Since Kendrick Lamar released his 2015 opus, To Pimp A Butterfly, he’s dominated the hip-hop world, headlining festivals and working with artists including Beyoncé, A Tribe Called Quest, and The Weeknd. His 2016 collection of extras from Butterfly‘s cutting room floor, untitled unmastered, even hit No. 1 on Billboard’s albums chart. Nominally, “The Heart Part 4,” the 29-year-old MC’s first new song of 2017, emphasizes his meteoric rise: He released the previous installment in his “Heart” series two days before dropping his star-making sophomore album good kid, m.A.A.d. city in October 2012. But Lamar infuses his boasts of success and wealth with a degree of lyrical nuance that elevates the track.
Proclaiming himself a “hip-hop rhyme savior,” Lamar reasserts his hip-hop primacy on “The Heart Part 4,” rapping, “So damn great, motherf—er, I’ve died / What you hearin’ now is a paranormal vibe.” When he observes his personal wealth, however, he wonders if “the devil’s pie is big enough to justify the whole thing.” Lamar’s internal conflict between embracing stardom’s allure — which he has often personified as the devil — and living more humbly defined Butterfly. That tension remains a fascinating theme of his work.
“The Heart Part 4” underwhelms slightly if only due to the high bar Lamar has set for himself. With its propulsive soul instrumental (and a vocal hook by rising singer Khalid), the cut is musically fine, but uninventive by Lamar’s standards. And when he says “Donald Trump is a chump, know how we feel, punk,” the barb seems rote; in an appearance on an Isaiah Rashad cut in 2016, Lamar vividly suggested he “might stay in the Trump Tower for one week / spray paint all the walls and smoke weed.” Still, Lamar is operating on a scale from excellent to transcendent these days — and, if his reference to April 7 in the conclusion of “The Heart Part 4” is any indication, the MC could soon follow this solid return with more impressive material. A-