Kendrick Lamar i (album version) Lyrics: A Masterpiece Of Self-Expression, Musical Innovation And Social Commentary

by Alex Harris

10th April, 2023

Kendrick Lamar i (album version) lyrics: A masterpiece of self-expression, musical innovation and social commentary

Have you ever listened to a song that made you feel like you could conquer the world? A song that inspired you to love yourself and overcome your challenges? A song that made you think and question the society you live in? A song that showcased the talent and creativity of its artist?

If you have, chances are you have listened to Kendrick Lamar’s i (album version), a song that has been praised as one of the best rap songs of all time. Not to be confused with the i single version released in 2014.

There are differences, with the single version having a more polished and upbeat production while the album version has a more raw and live sound. The album version also features an intro and an outro that sample a radio show hosted by DJ Big Boy, who introduces Kendrick Lamar as “the number one rapper in the world”.

The album version also has a breakdown in the middle of the song, where Kendrick stops rapping and starts talking to the audience, who are portrayed as unruly and hostile. Kendrick tries to calm them down and deliver a message of unity and positivity, using the word “negus“, which is an Ethiopian term for “king” or “ruler”. Kendrick says that he learned the word from his trip to Africa, where he discovered his roots and his purpose. 

As a music lover, I have always been drawn to artists who use their platforms to express themselves and address important societal issues. And when it comes to combining self-expression, musical innovation, and social commentary, few artists compare to Kendrick Lamar.

Third studio album, To Pimp a Butterfly
Third studio album, To Pimp a Butterfly

Kendrick Lamar is one of the most acclaimed and influential rappers of his generation. His third studio album, To Pimp a Butterfly, released in 2015, was a critical and commercial success, earning him 11 Grammy nominations and five wins, including Best Rap Album. The album was also hailed as a masterpiece of hip-hop and a landmark of cultural and political commentary. One of the standout tracks from the album was i (album version), a song that showcases Kendrick Lamar’s lyrical prowess, musical diversity, and social consciousness.

In this article, we will analyse how Kendrick Lamar’s lyrics in i (album version) reveal his personal journey, his artistic influences, his political views, and his impact on hip-hop culture and beyond.  

We will explore how he uses his words to express his self-love and resilience, incorporate elements from various genres and artists, address issues such as racism, police brutality, and injustice, and inspire and empower his listeners. 

Kendrick Lamar – i (Official Video)

In the first verse, he raps, “They wanna say it’s a war outside, bomb in the street Gun in the hood, mob of police Rock on the corner with a line for the fiend And a bottle full of lean and a model on the scheme”.

These lines depict the harsh realities of life in the inner city, where violence, drugs, and corruption are prevalent. Kendrick also criticizes the fashion industry for exploiting people’s insecurities and promoting unrealistic standards of beauty. In contrast, he says that he wears his heart on his sleeve and lets his true self shine.

The song has a funky, upbeat sound that contrasts with the serious tone of the lyrics. The song’s opening lines, “I done been through a whole lot / Trial, tribulation, but I know God / Satan wanna put me in a bowtie / Pray that the holy water don’t go dry“, set the stage for the rest of the song, which deals with themes of self-love, racial injustice, and perseverance.

One of the main themes of i (album version) is self-love and resilience in the face of adversity. Kendrick Lamar has been open about his struggle with depression, self-doubt, and suicidal thoughts, especially after the success of his previous album, good kid, m.A.A.d city. He felt overwhelmed by the pressure and expectations of fame, as well as the guilt and pain of witnessing the violence and suffering in his hometown of Compton. He also felt conflicted about his role as a leader and a voice for his community.

In i (album version), he expresses how he overcomes his negative emotions and embraces his identity and worth. He repeats the chorus “I love myself” throughout the song, based on a sample of That Lady by The Isley Brothers, a soul-funk band from the 1970s, affirming his confidence and pride. He also references his own name several times, such as “Kendrick aka Compton’s human sacrifice” or “Kendrick Lamar aka Benz-is-to-me-just-a-car“, showing how he accepts both his flaws and achievements. He also uses metaphors such as “the sun” or “the light” to describe himself, implying that he has a positive and powerful influence on others.

He also shares how he copes with his challenges by relying on his faith and his music. He says “I went to war last night / With an automatic weapon / Don’t nobody call a medic / I’ma do it ’til I get it right“, suggesting that he battles his demons through his rap skills. He also says “I went to church last night / I got baptized in blood / I’m not scared to die / I’ma do it for love“, implying that he finds strength and salvation in God. He also says “I got my finger on the trigger / I’m thinking ’bout my partner / I’m thinking ’bout my sister / I’m thinking ’bout my brother“, indicating that he cares about his family and friends.

By sharing his personal struggle and triumph, Kendrick Lamar inspires and empowers his listeners to love themselves and cope with their challenges. He says “The world is yours / And everything in it / It’s out there / Get on your grind and get it“, encouraging them to pursue their dreams and goals. He also says “Everybody lack confidence / Everybody lack confidence / How many times my potential was anonymous? / How many times the city making me promises? / So I promise this“, motivating them to overcome their insecurities and doubts. 

Kendrick Lamar Cover Art for I
Kendrick Lamar Cover Art for I

Social awareness and activism

These lines express Kendrick’s frustration with the lack of opportunities and recognition that he faced as an aspiring rapper. He also questions the sincerity and accountability of the authorities who claim to care for the people. He then vows to make a difference with his music and his message.

He also says “I love myself / One day at a time / Sun gon’ shine“, reminding them to be optimistic and hopeful.

One of the most striking aspects of Kendrick Lamar’s i (album version) lyrics is the social commentary woven throughout the song. The song addresses issues of police brutality, racial discrimination, and self-doubt, all of which are major societal issues that continue to affect many people today.

Kendrick’s lyrics in “i” speak directly to this moment in history, addressing the fear and anger that many people were feeling at the time. The song’s message of self-love and perseverance was a much-needed message of hope during a time of great unrest and uncertainty.

For example, in the second verse of the song, Kendrick raps, “And we hate po-po / Wanna kill us dead in the street for sure / I’m at the preacher’s door / My knees gettin’ weak, and my gun might blow“. This verse speaks to the ongoing issue of police brutality against black people and the fear that many black people experience when interacting with law enforcement. In 2014, the United States was in the midst of a wave of protests against police brutality following the deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and other Black people at the hands of law enforcement.

To truly understand the power of Kendrick Lamar’s i (album version) lyrics, it’s worth taking a closer look at some of the song’s most important lines. For example, in the first verse of the song, Kendrick raps, “And if I told your secrets / The world’ll know money can’t stop a suicidal weakness“.

This line speaks to the idea of vulnerability, and the importance of being honest about one’s struggles. Kendrick is acknowledging that he has weaknesses and that he has been through difficult times, but he is also asserting that money and fame are not enough to protect him from those struggles.

Another important line comes in the third verse of the song, when Kendrick raps, “A piece of mine’s that’s what the pastor ordered / That’s enough resentment to build a small city / Why you think the world’s so shitty? / Why you think it’s homicide in inner city?”. This verse addresses the root causes of violence and poverty in many inner-city communities, pointing to the lack of resources and opportunities that many people face.

The song’s bridge features a female voice singing, “Walk my bare feet Down valley deep Fi-fie-fo-fum My heart undone“, these lines are inspired by a poem by Maya Angelou called Still I Rise, which is also about overcoming oppression and discrimination with dignity and grace. The poem uses imagery from nature and fairy tales to convey a sense of strength and hope.

Kendrick Lamar’s i (album version) is a song about self-love and self-acceptance. The song’s repeated refrain of “I love myself” is a powerful reminder that we all deserve to be loved and accepted for who we are, regardless of our flaws and imperfections.

The song also serves as a call to action, urging listeners to embrace their own individuality and to stand up against societal injustices. Kendrick’s lyrics in the song are a powerful reminder that we all have the power to make a difference in the world and that we should never be afraid to speak out against injustice.

Overall, the lyrics of “i” in the album version are a reflection of Kendrick Lamar’s social awareness and activism. By addressing issues of self-love, police brutality, and racism, Kendrick sparks dialogue and debate among his fans and critics. His message encourages listeners to become more aware of the issues affecting marginalized communities and to take action to create change.

Musical influences and references

Another theme of i (album version) is musical influences and references. Kendrick Lamar is known for his musical versatility and innovation, incorporating elements from various genres and artists that influenced his musical style and taste. In i (album version), he pays homage to some of his predecessors and peers in the hip-hop industry, as well as other genres such as funk, soul, jazz, rock, gospel, and more.

One of the most obvious musical influences in i (album version) is the sample of the song That Lady by The Isley Brothers, a classic funk and soul song from 1973. The sample provides the catchy guitar riff and the upbeat tempo that give i (album version) its energetic and uplifting vibe. Kendrick Lamar also interpolates some of the lyrics from That Lady, such as “Who’s that lady?” or “She’s a bad mama jama”, adding a playful and flirtatious tone to his song.

Another musical influence in i (album version) is Tupac Shakur, one of the most influential and controversial rappers of all time. Kendrick Lamar has cited Tupac as one of his biggest inspirations and mentors, even claiming to have had a spiritual encounter with him in South Africa.

In i (album version), he references Tupac’s song Changes, which also addresses social and political issues affecting the black community. He says “I’ma say this one time / Boy I’m good as gone / Trust me when I say this / You’re better off alone”, echoing Tupac’s words “I see no changes / Wake up in the morning and I ask myself / Is life worth living? Should I blast myself?”. He also references Tupac’s song Hail Mary, which also expresses his faith and defiance. He says “I’ma say this one time / Boy I’m good as gone / Hail Mary to the city / You’re a virgin / And Jesus can’t save you / Life starts when the church ends”, mirroring Tupac’s words “Hail Mary / Come with me / Hail Mary / Run quick see / What do we have here now? / Do you wanna ride or die?”.

Other musical influences and references in i (album version) include: James Brown, the godfather of funk and soul, whose signature scream can be heard in the background of the song; Curtis Mayfield, a legendary soul singer, and songwriter, whose song Move On Up is sampled in the bridge of the song; Michael Jackson, the king of pop, whose song Smooth Criminal is referenced in the line “Annie are you okay?”; Jay-Z, one of the most successful and influential rappers of his generation, whose song Dirt Off Your Shoulder is referenced in the line “Brushing dirt off my psyche”; and many more.

By incorporating elements from various genres and artists, Kendrick Lamar demonstrates his musical diversity and pays homage to his musical influences. He also shows how he connects to his hip-hop legacy and how he contributes to its evolution and innovation.

Overall, Kendrick Lamar’s i (album version) lyrics are a masterpiece of self-expression, musical innovation, and social commentary. The song’s powerful message of self-love and perseverance, combined with its funky sound and thoughtful lyrics, make it a standout track in Kendrick’s already impressive discography.

The song’s impact on Kendrick’s career has been significant, helping to cement his status as one of the most important and influential artists of his generation. And more importantly, the song’s message of self-love and social justice continues to resonate with audiences around the world, inspiring them to make a difference in their own communities and to fight for a better future.

Whether you’re a longtime fan of Kendrick’s music or you’re just discovering his work for the first time, there’s no denying the impact that i has had on the music industry and on society as a whole. So the next time you’re in the mood for some powerful, thought-provoking music, be sure to give Kendrick Lamar’s i (album version) a listen. You won’t be disappointed.

If you enjoyed this article, please share it with your friends. Do you have any other interpretations or insights? Let us know your thoughts and opinions. And don’t forget to check out our other music and lyrics-related articles.

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