“i” Review

Reviewing the new single

Reviewing the new single

Recently, acclaimed rapper Kendrick Lamar released “i,” the first single off his new album. And for such a sunny song, “i” has generated quite a polarizing response. The song is more akin to an Outkast tune than to anything from Kendrick’s previous good kid m.A.A.d. city. But for the hip-hop heavyweight, that’s really the point. The shift to a major key tonality reflects Kendrick’s publicly stated desire to distance himself from his previous work and grow as an artist. The lyrics are a far cry from Kendrick’s usual stories of death and struggle in his hometown of Compton, California as “Money Trees’s” “two bullets in my uncle tony head” is replaced by the innocuous “I love myself” chanted over a much happier “Who’s that Lady” sample. Still, it is somewhat disappointing to hear the rapper who turned elevator music into a hip-hop staple (“Hol’ Up”) settle for a generic Isley Brothers chord progression and humorously over-the-top guitar solo.

It just feels too easy. Sure, Kendrick’s rapping is on point, but the beat he’s rapping over hits the ear as far more standard than those of the material he’s released previously. The melancholy jazz of songs like Kendrick’s “Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst” carried an understated poignancy that was crucial to his differentiation as an artist. A poignancy that is noticeably absent on “i.” None of Kendrick’s contemporaries, Tyler the Creator, Earl Sweatshirt, ASAP Rocky, could carry a song with that weight. While it is true that each of the aforementioned artists have released powerfully subtle material (Tyler’s absentee-father-addressed “Answer,” in particular), the strings, sparse piano, and Kendrick’s trademark monotone created an aesthetic that was unmatched in the rap community. With “i” that differentiated aesthetic is not discarded, but dampened. “i” is a good song, but one can only hope that the rest of the new album maintains that same poignancy that Kendrick commanded previously.