Kendrick Lamar: The Heart Part 5 review – a breathtaking call for high humanity | Music
In 2015, Kendrick Lamar was criticized for making what many interpreted as disconnected comments following the Ferguson Riots: “What happened to [Michael Brown] should never have happened. Never. But when we don’t respect ourselves, how can we expect them to respect us? Arguably even more provocative was his climactic line in 2015’s The Blacker the Berry, shouting “hypocrite!” to those who lamented the killing of Trayvon Martin but were also involved in gang violence. Yet rapping in the first person, Lamar blamed himself as much as anyone, and the track’s even fiercer invective aimed at an apocalyptically racist United States: “Your plan is to end my culture.” It’s a key part of Lamar’s overall musical project: a sustained, tense, fallible and passionate investigation into the forces that are destroying and building black America.
Now, in The Heart Part 5 – the fifth track in his “Heart” series which debuted in 2010, and an expected inclusion on his new album Mr Morale & the Big Steppers, out this Friday – Lamar continues to ponder these difficult questions. , but still framed in this larger context: America as a place where generations of racism, first federally mandated and then institutionalized, have plagued its community.
After jaded lines about violence and death, he raps, “In the land where hurt people hurt more people / Fuck call it culture,” calling for a reframing of how we talk and think about black America , and ridicules the way his complex social issues and individual circumstances are simplified: “Someone called, says your little nephew was shot, culture is involved,” a deeply sarcastic line.
Once again, he seems to be addressing his own community as well as a wider America – but he acknowledges that violence is often the reaction of the victims. “Desensitized, I Vandalized Pain” is a surprisingly economical, honest, and tender phrasing about the self-perpetuating nature of all forms of violence, and Lamar always remembers the social and psychological stories that make up a person: “Do it. wrong turn, be it willpower or wheel alignment,” he raps, a portrait of how a mess of personal agency and social conditioning ripples through every decision. of gigantic humanity and understanding; appropriately, its flow is as charged and shrill as it has ever been.
Lamar’s intense care for his people intensifies even more in the stunning final verse. In the music video, he transforms into “deepfake” versions of oft-criticized black celebrities including Kanye West, Jussie Smollett, OJ Simpson and Will Smith, a visual expression of Lamar’s determined empathy. During this final verse, he appears as Nipsey Hussle, the LA rapper who was shot and killed in 2019. Lamar refers to his grief over his death earlier in the track, and to a line, “Sam, I’ll watch over you”, seems to refer to Hussle’s older brother. This verse is therefore expressed from the perspective of the late Hussle, claiming that he is in heaven, forgiving his killer, and speaking with satisfaction of what he accomplished in his lifetime. Some may find it emotionally manipulative or unethical, but Lamar has often expressed his admiration for Hussle in the past and the verse seems faithful to an artist who was dedicated to uplifting his community through regeneration projects and business opportunities. .
“You can’t help the world until you help yourself,” Lamar says as Hussle, and that’s ultimately Lamar’s creed. Some would say it gives too much of a push to the black community to do the work of governments and institutions – can you still help yourself before the world helps you? But as Lamar goes on to document, you’re a product of your environment, and the United States, for better and more often for worse, has this mantra of self-actualization at its heart (it’s also likely informed by the understandable lack of faith the Black community has institutions to have its interests at heart).
Amid the song‘s ambiguities, Lamar’s love for his community is unmistakable. The backing track reworks I Want You, perhaps Marvin Gaye’s most purely erotic song – where the focus is as much on the desire itself as on the particular person. In this desire, Lamar divines Gaye’s innate social conscience, changing the title line from one of lust to one of hope, using the urgent disco beat to perfectly convey the seriousness of his sentiment. “I want you,” Lamar says as the track’s closing line, a statement of pure brotherly need. And maybe encouragement – there are countless implied words that come next. Back on the first part of the Heart series in 2010, he said, “I make sure my people see the light,” and that remains his mission.