‘HUMBLE.’ is anything but its title

Kendrick Lamar’s single sparks controversy, turns heads


Kendrick Lamar's new single and accompanying video "HUMBLE." is impressive but controversial.

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

About a week after releasing the single “The Heart Part 4,” Kendrick Lamar has returned with a new release, “HUMBLE.” Both songs are emblematic of Lamar’s recent combative trend. They take aim at his contemporaries and, despite leaving them nameless, generate plenty of attention. This isn’t atypical of Lamar, who caused plenty of controversy before his March 2015 release of “To Pimp A Butterfly” with his single “The Blacker the Berry” and his verse on Big Sean’s 2013 hit “Control.”

A key difference between these most recent two tracks, however, is in their rollout — “The Heart Part 4” was solely an audio release, while “HUMBLE.” was accompanied by a stunning visual component. At various points in the music video, Lamar is depicted rapping in a temple dressed in religious garb, posturing atop a bed of bill straps and passing Grey Poupon to a friend from the backseat of a chauffeured car.

While Lamar’s line about naturalness and women’s “stretch marks” generated some buzz — namely that Lamar was disingenuous in selecting a model to illustrate women’s natural beauty — it is mostly a conversation between fans with different notions of Lamar’s artistry. The dialogue is a necessary dialectic to prevent Lamar’s fans from considering him a flawless proponent of women’s beauty and representation — he isn’t, nor does he need to be. Rather, the reason Lamar has long been a gripping artist is due to his lyrical ambition and fearlessness.

Lamar alternates between several different rhyme schemes and cadences throughout “HUMBLE.” In the first verse, he raps about moving from a life of “syrup sandwiches” and “crime allowances” to one where he can buy the whole world with his “paystub.” He yells that his “left stroke just went viral” — possibly a nod to his previous week’s release — and then cooly sneers at other rappers to “be humble.” For a few bars in the first verse, he ends each line with the word “funk,” and he does the same with “ayy” in the second verse. His rhyming between both verses feature distinctly different flows — he could pass for another rapper entirely. Throughout the track, Lamar’s presence is this chaotic. Yet, he stays in control.

The reason fans should be excited about “HUMBLE.” is because the track features Lamar as focused as ever, with a language and flow he hasn’t previously showcased over the course of a full album. No longer is he storytelling, like on “Section.80” or “good kid, m.A.A.d city,” nor is he introspecting, like on “To Pimp a Butterfly.” If this release is a harbinger of things to come, then Lamar will be gunning for his place atop the hip-hop genre on his next album. Everybody else should just “sit down” and “be humble.”

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