On May 13th, Kendrick Lamar will release his first full-length studio album in five years, Mr Morale & The Big Steppers. Kendrick’s last album, DAMN., came out April 2017 and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in music so, needless to say, anticipation for what we’re about to hear on Friday is… well… high would be an understatement.
Ahead of the album drop, Kendrick released a new song, “The Heart Part 5”. This continues a tradition from 2010 when he came out with "The Heart Part 1" ahead of the release his mixtape Overly Dedicated. Not every song in the “Heart” series makes it onto the work that its preluding though so it remains to be seen whether or not this track will be included on Mr Morale & The Big Steppers. Kendrick’s “Heart” songs have become kind of like a journal entry as he kicks off a new era. Per Hypebeast, the “series exhibits the rawest and most unfiltered Kendrick, one who talks about everything he’s feeling at each stage of his career”. That’s definitely what Kendrick is doing with Part 5 and so much more.
Nothing I could write would ever do justice to these lyrics as Kendrick reflects on community and culture, trauma, pain, and also forgiveness. This is a beautifully empathic track that ends on big empathy, amplified by the video. Because in the video Kendrick deepfakes into OJ Simpson, Jussie Smollett, Kanye West, Kobe Bryant, and finally, Nipsey Hussle. It is as Nipsey that he concludes the song, on a note of kindness, hope, and above all love. The love Kendrick has for Nipsey, for what he stood for, and for the greater Black community…with the kind of masterful wordplay that only Kendrick can serve. This is the line that almost broke me:
“Desensitised, I vandalised pain”
It’s only four words, the sparest of lines, but the emotion is overflowing. Which, of course, is Kendrick’s trademark, it’s why he’s the first rap artist to win a Pulitzer. This is musical poetry, it’s gorgeous and disturbing and soft and powerful and provocative but not alienating. There are few artists who can do this deepfake thing without it being so off-putting and scary that you feel pushed away instead of being invited in. And generally, for me, deepfake is deeply unsettling to the point where I’d rather turn away than come in. Kendrick has produced an exception – because it fits so well with the story he’s telling. He’s not using deepfake as a stunt to promote the work; rather deepfake works here in service of his words, all of them building to those final moments, when as Nipsey he says, “I can’t stress how I love y’all, I don’t need to be in flesh just to hug y’all”.
It’s been seven years since Kendrick released “Alright” from his album To Pimp a Butterfly. “Alright” is now widely recognised to be the protest anthem of this generation of Black Americans, especially after the murder of George Floyd. It’s a symbol of hope – a song that illuminates hope in the midst of despair. If "The Heart Part 5" is meant to set the tone for Mr Morale & The Big Steppers, that hope is being extended by his embrace; he is arms wide open, trying to hug as many members of his community as he can.