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Kendrick Lamar's "i" & Hip-Hop's Hatred of Positivity - DJBooth

Kendrick Lamar's "i" & Hip-Hop's Hatred of Positivity

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“Why you think muh’fuckers like to feed pigeons but try to shoot eagles?” - Little Brother

Yesterday started like any other. I woke up around 8AM and debated whether I’d actually hop out of bed and do something productive like hit the gym, or instead eat some pizza, or both. (Sidenote: My full-time job is very unorthodox so this has been my routine for about a month now.) Upon checking my Twitter feed I saw folks discussing K. Dot’s new single “i.” I saw Tweets about the release that ranged from admiration for the song to comparing it to an Outkast song to dislike over the cover art.  Being the Kendrick fan that I am, I dove right into finding a link like it’s a Saturday morning when Nike drops something limited that I don’t need. 

I pressed play.

“Is that the Isley Brothers?”
“Kendrick's using an accent again?”
“Oh shit, this is kinda funky.”
“Man, people are gonna be chanting this chorus all fall.”
“Kendrick really just said ‘Fuck you’ to everyone expecting something harder.”
“I need to hit repeat.”

I then checked Twitter again and saw the discussion continuing on. Folks were either embracing the sound or dogging Kendrick for delivering a positive message comparing “i” to Nas’ “I Can.” To me, "I Can" sounded like Nas was reaching and ended up being corny when he was trying to deliver a message that was ignored and abhorred in the end. Kendrick’s new record doesn’t give me that same feeling. It makes me nod my head, tap my feet, and bob left and right a bit while yelling “I LOVE MYSELF!” 

I admit that I initially was a little afraid that “i” would sound too similar to GKMC and that folks would be disappointed with it. The exact opposite happened as Kendrick delivered an uplifting song, a record that I can play in the car with my 8-year-old niece, yet many were still disappointed. 

Someone then Tweeted me a screenshot of their timeline. There was a tweet from me embracing the record that read, “Just listened to K-Dot’s new single. That beat is funky and instantly made me nod my head. When the hook came in, was dancing.” The Tweet above mine read, “Kendrick Lamar’s new song is straight garbage.” Seeing this capture made me think about how we view hip-hop today and why we, as a culture, tend to knock down positivity; especially when one of our favorite rappers delivers something that we weren’t expecting. 

Kendrick Lamar’s music has always told us a story. Whether it’s his story or the story of the people around him, he’s been devoted to sharing his life and the lives around him with us. From listening to "The Heart Pt 2" from O(verly) D(edicated) to "Sing About Me" on GKMC, he’s always had a story. There’s nothing different on “i” when it comes to this aspect, but he tells a new story over a beat that’ll make folks smile and happy and all of a sudden we hate it? I commend Kendrick for coming out with this record as the first release from his upcoming album. He and the TDE camp had to know folks would initially give it a side-eye when it dropped and would either love it or hate it. 

I also commend Kendrick for mentioning mental health issues on the single. Not to get too personal with our readers, but a couple years ago I dealt with some mental health issues of my own. I remember sitting in my bedroom on a Friday evening in Austin, TX, where I lived at the time, when "Swimming Pools" dropped. I must have played the stream twenty times that night. The next morning I had a flight to Chicago to check out the Pitchfork Music Festival. The friend who went with me isn’t big on rap and had never heard of Kendrick Lamar, but after seeing him perform (plus the co-sign from Lady Gaga) he won her over. He won everyone over who was there that day. Kendrick dropping that song at a pivotal time in my life and seeing him perform "Swimming Pools" for the first time became one of my most memorable events that summer. So now whenever I hear track nine on good kid, m.A.A.d city, I’m reminded of what I was going through and I smile because I overcame my anxiety issues. 

Perhaps “i” isn’t for you. Perhaps you wanted something harder or more street-oriented from Kendrick. But what if you're someone going through a rough patch in life needed to hear a positive message from one of their favorite rappers and this week they were able to hear that. A song that’ll get them through their rough patch and in a few years they can look back and dance to “i” while reminiscing on what they overcame.  So whether you personally like the song or hate it, I’m sure someone out there needed to hear the song so that they could have something to smile about in life.

Let that boy cook. 

[Ivan Ibarra ate so many shrimp he has iodine poisoning. Hit him up @ItsIvanIbarra.]

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