Kendrick Lamar is set to return later this week with Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers, his long-awaited fifth studio album and final project for Top Dawg Entertainment. Ahead of the release, Lamar has given us the single “The Heart Part 5” the latest in a series of “Heart” songs that dates back to 2010. In true Kendrick fashion, this newest installment is a thoughtful, complex look at Black life in America two decades into the 21st century.
Produced by Beach Noise and based on a sample of the 1976 Marvin Gaye classic “I Want You,” “The Heart Part 5” rose straight to the top of the Genius Top Songs chart. It also propelled its predecessor, 2017’s “The Heart Part 4,” into the Top 20, suggesting Kendrick’s fans are going back and looking for connections between the two tracks.
As “Part 5” opens, Kendrick acknowledges that it’s been a minute since his last album, 2017’s DAMN.
“As I get a little older, I realize life is perspective
And my perspective may differ from yours”
The concept of different perspectives may be central to understanding the song. In the visually stunning (and startling) music video, created by South Park masterminds Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s Deep Voodoo studio, Kendrick utilizes “deep fake” technology to morph into O.J. Simpson, Kanye West, Jussie Smollett, Will Smith, Kobe Bryant, and Nipsey Hussle all of whom might be described as Black public figures with complicated legacies.
Kendrick raps as himself in the video for the duration of the song’s first verse, which examines the crippling stress one feels growing up in a place like his hometown of Compton.
“I come from a generation of pain, where murder is minor
Rebellious and Margielas’ll chip you for designer
Belt buckles and clout, overzealous if prone to violence
Make the wrong turn, be it will or the wheel alignment”
At the close of the verse, Kendrick sketches a grim cycle of urban life involving incarceration, murder, and community fundraisers to cover funeral costs of those struck down in the streets. Lamar makes this chronology sound tragically commonplace.
“I done seen niggas do seventeen, hit the halfway house
Get out and get his brains blown out, lookin’ to buy some weed
Car wash is played out, new GoFundMe accounts’ll proceed
A brand-new victim’ll shatter those dreams, the culture”
Kendrick starts the second verse by reworking the opening lines of the second verse from JAY-Z’s 2001 smash “Izzo (H.O.V.A.).” In his update of Jay’s couplet, Kendrick talks about driving around in a large luxury automobile designed to protect him from whatever’s happening on the streets. Then he alludes to his own experiences growing up around firearms. Interestingly, these lines correspond to the part in the music video where Kendrick changes into O.J., a man whose rise and fall are inextricably linked to questions of race in America.
“I said I’d do this for my culture
To let y’all know what a nigga look like in a bulletproof Rover
In my mama’s sofa was a doo-doo popper
Hair trigger, walk up closer, ain’t no Photoshoppin”
In the video, Kendrick transforms into Smollett—the actor convicted of lying about being the victim of a hate crime in 2019—for a passage seemingly about Nipsey Hussle, an artist famously committed to uplifting and empowering his L.A. neighborhood. Lamar remembers reacting to the news of Hussle’s death while performing at Lollapalooza in Argentina.
“I wanna represent for us
New revolution was up and movin’
I’m in Argentina wiping my tears full of confusion
Water in between us, another peer’s been executed”
At the end of the verse, Lamar plays with the common phrase “hurt people hurt people.” It’s unclear when the song and music video were completed, but it’s perhaps not a coincidence that Kendrick performs these lines while wearing the face of Will Smith.
“In the land where no equal is your equal
Never say I ain’t told ya, nah
In the land where hurt people hurt more people
Fuck callin’ it culture”
The third verse likely comes from the POV of Hussle, whom Kendrick embodies in the music video during a run of lines that speak to Nipsey’s hopes and dreams for his community.
“And to my neighborhood, let the good prevail
Make sure them babies and them leaders outta jail
Look for salvation when troubles get real
’Cause you can’t help the world until you help yourself”
It’s possible “The Heart Part 5” will not appear on Mr. Morale, as none of the previous “Heart” songs have turned up on proper Kendrick LPs. Nevertheless, the song digs deep into the types of issues Lamar has explored throughout his career—and which are almost certain to inform his forthcoming collection of songs.
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