We look for clues about Kendrick Lamar’s upcoming album in his new song “Humble.”
Last Thursday, Kendrick Lamar unveiled his absolute heater of a new track, the Mike Will Made It-produced “Humble.” As we know from the previously-released “The Heart Part 4,” he’s planning something big for this Friday, April 7th, so the song’s timing certainly makes it seem like the lead single of an impending album. Hints dropped by Mike Will, Schoolboy Q, and TDE president Anthony Tiffith also suggest that album four is on the way.
Any new Kendrick single is going to lead to speculation about the upcoming album, especially when the single’s as bold a departure from To Pimp A Butterfly and Untitled Unmastered as “Humble” is. So similarly to what we did when “i” and “Blacker The Berry” first dropped, we’re gonna go out on a limb and make some predictions about the upcoming project. Here are three aspects of “Humble” that we think will inform the majority of album four.
It’s going to be hard and not very jazzy
On March 25th, a tracklist surfaced that many believed was for the album. Featuring contributions from TPAB players Terrace Martin, Thundercat, Rahki, Sounwave, and Flying Lotus (among more newsworthy names like Kanye West, André 3000, and D’Angelo), it seemed legit, and suggested that the project would echo its predecessor’s jazzy, retro-funky sound.
There’s one problem though: Mike Will Made It’s nowhere to be found on that leaked list, and he claims to have “two more” tracks outside of “Humble” that will be on the album. Another possible flaw in that leak: “The Heart Part 4” co-producer Syk Sense claimed that the album was “some of the hardest shit I’ve heard” and “not the jazzy tape you would think,” going on to compare its sound to Memphis and L.A. He later clarified that the music he heard wasn’t yet confirmed for the album, but even still, it’s hard to imagine the aforementioned TPAB team coming up with something that’s not at all jazzy.
“Humble” is a bare-bones banger that doesn’t have glaring ties to any particular region, just a neck-breaking piano riff, a vaguely trappy beat, and some air raid siren synths as the cherry on top. It’s not complex or baroque like the vast majority of TPAB was, and it leaves plenty of room for
Kendrick to play around with its negative space in his cadences. If Mike Will’s really got two more tracks on the album, we can expect more of this ton-of-bricks-style approach to production (Cardo might also be on there, and this style would also fit him like a glove). Kendrick’s had bangers in the past, but look for this to be the Kendrick album with the highest density of them.
It’s going to come for the rap game’s neck
“The Heart Part 4” was not shy about targeting other rappers (specifically Drake and Big Sean), but as it was an installment in a freestyle series, it didn’t seem to suggest that the rest of Kendrick’s album will follow suit. “Humble,” on the other hand, leads us to believe that pulling the rug out from underneath Kendrick’s rivals will be one of the album’s main themes.
In the first verse, he raps:
Piss out your per diem, you just gotta hate ’em
If I quit your BM, I still ride Mercedes
If I quit this season, I still be the greatest
This is surprisingly combative and, ironically given the song’s title, arrogant by Kendrick’s standards. Shitting on other rappers’ salaries and bragging about bedding their baby mothers isn’t exactly “What A Dollar Cost”‘s biblical parable or “i”‘s message of self-love– hell, it’s even more brutal than “Backseat Freestyle” or “M.A.A.D City.”
In the second “Humble” verse, he gets even more combative:
Who dat n**** thinkin’ that he frontin’ on man-man?
Get the fuck off my stage, I’m the Sandman
Get the fuck off my dick, that ain’t right
I make a play fuckin’ up your whole life
Also telling rivals that they “do not amaze” him, accusing “most of y’all” of faking it, and dissing other rappers’ drug talk with, “Watch my soul speak, you gon’ let the meds talk,” Kendrick’s clearly calling out the vast majority of hip hop. In the past, he’s been pretty inactive as far as beefs go, but we do know him to be more self-righteous than your average artist, so while this is all uncharacteristic to hear in his music, it makes perfect sense coming from someone who looks down on a good deal of modern rap music.
Kendrick hasn’t really participated in any of the “here’s what’s wrong with hip hop”-isms of his preachier peers, but after biding his time and observing the way others move in the industry, he undoubtedly has enough ammo to launch a full-out assault on rap’s upper class if he wants to. It’s looking more and more like that’ll be the overarching theme– and Kendrick albums always have overarching themes– of this new release.
It’s going to get honest, whether you like it or not
The other main target of “Humble” was women (I guess you could read the “bitch” in the hook as either a rival or a woman), and that didn’t sit well with some people. On one end of the spectrum, Kendrick tells a woman that he could “buy yo’ ass the world with my paystub” and says “Ooh, that pussy good;” on the other, he attacks the whitewashed beauty industry and pines for afros and stretch marks. Women seemed to be split on whether his desire for natural beauty was a positive message or rather a chauvinistic need for control over women’s appearances, and Kendrick had to know that these lines would cause a stir in today’s climate.
Although his main message of racial uplift is almost unanimously considered a breath of fresh air, or even a necessity, other aspects of Kendrick’s personal politics aren’t the most progressive in the world. In the wake of Michael Brown’s murder, Kendrick said the following to Billboard:
“I wish somebody would look in our neighborhood knowing that it’s already a situation, mentally, where it’s fucked up. What happened to [Michael Brown] should’ve never happened. Never. But when we don’t have respect for ourselves, how do we expect them to respect us? It starts from within. Don’t start with just a rally, don’t start from looting– it starts from within.”
That “we don’t have respect for ourselves” part caused some alarm in the black community, some of which was assuaged by the 1-2 punch of “The Blacker The Berry” and “i”‘s “black is beautiful” messages, but there’s still plenty who see Kendrick as a “pull-up-your-pants” type in the vein of Steve Harvey.
I’m not here to offer my own thoughts on K. Dot’s politics (and as a white man, I don’t think it’s my place either), but despite all of this backlash, Kendrick hasn’t shown any signs of backing down from sharing his worldview on record. He’s a bit of an old soul, someone who maybe longs for “the way things were” at times, and if those old school views pop up in his music, as they did in “Humble,” he’s going to face scrutiny. I think this will be the album where Kendrick lays everything on the table, stretch marks and all, as a self-portrait of his various opinions and beliefs. GKMC focused on stories from his younger years, and TPAB examined the larger scope of blackness in America, so over the past two albums, we haven’t actually gotten a lot of the minutia that’s currently in Kendrick’s mind. Look for brutal, sometimes uncomfortable, possibly offensive honesty on this album.