Kendrick Lamar drops new video, ‘The Heart Part 5.’ Thinkpiece SZN is upon us
OPINION: Kung Fu Kenny is back, y’all, and he’s all of us.
Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.
Thinkpiece season, or SZN, is one of my favorite times of the musical year. It’s the time when an artist who arts harder than other people drops some new work that will be dissected and disputed and overhyped and underestimated. Musically, it’s reserved for artists who dabble in genre-defining works of art—ya know, Beyoncé, Kanye West, Jay-Z, Nas, Lauryn Hill and, of course, Kendrick Lamar, who is now going by Oklama. Obviously, other artists are able to get in on this academic largesse, but it seems like whenever the aforementioned artists, in particular, release a project, writers far and wide turn into the Kermit the Frog meme where he’s going bonkers on the typewriter.
The video for Kendrick Lamar’s first new song in years, “The Heart Part 5” begins, “I am. All of us.” (For the record, Kendrick has been on other people’s songs, e.g., Baby Keem’s “Family Ties,” and he was all over The Black Panther soundtrack back in 2018; this song, though, is to promote his new album, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers—his follow up to 2017’s DAMN.—which is allegedly releasing on May 13.)
I am Kermit at the typewriter. Since we’re here, though, let’s hop in. That’s a pun; I did not intend it. Writers (both professional and social media) have been stretching their fingers and backs since April when Kendrick announced that his new album was on the way. We’ve been waiting. And for good reason; Kendrick Lamar releases are chock full of things to write and discuss, musically and visually. In fact, Kendrick is SUCH a thinkpiece catalyst that entire Facebook statuses and paid articles spent time trying to ascertain if his last album, DAMN., was only HALF of an album he was releasing, with the other half, fictitiously titled NATION., on the way. It never showed up. I rather enjoyed that particular indulgence; there’s nothing quite like people making up entire backstories and predicting work based on literally nothing more than some super-sized reaches made from listening to bars on an album. But that’s what Kendrick Lamar brings to the game. If you’re a writer and having a lull in ideas and output, Kendrick is here to help you out and give you ammunition for days. You don’t win a Pulitzer Prize just for showing up to work; you win it by putting in that work.
This brings us to “The Heart Part 5,” released on Sunday, May 8, 2022 (after social media told us it was dropping on May 9 at 1 p.m. PT; social media be lying). If you’re a fan of Kendrick, you’re familiar with his “The Heart” series, where he basically drops a song and speaks about life and his thoughts at particular times. The video, which slightly speeds up a sample of Marvin Gaye’s 1976 jam, “I Want You,” opens up like Kendrick is finna get his fully clothed D’Angelo on—Kendrick is standing by himself against a faint red background rocking a white tee, a black bandana around his neck and the hairstyle of a guy who thinks a lot. I mean that as a compliment, by the way.
The song itself is a discussion about the street “culture” he comes from (as it were; he mentions “that’s the culture” several times in the song) of pain, death, and optimistically in the final verse about changing life expectations and goals in points (from the vantage point of Nipsey Hussle, specifically) and how that didn’t stop somebody from ending his life, but how his life has been worth something and everybody needs to remember that. It’s also about him connecting with and representing the people. After all, the video opens up with “I am. All of Us.” It’s actually quite intriguing; one of Kendrick’s best qualities, especially as a storyteller, has always been his ability to really get into the head of the people he’s trying to represent and do it respectfully, honestly, genuinely and poignantly. It’s why Kendrick Lamar is one of the top-tier artists in music. Lyrically—and I don’t mean this dismissively—this song is par for the course for Kendrick and his introspection about his own place in hip-hop and the world.
And what also makes him that is what he did with this video. The video starts off simple enough; Kendrick moves very demonstratively while spitting his bars. Is this going to be the whole video? Of course not.
Full disclosure: The first time I watched the video, I was folding clothes; I absolutely didn’t see any of the facial changes. But on my second watch, just as I was folding some socks, I looked down at the phone and was like, “My G, is that JUSSIE SMOLLETT????” I had to triple-take myself. And, of course, at that point, I had to start from the beginning.
Is that…O.J. SIMPSON????? YES. YES, IT IS O.J. SIMPSON.
The transition goes from O.J. Simpson to Kanye West to Jussie, especially on bars that speak directly to their own “situations,” so to speak. When he went full Jussie and said, “the streets got me f—d up,” I about fell out laughing, especially since Jussie did tell us he was the “gay Tupac.” I think I fell in love with the video at that point, and I hadn’t even gotten to Will Smith and “in the land where hurt people hurt more people, f–k calling it culture…”
At this point, I had to tip my proverbial hat to Kendrick. Because at first, lyrically, I thought the song was just fine and standard-issue Kendrick fare, which, again, is a good thing. But that second verse juxtaposed against O.J. Simpson, Kanye West, Jussie Smollet and Will Smith????? Yeah, now we’re in “oh, THIS is why Kendrick Lamar is so revered.” Kendrick arts HARD.
AND THEN KOBE. Wow. So I have to say, at this point, I started going back to that opening line of the song and really internalizing where Kendrick was going with it; he was taking that “all of us” thing seriously, using his words to speak about how he and all of these other luminary figures share similar space and cultural concerns and similarly, how they are the same concerns shared by all of us, in general. The last part, which is the part most folks had been speaking about in advance of the drop, is him taking on the visage and speaking from the perspective of Nipsey Hussle. Speaking to his Nips’ family, his neighborhood and the culture at large, Kendrick does what Nipsey did and tries to drop keys for the community to win.
That, my friends, is why Kendrick Lamar isn’t just a rapper but on a first name basis as an artist. This video, simple on its face, is a man speaking his truth. But if you dig deeper, he’s a man whose struggles are shared by even the most famous and successful of individuals and even his new lot in life, much like his peers, doesn’t immunize him from the ills of the world, much like his other famous peers.
Kendrick’s album is set to drop Friday, and with “The Heart Part 5” as the second real promo for it, well, he kicked the door wide open for thinkpiece SZN.
Get your writer-fingers ready.
Panama Jackson is a columnist at theGrio. He writes very Black things and drinks very brown liquors, and is pretty fly for a light guy. His biggest accomplishment to date coincides with his Blackest accomplishment to date in that he received a phone call from Oprah Winfrey after she read one of his pieces (biggest) but he didn’t answer the phone because the caller ID said “Unknown” (Blackest).
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