“The Heart Part 4” Successfully Heralds Kendrick’s Return

“One, two, three, four, five. / I am the greatest rapper alive.” The triumphant Kendrick Lamar thus announces his return after the massive critical successes of his 2015 album “To Pimp a Butterfly” and 2016 demo compilation “untitled unmastered.” Lamar may have released “The Heart Part 4” simply to tease his next watershed album, arriving on April 14, just as 2012’s “The Heart Part 3” teased “good kid, m.A.A.d city,” but “Part 4” has plenty of artistic merit of its own. A clear evolution beyond the other installments of the “Heart” series, the new single is frank, spontaneous, and experimental. Its constantly changing beats reflect the diversity and scope of a confident lyrical master’s thoughts.

The track begins with a rich musical palette recalling the complex, funk-inspired sounds of “To Pimp a Butterfly,” with warm synthesizer chords, strong drum beats, and soothing vocals from Khalid. Lamar furthers the funk connection by referring to James Brown in the hook, in which he asserts, “Don’t tell a lie on me, / I won’t tell the truth ‘bout you.” Here, Lamar announces his intention to use the track to target and diss other rappers—some have suggested Big Sean or Drake—while declaring himself as one of the rap greats. The opening lines of the first verse describe Lamar as a “hip-hop rhyme savior.” The second verse magnifies these feelings of superiority, as the beat slows, and even imitates a heartbeat as his lines grow more personal and intense. Lamar takes on a more aggressive tone and makes jabs at subdued rappers who get “nervous” just because “the music is loud.”

While Lamar engages in much of the same braggadocio as his contemporaries here, he doesn’t lose his technical prowess or his more cerebral sensibilities. He masters a lyrical flow, making even the infantile “One, two, three, four, five” rhyme sound smooth and authoritative. The lyrics are filled with wordplay and double meanings, a notable example being his use of the homonyms “picture” and “pitcher” to state that “the richer the poorer, the bigger the picture / the more blood pours.” He even plays with sound effects to make “The Heart Part 4” seem genuinely from the heart. He seems to rewrite his own lyrics near the end of track, with sounds of crumpling paper and expletives in the background bringing his listeners into his head as he illustrates his writing process.

Lamar finally segues into some deeper insights, highlighting falseness he sees in society by asserting that “N****s is fake rich, bitches is fake bad / Blacks that act white, whites that do the dab.” He proceeds to an admittedly stale swipe at the Trump administration, rapping that “Donald Trump is a chump” and that “Russia need a replay button, y’all up to somethin’.” Yet he finds clever wordplay here as well, saying that “electorial votes look like memorial votes / but America’s truth ain’t ignorin’ the votes.”

By the track’s end, when the instrumentals have gone from its original funk chords to an ominous, simple bass pattern with eerie synthesizer echoes, it is clear that “The Heart Part 4” has put Lamar’s lyricism and insights on full display, proving a worthy return for the beloved rapper. The single not only teases Lamar’s new album but showcases all his strengths as an artist. If his album is of this high of a caliber, he might deserve the title of “greatest rapper alive,” after all.

—Staff writer Michael J. Yue can be reached at michael.yue@thecrimson.com.

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