I do not presently enjoy this song. With that sentiment, I will be honest with you and obviously unbiased. Kendrick Lamar‘s “i” is the most important hip-hop song of 2014.
When I first heard this song, I instantly recognized the same theme Kendrick explored in his song “Real” off of his famed album, good kid, m.A.A.d city. “What love got to do with it when you don’t love yourself?” the California rapper posed.
Last year’s “i” similarly explores a theme of self-love, self-respect, and having a self in general. But this isn’t done in some self-righteous way; it’s done in a stride of confidence meant to inspire others.
The War on Poverty has continued for more than fifty years now, and still roughly 30% of inner-city citizens live in poverty. Kendrick Lamar grew up in Compton, an inner-city in California that suffered the highest poverty rate back in 2012. Yet, all the West-coast emcee preaches on this song is positivity.
As explained in an interview Kendrick had with The Come Up Show, the three I’s in his 2011 song “HiiiPower” stand for “Heart,” “Honor” and “Respect.” These three I’s equal three powerful notions that center around a positive spirit and mind. So why is this important? What makes “i” the most important song of 2014?
I am not saying that “i” is the best hip-hop song of the year, but it certainly is one of them. The TDE member stands out among the crowd of rappers today, this we know. But in a year filled with unrest, a year when police forces are under pressure; a year when poverty is still present; a year when the suicide rate in the U.S. is floating above 12 per 100,000 people, the highest it’s been in over two decades…Kendrick Lamar stands a shining force of pride, power and positivity. The poet himself speaks on his dark past as proof that there’s good in everything, it just has to be realized. Despite killings, drugs, and bad conditions, Kendrick believes that it can all change and it can all be ok.
Rappers come and go. Very few voices in the past decade have lasted as long. Kanye West, Drake, and a few others started off years ago and are still going strong today. Their lyrics are remembered by the impression they left on the game, as well as the listeners. Kendrick is a newcomer to a voice that is sure to be longer-lasting than other start-and-stop rappers.
Kendrick Lamar is beloved for his poetic verses, his honest expressions and his choice persona. Being a good kid in a mad city is an interesting title to run with, but Kendrick is that and more. On “Poetic Justice,” Kendrick raps: “If I told you that a flower bloomed in a dark room would you trust it?” There’s two things to note about this statement: one, can we trust an inner-city youth who’s been surrounded by nothing but negative lifestyles, and two, why is the former even a question?
In one sentence, Kendrick details his innocence, humility, and purity while at the same time poking holes in stereotypes, race relations and social, political and demographical constructs. On “i,” Kendrick reveres in his escape from a lower rung to climb to new heights as a music star with a voice for the ages. “i” epitomizes ideas and concepts Kendrick has dealt with before, but in a way that culminates post-success with an awe at how far he’s come, in addition to the hope that others can see the light like he had.
We can all be the one reciting the lines in “i.” We can call out “I love myself” over and over during the hook. We can all look at ourselves in introspect:
“Everybody lookin’ at you crazy/
What you gon’ do?/
Lift up your head and keep moving/
Or let the paranoia haunt you?”
We can all feel bad for ourselves or be upset or down on our own, but Kendrick suggests we do otherwise. He reminds us that he spent a long time as a nobody and gained fame by being himself.
“i,” in its funky space and feel-good vibes shows a much deeper philosophy on life. The song tells all who listen to not feel alone in troubling times, to not experience sadness when life is at its darkest moments, to seek positivity everyday. In a few minutes, Kendrick Lamar delivers one of the most brightening sentiments hip-hop has ever seen. “i” is the most important song of 2014 because it inspires us to be positive, features indelible messages that are unforgettable in their power and grace, and promotes a notion of being proud of who we are as individuals and to exert our independent lights for the world to see.
Few artists in hip-hop could do such a thing with a beat and words on a piece of paper, but that’s what makes Kendrick Lamar an anomaly of this generation of music artists. I don’t listen to this song everyday, nor do I cite it as one of my favorite songs in any category. But I recognize its importance, its potency and its message, and everyone should have nothing but respect for a song so positive and powerful in its content unlike anything the world of hip-hop has seen as of late. This is why Kendrick Lamar is great, and this is why “i” is a song to never forget.