On September 23 of 2014, Kendrick Lamar ushered in a new era in his career. On that day, he dropped, “i”, the first solo offering he had made in two years and the first single off his soon-to-be-released album, To Pimp A Butterfly. I remember the initial feedback not being too hot. Many listeners had become acquainted with Kendrick through Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City, a project that mostly featured brooding tracks. GKMC took on the tone of the Polaroid photos on its standard and deluxe edition covers. It was jagged and faded – an album concerned with unearthing and dissecting haunting memories.
“i” boasted a vibrant immediacy. It was an urgent call for self-love for, right now. It showed Kendrick diving deeper into the themes of Black America, foreshadowing the thesis of TPAB. Many were initially turned off by how upbeat the song was, as they championed Kendrick for his incisive lyricism rather than his ability to pen a poppy jam fit for radio. Sonically, “i” protrudes from the otherwise incredibly cohesive TPAB. Even though the album ended up featuring an alternative version of the track with a rougher, live quality to it, the joyful energy still jumped out. Thematically, it fit perfectly, though. The first half of TPAB is a searing examination of societal issues and then there’s “i”, situated in the second half dedicated to loving yourself enough to make a change in the world around you.
Dreams of reality’s peace
Blow steam in the face of the beast
The sky could fall down, the wind could cry now
The strong in me, I still smile