As part of the build-up to Kendrick Lamar’s new project, the Underground Flux will present KENDRICK WEEK for the next 7 days (March 31 to April 7). A special focus will be put on K-Dot during that time span. We hope you enjoy.
Kendrick Lamar oozes positivity while unleashing a damning condemnation on a multitude of social issues in the United States over a classic Isley Brothers beat in “i.”
“I wrote a record for the homies that’s [sic] in the penitentiary right now, and I also wrote a record for these kids that come up to my show with these slashes on their wrists saying they don’t wanna live no more,” Lamar revealed in 2014 on a HOT 97 interview.
The original version of “i” on To Pimp a Butterfly starts with a cold opening. Some sort of master of ceremonies introduces Kendrick Lamar to a massive crowd, saying that he traveled all over the world just to “come back” and “give [them] some game.” Given that introduction, it’s safe to assume that this track is set in Kendrick’s hometown of Compton.
The first part and the hook of the song are enhanced by a Jimi Hendrix-esque guitar solo. Such sounds are atypical on Kendrick’s songs, particularly the ones in To Pimp a Butterfly, making this a bit more special. Kendrick pours out positivity in his lyrics:
And (I love myself)
When you lookin’ at me, tell me what do you see?
(I love myself)
Lamar teaches self-love, even in the face of adversity. Kendrick talks about all of the terrible events in the real world in his first verse, but encourages people to keep their head up and move on.
Sky could fall down, wind could cry now
Look at me, motherfucker, I smile
And I love myself
The rest of the song primarily samples the Isley Brothers’ “That Lady.” Kendrick takes a classic soul sound and reinvents it into a mainstream funky/hip hop/modern soul song.
It’s hard to define which category “i” exactly fits in. However, as Kendrick said on “Black Friday” in 2015, he does not wish to be trapped within one genre (Nothing more influential than rap music / I merge jazz fusion with the trap music / I mix black soul with some rock and roll / They never box me in, I’m David Blaine-ing all you hoes).
This results in “i” being a consonance of many different songs, all intended to empower the listener and the black community. When the song was released as a single after critical acclaim on To Pimp a Butterfly, the cover art had two opposing gang members from the Crips and the Bloods making the heart sign.
While gang warfare is not directly mentioned on “i,” it is definitely an underlying theme. Kendrick wants the black community to come together as one, instead of fighting within themselves:
Yan-Yan, how many we done lost?
No for real, answer the question, how many niggas we done lost bro?
This, this year alone
Exactly. So we ain’t got time to waste time my nigga
Finally, Kendrick concludes the song with an a capella verse. He chastises what the n-word has become in America and to the black community. He gives the listeners a history lesson as to where the word originated, as well as putting a positive connotation on it (N-E-G-U-S definition: royalty; King royalty – wait listen / N-E-G-U-S, description: Black emperor, King, ruler, now let me finish).