Is Kendrick Lamar Going Hip-Pop?

Kendrick Lamar established himself as one of the most prominent names in modern hip-hop with the release of his second album good kid, m.A.A.d city in 2012. Since then, his reputation has only grown and pushed him further into mainstream America’s bubblegum rap center. His new track “i,” released Tuesday morning, may be Lamar’s biggest hit yet.

“i” puts Kendrick in a new light that the public has heard little of so far. Lamar’s lead single has him rapping about topics that definitely don’t seem to be a grasp for street cred, which goes hand-in-hand with the care-free rhythm of “i.”

“Peace to fashion police, I wear my heart/On my sleeve, let the runway start.”

With the track only online for a few hours, the amount of responses that have already accumulated about Kendrick’s new song are a tribute to his notoriety. Most of it is positive, including a brief review from Slate that noted Lamar’s move toward something more akin to the boastful, sunny songs that have been some of Kanye West’s most popular.

“Though it’s a new sound from Lamar, there’s a long tradition of this kind of inspirational, love-yourself anthem in hip-hop. Kanye West’s whole career has been centered around the power of self-love, and “i” has an even closer analogue in Nas’ 2003 be-what-you-wanna-be single “I Can.” And musically, the guitar-heavy production resembles hits from Outkast. (Lamar has listed André 3000 among his heroes.)”

Other artists have also been positive about Kendrick’s new song. Pharrell Williams tweeted “i” with the title “BRILLIANCE. LISTEN NOW.”

However, Lamar still has a huge act to follow — himself. Kendrick has been so explosive in the last two years that his next album either has to be another stunner or an excuse to tear him apart for rappers he came for on “Control.” Before the single was released yesterday, Ebony posted an editorial noting what a careful game Lamar will have to play in order to avoid wrecking the massive momentum he’s built.

“A critically acclaimed concept album has proven to be a challenge too big even for some of the culture’s most innovative minds… Last year evolved into a victory lap for [Kendrick] And as he released artwork for his new single—entitled “I”—this past week, fans began to salivate at the thought of a new album. While anticipation builds for the next project from the Compton rapper, it’s important to contextualize what the MC is attempting to accomplish. Recent hip-hop history is littered with artists who’ve used concept albums to create a narrative arc connecting the ideas in their songs. But these projects have consistently proven difficult to follow.”

Kendrick Lamar is still recording his sophomore album, which is rumored to be out some time next year.

[Image via FanArt.TV]