Has Kendrick Lamar reached his artistic peak?

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Has Kendrick Lamar met his own artistic cap? Photo: Kendrick Lamar / Youtube
Has Kendrick Lamar met his own artistic cap? Photo: Kendrick Lamar / Youtube


It has been five years since the release of Damn – Kendrick Lamar’s last studio album. And just when we thought we had heard the last stroke of genius from the US rapper, he shocked us with an album release date announcement, May 4, which came and went with nothing to show for it.

However, fans woke up to a surprise this morning, with the release of a single and accompanying music video called The Heart Part 5 and if numbers are any indication of how much the Compton California rapper has been missed, then the music video is the perfect tell, amassing more than 4.5 million views in just eight hours since its debut.

The King Kunta hit maker’s pen has always been deadly. With an intuitive approach to his bars, Kendrick Lamar will ensure his fans are satisfied with every offering, no matter how big or small it may be.

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As usual, Lamar sets the tone with deeply informed lyrics that tackle race and gender in America, not from the position of righteousness, but from the standpoint that every black man is the same in the eyes of the society he and millions more are subjected to.

He uses famous figures, such as OJ Simpson, who was charged and acquitted for the murder of his estranged ex-wife Nicole Simpson in 1994, Will Smith, who has recently faced backlash over the infamous slap at the Academy Awards including a decade-long ban from the academy, and actor Jussie Smollet who was sentenced to 150 days in jail earlier this year after a jury found he was guilty of lying to the police about being a victim of a hate crime.

These figures drive home the idea of the climate black men face in society, whether innocent or guilty, and the generalisation that society places on black men, regardless of their social, political or educational standing.

I am a Kendrick Lamar fan as much as the next person, naturally, because no one quite captures the truth like him. There’s no filter when it comes to the truth he wants to tell and that gives black people a healthy outlet for their frustration and rage.

But, has the musical genius truly pushed the threshold of his own lyricism and talent or has he become stuck in a formula he himself curated?

When I think back to the artist’s early days, I am reminded of a starry-eyed kid with big dreams. You could hear that hunger through your speakers. In his critically acclaimed mixtape Section 80, the second full-length project in his extensive discography, Lamar dived into his yearning to make it out of the hood, paid homage to those who had paved the way for him and the greats who inspired his deeply personal journey.

Section 80 is only different to the Lamar we heard on Damn in terms of money and social status, but his grit and heart remain the same. This is perhaps where Lamar wins over his fans. There is a deep sense of familiarity that allows you to sink into his music and not only listen but understand.

I can’t help but wonder though, is there any other side to Kendrick Lamar, and if so, what does that look like?

By no means is this a call for him to shift focus and take on a more mainstream role in the industry, as his appeal is niche and that has worked for him. But even niche artists need to push themselves sometimes to keep fans on their toes.

When we look at US rapper J.Cole, we are immediately drawn to the woes of a young, biracial man, who has had to navigate the world through various struggles.

These themes were recurring in his music until his 2018 studio album K.O.D (Kids on Drugs), where he finally pushed the envelope and warmed us up to the idea of a rapper who didn’t only need to rely on the weight of his words to hook his fans.

Though the album isn’t considered his best, it is a great indication of a kind of versatility that almost helps us to understand he can tackle every criterion when it comes to being considered a legend.

Through every project, Lamar has remained consistent. There is a raw talent that follows him and fans aren’t soon to forget. 

He does deserve every award and accolade his long and illustrious career has blessed him with.

But, what would it look like to challenge yourself when you are already considered a consistent and powerful voice for the youth, and can Lamar ever push the threshold of his own greatness to uncover a different side to himself that he may not know even exists?


Janice Phiri  

Culture Writer

+27 11 713 9001
69 Kingsway Rd, Auckland Park

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