“Will you let hip-hop die on October 22nd,” is the final line heard on Kendrick Lamar’s “The Heart Pt. 3.” The song's release, just days before the arrival of good kid, m.A.A.d city, was the third installment of “The Heart” series and a treat to all the beloved fans who hoped he would turn the acclaimed double feature into a trilogy. "The Heart" is a special series, like when Ross delivers Maybach Music or when Drake includes the time and place in his song title. ”The Heart” records create a space for Kendrick to exercise lyrically―I still get chills hearing the breathless rampage that closes “The Heart Pt. 2.” It’s been five years since GKMC, five years since the “The Heart Pt. 3,” part of me figured that Kendrick would retire the series like The Hangover, but to my pleasant surprise, K-Dot returns with a new installment.
Less than 12 hours after its release, the internet is currently ablaze; Kendrick has once again launched a missile explosive enough to keep thumbs typing through the weekend. The 4th edition to "The Heart" series isn’t asking to keep hip-hop alive, but to confront an unnamed rival who has awoken a sleeping giant.
Unlike the previous three series entries, “The Heart Part 4” is split into three parts with Kendrick rapping over three different beats. The beginning is mellow, soulful and sparse, the kind of instrumental that would be found on untitled unmastered. There’s a hook-esque chorus (“Don’t tell a lie on me, I won’t tell the truth on you”) that begins and ends the first part—see James Brown’s “Don’t Tell A Lie About Me And I Won’t Tell The Truth On You”—that provides the puzzling threat with purpose. It's the kind of hook that’s short enough for Twitter’s limited characters and the perfect Facebook status for shade throwers and petty instigators. The first part is easy on the ears, but Kendrick interrupts himself with an aggressive, “My fans can’t wait” that begins the first beat switch and a tirade hotter than Isaiah's sun.
The big question is who? Who has upset Kendrick to the point that he has dedicated a new song warning this secret rapper not to play with him? It’s a bit hypocritical that Dot complains about this artist's shady jabs but doesn’t unveil who is on the other end of his attack. Since he has allowed this artist anonymity, speculation is all we are left with.
The two biggest names floating around the Twitterverse are Big Sean and Drake―there’s no way to confirm what is fact and what is an assumption―but if we break down the lyrics it opens up room to discover the context clues between the lines.
“My fans can’t wait for me to son ya punk ass and crush your whole lil shit / I’ll Big Pun ya punk ass, you a scared little bitch / Tiptoein’ around my name, nigga ya lame"
Who's the one artist fans have been waiting for Kendrick to perform his patented Lamar fatality upon? Drake, of course, is the first name that comes to mind. For years fans have prayed to Budda Based God for these two titans to be hip-hop’s Ali and Joe Frazer―to give us the Thrilla In Manila. Their war of words has always been subtle, little-assumed swipes, but names are never mentioned. Drake fits the tiptoeing reference, he is one of rap's most well-known shot senders that doesn’t engrave a name onto the bullets.
To my knowledge, the last time Drake sent bars in Kendrick’s direction can be traced back to 2013, found on “The Language” off Nothing Was The Same. While Drake actually mentioned Kendrick by name on last year's “4PM In Calabasas,” it was more a nod to a time long ago (“When they told me take an R&B nigga on the road/and I told em no and drew for Kendrick and Rock”) than a diss. I don’t recall any sub-shots on Views or More Life.
This isn’t for Drake.
Big Sean, on the other hand, is a more likely prey for the hunter. Let’s go back to before the release of I Decided when Big Sean released the introspective, "No More Interviews." There’s a specific array of lines that immediately stuck out, “And i’m not impressed by you niggas rapping fast/ Who sound like one big asthma attack/ but trash when I’m rapping it back/ Who you put in your top five and claim they the savior of rap.” Kendrick is a habitual tongue twister, spitting fast is one of his signature moves, and he’s been rap’s crowning savior since the release of his debut album in 2012 (Dot refers to himself as a, “hip-hop rhyme savior” in the first and last part of “The Heart Part 4”). There was a brief moment when fans wondered if Kendrick would respond, but after a few days with no reaction, the internet returned to trolling and memes. Microwave attention spans weren’t waiting for Kendrick’s decision.
This wasn't the first time Sean was accused of sending some shots at Kendrick, either—remember the shade thrown on “Me, Myself, & I”:
"Ya'llbraggin about so and so, like 'Oh, he really it? / The new nigga in rap? Well, can he really spit?' / Or do he just hide behind his skits like half of these rappers do / And then ya'll fucking go and praise him and his bitch like they savior of this shit / I'm like 'Aw, man. Here we go'"
Kendrick had skits all across GKMC and was deemed rap’s savior―sounds familiar? Sean denied that it was directed toward Kendrick, he even gave a ridiculous reason behind the lyrics. It sounds like Sean has been tiptoeing around Kendrick’s name, subtle jabs, but refusing to mention his name. Whoever he's targeting, I’m assuming the threat to, “Big Pun” his adversary is tied to the story/rumor that Pun hit Jay Z with a bottle; K-Dot is obviously fed up.
“And when I get at you homie don’t you just tell me you was just playin/ Oh I was just playin' with you K-Dot, c'mon/ You know a nigga rock with you, bro/ Shut the fuck up, you sound like the last nigga I know/ Might end up like the last nigga I know"
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Five days after the infamous release of “Control,” Drake saw Kendrick at the VMAs and it was all love according to an interview with Elliott Wilson in 2013. Drake didn’t like this, though, he thought “Control” was a symbol of war, he expected war at all times. I don’t see him downplaying his shots at Kendrick after taking them. It would be interesting if Drake represents “the last nigga” that Dot claims to know. Kendrick doesn’t have a history of beef in the industry, even though Drake’s career is far from turbulent, this could be the first time Kendrick claimed victory over their minor back and forth.
After backtracking on “Me, Myself, & I,” Big Sean seems more likely to throw a stone and then apologize profusely. Kendrick and Sean made music after “Me, Myself, & I,” so I’m certain the two had a conversation about the lines and came to some amicable conclusion. If Sean did return to his good graces after the first questionable shot, I don’t think he’ll be given a second chance to explain himself
"Tables turn, lesson learned, my best look / You jumped sides on me, now you 'bout to meet Westbrook/ Go celebrate with your team and let victory vouch you/ Just know the next game played, I might slap the shit out you"
Drake has a similar lyric on “Pound Cake” (“Tables turn, bridges burn, you live and learn”) so Kendrick’s rendition could be a sneaky sub. Since he saw “Control” as a burned bridge and not a competitive salute, Kendrick could view Drake’s response as switching sides―the two were once close associates, it begs to question who insinuated their fallout? On “Weston Road Flows” Drake likens himself to Kevin Durant ("A lot of people just hit me up when my name is mentioned / Shout out to KD, we relate, we get the same attention"), so by deeming himself as Westbrook, Kendrick could be drawing a direct correlation to his rivalry with Drake through the former Thunder teammates. The OVO conglomerate has had a lot to celebrate as of late, the records continue to break, Kendrick doesn’t downplay their success, but viciously states that when it’s time to play no amount of victories will protect you from his wrath.
Turning tables and switching sides, however, could very well be directed at the way Sean has been more friend than foe in the past, and just recently appeared as a challenger for Kendrick’s crown. If you measure their time in the game by the freshmen class, Sean is the elder, coming into the spotlight a few years before Kendrick. Sean has enjoyed his fair share of highlights and plaques over the last 12 months, the G.O.O.D Music team has consistently racked up victories. This line could easily be targeted at either artist, but we won’t truly know until Kendrick’s pimp hand covers someone’s face in baby powder.
“Hoe, Jay Z Hall Of Fame, sit your punk ass down/ So that means you ain’t bigger than rapping/ So that means no more playing the backseats”
Drake proclaimed himself as the new Jay Z last year on “Summer Sixteen,” a boast that was met with more criticism than approval. Kendrick further implies the distance between Drake and Jay is too great to make such an outrageous brag. He attacks further making note that Jay has never felt too big in his career to rap, while Drake has stated rapping is something he does on the side. Even in semi-retirement, Jay continued to rap when it was literally something he did on the side. The backseat line doesn’t fit an artist who constantly stands in the forefront, though, which is where the correlation gets rather fuzzy. Unless this is about Drake's resistance to dual with him the way he did Meek? He wants a direct battle, not backseat drive-bys that don't hit their mark.
Kendrick could be playing off Jay being inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and contrasting it to Big Sean’s third studio album, Hall Of Fame―a slick double entendre to showcase the prematurity of the project’s title. Unlike Drake, Sean hasn’t completely crossed over into pop―his entire last album campaign was about being underrated in rap. Sean, again unlike Drake, isn’t the biggest artist on his label, compared to Kanye he’s still the little brother. In comparison to Jay who ran Roc-A-Fella, inferring he's still riding in the backseat of Kanye’s bus would be a taunt. Either artist could take offense to these jabs but it’s rather unclear who his target might be.
“My spot is solidified if you ask me (what else?)/My name is identified as "that king"/I'll let y'all worry about a list/ I'm on some other shit/A difference between accomplishments and astonishments/ You know what time it is, ante up, this is in forever/ Y'all got till April the 7th to get ya'll shit together”
Like a true bully, Kendrick wants his final attack to be directed at the ego. Solidifying spots brings into question where Drake is in hip-hop history. Since being outed for using a writer(s), it has placed an asterisk by his name―he’ll be unable to claim the title of best rapper without being questioned about the revealing. This could be a jab at Drake’s uncertain solidification when it's all said and done. Drake has said he's "top 5," and even, "I'm top two and I'm not the two," but he has yet to declare himself "the greatest rapper alive" like Kendrick; it's as if the words can't leave his lips.
In 2016, MTV's silly "Hottest MC in the Game" list placed Drake as 2nd while Kendrick is 8th. Kendrick could be acknowledging the list and how little it means to him. He doesn’t need MTV’s validation, he is without question hailed as rap’s king and that was determined without any list. The last line has the most likeliness to be aimed at Drake, a rapper who won a plethora of awards but didn’t drop many jaws with the release of Views. Unless “The Heart Part 4” was written and recorded within a week's time, it's unlikely any of these references pertain to More Life.
Solidification matters to Big Sean, he has vented on numerous occasions about how he’s one of the top rappers in hip-hop. It’s a frequent talking point for him, a subject he continues to explore with frustration. Since the validation that he so desperately seeks has already been achieved by Kendrick, it’s possible this is the root of his animosity toward the Compton kid.
The last time Sean was on MTV’s hottest emcee list was 2012, but Kendrick could be referring to a more figurative list and not literal. The last line could relate to Sean’s albums being chart-toppers but falling below critical acclaim. I’m leaning toward these bars being written to rattle Aubrey, but I won’t dismiss the possibility that this dagger was meant to impale Sean’s self-confidence. Warfare against the ego can be more effective than warfare against the flesh, especially when dealing with rappers.
It’s possible that Sean has been baiting Kendrick all along, waiting for him to bite so that he could prove himself against one of the best. There are three ways to become a king―build a kingdom, inherit a crown, or behead a king. Big Sean now has a chance to truly challenge Kendrick if he dares to accept this declaration of war. Does Sean stand a chance? He's the underdog, but he’s played that role his whole career. In the name of validation, this is a door opening to being taken seriously. The clock is ticking. If Kendrick has more ammo on the 7th of April then the underdog might be buried before having a chance to bark back.
Drake is a strange opponent, especially in 2017. For the last few years, it seems like Drake and Kendrick have simply coexisted without touching―like the sun and moon. So why come for him now? Is it simply for the fan's sake? If so, Kendrick should have tried to checkmate the 6 God several years ago. With the record-setting More Life still fresh, unless Drake is truly the troublemaker who is living by his words on “Can’t Have Everything,” I don’t see him feeling obligated to return fire. If he’s truly feeling himself, maybe he will respond, but I don’t see it being anytime soon.
What if Kendrick wanted to target them both? His version of slaying two dragons with one sniper mission. While I’m leaning more toward Sean, I can’t ignore how some of the bars seem tailored to offend Drizzy. If only Kendrick did more name-dropping than side-stepping I wouldn’t have to write so much.
Sigh, another week, another potential hip-hop battle that could escalate overnight or end up completely forgotten by Monday. At least by then, we’ll have more Kendrick music to overanalyze like an autopsy.
By Yoh, aka The Yoh Part IV, aka @Yoh31