Kendrick Lamar‘s new self-affirmation anthem is titled “i,” but the first single from the Los Angeles rapper’s follow-up to 2012′s good kid, m.A.A.d. city is hardly narcissistic. When a chorus of Kendricks bray the refrain of “I love myself,” it’s ready-built for festival crowds to shout back. And while Lamar is certainly treating himself — it’s hard to believe the same person who, via producer Rakhi, secured this classic-soul sample of the Isley Brothers‘ “Lady” is accused not so long ago of jacking a jazz instrumental without permission — the sumptuousness benefits the audience, as well; he’s having his touchstones and sharing them, too. Lyrically, he’s eloquently extolling confidence as an antidote to bombs, guns, police.
Yes, there’s a risk of self-seriousness — a spoken-word intro describes him as “not a rapper” but “a writer,” and the mix of elements here begs for comparison to Marvin Gaye — and yet it’d be churlish to deny the gut-level appeal of those Santana-blazing guitars (or, for that matter, something that can be compared to Marvin Gaye!). And if all starts to seem a bit conservative, around the three-minute mark the MC veers into more aggressive rapping over a spacey groove that harkens to his recent Flying Lotus collaboration, “Never Catch Me.” That’s one of the things with Lamar, from his elastic voice to his sometimes-ambivalent lyrical approaches: Love him or not, he doesn’t have just one self.