Halftime Leisure

Track Takes: Kendrick Lamar, “HUMBLE.”

March 30, 2017

Kendrick Lamar has dropped another unexpected track just a week after his viral hit, “The Heart Part 4.” Laced with varied beats and wide-ranging subject matter, “The Heart” was met with wide acclaim, and ended warning his fans to prepare for April 7.

Only halfway done with getting prepared, Lamar’s latest, “HUMBLE.” is another stark departure musically for an artist known for constant reinvention. In collaboration with Mike WiLL Made-It, Lamar spits articulate, biting flows over a punchy 808 beat. Lamar’s relentless and instantly recognizable rapping is densely packed into the song’s three minutes. The song appears to be a response to the escalating braggadocio that peppers popular rap, beseeching his audience to “be humble.”

Falling back on a common rap trope, Lamar briefly recalls the times before he was rich and then launches into vivid descriptions of his life at the top of the rap game. “If I quit this season I’d still be the greatest,” he says, and even though he has only been featured on a handful of tracks and has released just one other song this year, the body of his past work speaks for itself—Lamar is an incredible rapper, and he knows it. The song continues with intermittent pauses as Lamar literally deconstructs his opponents like they were “playin’ Tetris,” and as he proclaims his support for powerful women who sport Afros, stretch marks, and Polo socks. Lamar’s flow is without a doubt exceptional, and he credits this to letting “his soul speak” while other rappers “let the meds talk.” Future’s recent rise to prominence was fueled by his drug-addled verses and slurred flows, and inspired a generation of young rappers who have taken after his dangerous habits. “Be humble,” Lamar reminds these young hotshots—and completely throws off my preparations for April 7.

The song is best experienced alongside its video, which is rich with symbolic imagery, spastic energy, and proud blackness. Throughout his career, Lamar has actively discussed and displayed his complexion, coming to a head with To Pimp a Butterfly, which emphasized these themes through singles like “i” and “The Blacker the Berry,” and the protest anthem, “Alright.” Even earlier projects, from Good Kid, M.a.a.d City to the Overly Dedicated mixtape, have sported Lamar’s blackness, making him a modern pop culture icon and black hero. “HUMBLE.” and its video continue this trend, and put Lamar at the fore of the rap industry once again. This time he has a clear message for his competition: know your place.

Gustav Honl-Stuenkel
College class of 2020. Culture and music writer and peanut M&M fiend. Minneapolis native.


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