Since releasing 2018’s Black Panther compilation album, which mainly acted as the film’s score, rap guru Kendrick Lamar has been somewhat of a recluse. In a statement published days before the release of “Family Ties” — his first appearance on any song in nearly a year — he describes his days contemplating, collecting beach cruisers and going “months without a phone.” It seems fitting that the only artist to rouse him from his slumber and finally draw him back into the limelight is family.
Baby Keem, often hailed as one of rap’s next superstars, is actually Lamar’s cousin (the single’s cover features a picture of them from more than a decade ago). He has been on a roll since releasing last year’s acclaimed mixtape, Die For My Bitch, scoring features from rap’s biggest names (i.e. Kendrick and Travis Scott) and making guest appearances on projects like Kanye West’s Donda.
The song itself, featuring an initial beat built around a horn sample and thumping trap beat, is a strong showing. Keem’s frantic cadence is reminiscent of some of Lamar’s earlier work, whose exercises in shifting of tone and inflection were innovative in hip hop. Lamar is brilliant as usual, and his competitive streak seems to have returned, as he opens his verse with, “smokin’ on your top five tonight, tonight.” In his verse, Lamar addresses his absence, calls out internet activists and invokes biblical imagery.
The song serves both as a boisterous return for one of rap’s greatest and is an impressive moment for Keem, who is more than able to hold his own.
Daily Arts Writer Ryan Brace can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.