T.I. had a 2006 album where he proclaimed himself King. In the same year Pusha T's regal status was signified by a cockeyed crown he wore on the cover of Hell Hath No Fury. Hip hop's seen "the best rapper alive," "superheroes," and a "rap god." But every last one of those artists feels distanced from their audience. In being royalty you naturally slip from the everyday tedium of normalcy. The longer you sit on the mountaintop, the less time you have to commune with the villagers down below.
One glaring exception to the rule and perhaps the only legitimate claimant to the title of king is "King" Kendrick Lamar. Between good kid, m.A.A.d. city's runaway success in 2012, the Twitter-breaking "Control" in August 2013, a particularly firebreathing BET Cypher session last October and a continuous stream of breathless guest verses in 2014, Lamar's firmly established his kingship. But he's also retained his "humanity" in the process. He headlines festivals while still rocking those Nike Cortez shows and white tees. Lamar still lays his head in Los Angeles and shows up to local radio stations to let the hometown hear a new single first, a single where he cops to lacking confidence.
That new single, "i," has already been discussed to death for being "too pop," "too breezy," a sure-fire bet to soundtrack a Disney movie in the next five years. With its shuffling guitar, clopping pots and pans percussion, communal clapping and message of having to love yourself before you can love anyone else, it is poppy and breezy. Those liquid solos you hear in the chorus, pulled from the Isley Brothers' "That Lady," are the sort of thing that would've played in any number of 70s cop flicks. But Kendrick Lamar raps his ass off on this one. With absolute ease he stacks up images of "A war outside and a bomb in the street, and a gun in the hood and a mob of police, And a rock on the corner and a line full of fiends." If that weren't enough to allay fears, his message of loving yourself first isn't new terrain. Since day one he's shown us how far someone can go if they believe in themselves; continually exhorting himself and his audience to go farther. And of course this is just the first taste of what's to come from the third LP. There's a strong chance this is the "radio friendly" track Lamar pushes to make label execs happy before dropping another classic of chaos and confusion in the 21st Century. Whatever the case may be, Lamar can rest easy. The crown's not going anywhere for now.
There's no set release date for Lamar's third LP, but you can watch him discuss the process of recording the new album on Power 106.