“i” sets the table for the popular and critically beloved rapper’s sophomore album, due later this year. But are his fans ready for what’s in store?
Early this morning, Kendrick Lamar made his proper return to music and, naturally, everyone rejoiced. Here’s “i”, the first single from the Compton rapper’s wildly anticipated (and still untitled) sophomore album.
The song was produced by Rahki, an L.A. producer and protege of DJ Khalil who worked previously with Lamar on “Black Boy Fly,” a bonus track from his 2012 debut Good Kid, M.A.A.D City.
“i” contains an expensive sample of the Isley Brother’s 1964 classic “That Lady,” making it the latest in a long line of noteworthy hip-hop songs to sample the iconic soul trio, including Ice Cube’s “It Was a Good Day” and The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Big Poppa.”
As Kendrick Lamar songs go, “i” is unabashedly uplifting and message-driven, a psychedelic guitar-based call for self-love and acceptance that will be sung in showers and out of car windows.
After a summer marked by violence and brutality at home and abroad, the song is undoubtedly political, but its politics are of peace and humanism, not fury or righteous indignation. “If you read between the lines, you’ll learn how to love one another,” a preacher bellows at the beginning of “i”. “But you can’t do that without loving yourself first!”
After the largely narrative and introspective work ofGood Kid, Lamar seems to be revisiting the more overtly socially conscious inclinations he displayed on his 2011 independent album Section.80.
Section.80 songs like “Fuck Your Ethnicity,” “No Make Up (Her Vice)” and “HiiiPower” wore their politics on their sleeves, addressing everything from racism to self-worth to representations in media.
On Twitter, the new song inspired some enthusiastic praise.
This new Kendrick… So good. #i
— Justin Timberlake (@jtimberlake) September 23, 2014
New Kendrick Lamar 360% FIRE. #ILoveMyself
— Charlamagne Tha God (@cthagod) September 23, 2014
Last time Kendrick had the club goin up to a song about the perils of alcoholism, now he gonna have kids singing “I Love Myself” #hiphop
— Rob Markman (@RobMarkman) September 23, 2014
But some were skeptical of the shift in tone.
i think kendrick accidentally uploaded a k’naan song to his soundclud
— r.e. kameir (@rawiya) September 23, 2014
Sounds like Kendrick and Macklemore exchanged a few more texts than we thought.
— Felipe Delerme (@Felipe2egundo) September 23, 2014
“i” is Kendrick’s “I Can” and I’m gonna have to leave it alone until album time now, I think.
— Craig Jenkins (@CraigSJ) September 23, 2014
I’d be hard pressed to believe this is the tone of Kendrick’s sophomore effort. Not mad at all
— LowKeyUHTN (@LowKeyUHTN) September 23, 2014
I don’t want Kendrick to become a motivational speaker rapper
— Joel D. Anderson (@blackink12) September 23, 2014
There’s no word yet on a release date for the new album, but if it’s our attention Kendrick was after, mission accomplished.