16-year old, desperate for the approval of his peers.

“i” continues this diametric pattern much like the way it references the lyrics of “Real” and “HiiiPoWeR”, but don’t mistake continuity and consistency for resting on one’s laurels; there’s plenty here to raise eyebrows. Producer Rahki puts a frenetic spin on the Isley Brothers’ “That Lady”, matching Kendrick’s mile-a-minute rapping in a refreshing way. Lyrically speaking, Kendrick chooses wisely to eschew the familiar subject matter (his Compton upbringing, the travails of early Gen Yers) in favor of an immediately universal message, resulting in his catchiest single to date:

“I love myself (The world is a ghetto with big guns and picket signs)
I love myself (But it can do what it want whenever it wants and I don’t mind)
I love myself (He said I gotta get up, life is more than suicide)
I love myself (One day at a time, sun gon’ shine)”

It’s the most unapologetic slice of sincerity we’ve seen from Kendrick to date, a daring move that’s already lost him some credibility among the more jaded Internet rap nerds. (They should be more than satisfied by the fast and furious flow Kendrick adopts on his final verse.) Nevertheless, the one word shared by nearly every Twitter critique is “unexpected.” And really, who else but a member of Black Hippy would place a JAZZ BASS GUITAR SOLO at the end of a single?

Kendrick’s revealed next to nothing about the follow-up to 2012’s awe-inspiring good kid, m.A.A.d city, and yet the surprising sound of “i” provides plenty of reasons to get excited. So what are you waiting for? Hit play, put a smile on, shake your booty, and witness a legend in the making.

Verdict: Everybody, everybody, everybody. Everybody sit your bitch ass down and listen to this true mothafuckin’ story told by Kendrick Lamar on Rosecraaaaaans, ya bish.”

Lisa Pikaard: Well, Kendrick Lamar, you and are are not friends nor will this make us friends but I don’t hate it! “i” is really catchy and the beat is something I have a feeling I will be subconsciously bobbing to for the rest of the day. The chorus is powerful and the only part of the song I truly like but I do appreciate the rest of it. The vocals are where I feel like this song falls flat but I am just not a fan of Kendrck Lamar. Don’t get me wrong, this song should be successful and many people will like it. It’s just not my thing. Consider my response as an outsider observing something that they do not typically like. It is good it’s just not for me. While this song will not be added to my playlist, it is its merits. I do not want to carry on talking about a song I do not feel qualified to judge so, listen to it, don’t listen to it, it’s up to you. For me, I will bob my head along if it comes on but that’s the extent of my listening. I can’t say this song is a one and done because that will put the song down and it deserves better than that but it also will not be added to my rotation. Verdict: Abstain.

Kelly O’Dowd: I keep hearing “Kendrick Lamar,” and I have to constantly remind myself that he is a rapper and is famous. His name and voice just don’t stick with me. I feel the same way about this song. It seems quite radio friendly. An upbeat rap song is surely a crowd pleaser, but there was something missing that would make the song stick past that first listen for non-fans. (Sorry Nick!) Perhaps it is too polished, it is a very very smooth track ; the production quality is top-notch. Maybe that’s why I don’t like it; it tries very hard to come off as a radio-friendly hit. That it was constructed exactly for that reason, instead of crafting the song in this particular manner because the song dictated it. I’m not a fan of pre-crafted “hits,” and I’m not a fan of this. Verdict: One and Done

Bill Bodkin: I’ve heard so much hype about Kendrick Lamar that I’ve avoided him. I wanted to find a time and place when I could avoid any hype, the critical dog piling and make up my own mind. Fortunately for me, I was to hear his latest single, ‘i’ almost as soon as it dropped and by gawd this track is pure fire. The beat, the hook, the flow — everything about this track is gold. While I may not be the hip-hop head of this site, I can easily say this is the best song from this genre I’ve heard in a long, long time. Everything about this song is infectious and it just makes me want to move. It’s a song you want stuck in your head all day long. Call me a Kendrick convert after hearing this. I cannot recommend this track any harder. Verdict: Add to playlist.

Final Verdict: Make this song a part of your life immediately.

Founded in September 2009, The Pop Break is a digital pop culture magazine that covers film, music, television, video games, books and comics books and professional wrestling.

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