On his new single “Humble,” Kendrick Lamar proclaims, “If I quit this season, I still be the greatest,” a huge statement with some solid supporting evidence considering past works, good kid, m.A.A.d city and To Pimp a Butterfly; both of which have certainly cemented Lamar’s legacy as a hip-hop great.
Luckily for us, Lamar isn’t quitting this season.
Released a couple weeks ago, Lamar’s promotional single “The Heart Part 4” teases a new album with closing line “Y’all got ‘til April the 7th to get y’all shit together.” “Humble” and the accompanying spectacle of a music video appear to be the world’s first taste of the upcoming LP.
What do the single and video tell us? They make it very clear that Kendrick isn’t interested in resting on his laurels. He challenges himself with the seemingly impossible task of crafting a cohesive three-minute track that critiques social norms, boasts his own status and commemorates his Compton upbringing. Lamar succeeds on all counts, not to mention, the track is a total banger.
While “The Heart Part 4” lends greatly from the funk-jazz vibes deployed on To Pimp a Butterfly, the Mike WiLL Made-It produced “Humble” explores a different sound, laying Kendrick’s vocals over a deep piano loop and pulsating 808s.
Beginning with this new sound, there is nothing humble about “Humble.” The title – stylized as “HUMBLE.” – is bold, assertive and in your face. The music video includes a number of elevating visual references, including a play on Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper with Lamar taking the role of Jesus. The verses include lines like “Get the fuck off my stage, I’m the Sandman” and “Obama just paged me.” Lamar exercises the “do as I say not as I do” policy with the refrain: “Sit down, lil’ bitch, be humble.”
We could stop here and classify “Humble” as a self-glorification track, but Lamar’s past works suggest that there is more to this track than what is on the surface.
Towards the end of the second verse, Lamar asserts, “This […] that TED talk.” Looking beyond the self-praise, “Humble” can be interpreted as Kendrick Lamar’s three-minute musical TED talk.
The music video opens on the same image that adorns the single’s cover art: Lamar dressed as a priest in a dark, empty cathedral standing squarely in a spotlight. Whether interpreted as a preacher with a sermon or an intellectual on the TED stage, it’s clear that Lamar has something to say.
As many speakers do, Lamar begins with a discussion of his roots, namely his Compton upbringing. Throughout the first verse, he juxtaposes his life growing up with his current status of wealth.
At their core TED talks focus on an intellectual idea. On the second verse, Lamar voices his distaste of Photoshop and his ability to influence music without being under the influence. While these ideas are undoubtedly social commentary, they don’t seem to be the main message that Lamar is trying to get across.
This message comes with the irony between the song’s title and the maximalism apparent in the production, lyrics, and, most notably, the music video. Perhaps this contrast is intended to draw attention to the lack of humility generally shown by the elite members of society.
It may even go further to affirm Kendrick’s ability to stay true to his roots despite his wealth. In the video, Lamar appears elite as he shoots money into the air, tees off from the top of a car, reenacts a Grey Poupon commercial and dons high-fashion suits. But all of these scenes are set in unglamorous locations such as warehouses, rundown city streets and drained underpasses, suggesting that Kendrick has not forgotten where he comes from.
Given that Kendrick is able to pack such a wide array of content into a three-minute single, his upcoming album is sure to be bursting at the seams.
Just remember: “Y’all got ‘til April the 7th to get y’all shit together.”