When Kendrick Lamar dropped “I” last month, I didn’t even believe it was him. It’s a far cry from the dark, hard-hitting lyrics he dropped on his instant classic Good Kid, M.A.D.D. City. But the more I listened to it, the more it grew on me. Now I find myself doodling the images from the powerful lyric video and singing the chorus to myself almost every time someone says “I” with that particular hooded, Kendrick inflection. If anyone expected him to deliver Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe, part 2, they were sorely mistaken.
Kendrick is one of the greatest rappers in the game right now and for him to take a chance and drop a feel-good jam with a singsongy hook for his first single in over two years takes balls. It’s not a classic radio-friendly single. It’s too poppy for hip hop radio; too dark for Top 40 and has too many rhythm changes for indie or rap stations. But Kendrick has made a career off street buzz and mixtape fervour. He never needed radio before and he doesn’t need it now.
With its Isley Brothers sample and poppy beat, “I” brings some much-needed levity and optimism to a genre that needs an injection of something socially and politically relevant especially in the heated racially divided climate of the U.S.
I love the chorus. I imagine this is the mantra that Kayne and Kendrick say to themselves daily.
I love myself
But it can do what it want whenever it wants and I don’t mind
I love myself
He said I gotta get up, life is more than suicide
I love myself
One day at the time, sun gon’ shine
Although it’s kind of tongue and cheek; it doesn’t need to be. If you don’t love yourself no one else will. If you don’t believe in yourself no one else will. Hip hop is all about boastfulness. Sometimes it’s meant literally and sometimes it’s not. Do I think Kendrick loves himself, yes. I remember reading a quote from him where he said “Nobody takes what I do as seriously as me.” He knows he has a gift and it’s his mission to share that gift with as many people as he can.
So Kendrick has decided to put on a clinic. His fans got a glimpse of the hardships he faced growing up in Compton in Good Kid and Section.80. Now he’s ready to share his takeaways from that experience with the people. He loves himself and in doing so on such a public platform with millions of fans listening to his every word; he’s teaching you to love yourself too.
Give my story to the children and the lesson they can read
And the glory to the feeling of the only unseen
Seen enough, make a motherfucker scream, “I love myself!”
Despite it’s cheerful chorus, Kendrick remains brutally honest about his own struggles.
I’ve been dealing with depression ever since an adolescent
Duckin’ every other blessin’, l can never see the message
I can never take the lead, I can never bob and weave.
I can’t wait to see what Kendrick drops next. Although his much-anticipated next CD has been postponed at least three times so far, I think his fans, myself included are willing to wait for him to be happy with the final product.
Until then, I guess we can just, love ourselves.