The Marvin Gaye sample was enough to have me locked in. Every Black person in America that was raised in a traditionally Black household knows the sultry masterpiece that is “I Want You.” We’ve listened to it in our uncle’s tape decks, and during Sunday night oldies on the radio station. We’ve had it playing in the background as we spoke to girls on the phone in our sexy voice as adolescents. But then Kendrick begins rapping, and it feels even more reassuring. He punctuates every syllable with a hand gesture, a facial expression, rhythmically rocking back and forth as he does his OG dance. His eyes stay averted from the camera. He spasms with each bar as if reacting to a drug. The Marvin Gaye sample is his drug. We (his fans) are his drug–after all, he hasn’t spoken to us from his throne since “DAMN” was released 5 years ago. There is a red backdrop behind Kendrick that resembles a velvet curtain. He’s performing a one man show onstage. Incredible! I get it. Welcome back Kendrick.
That would have been enough. But enough is never the objective when it comes to a generational talent like Kendrick Lamar. He must have it all.
The first time I saw the video I blinked when I shouldn’t have. Because when I opened my eyes I saw the face of OJ Simpson rapping with dreadlocked hair. I screamed several profanities at the television. I leaned in toward the screen from my seat. I thought, “Is Kendrick trolling?” Why OJ? Why would he want to be provocative in this particular manner? I laughed while trying to figure it out. Then there was the deep fake into Jussie Smollet and it became bizarre. No cap! I got defensive. The Kingdom of Kendrick has no place for Jussie Smollet. The former Empire star who claimed he was attacked by white supremacist and still had the noose around his neck when police came to interview him does not deserve to be immortalized in a Kendrick Lamar video. The fake rapper who claimed to be the Gay Tupac in the immediate wake of that incident needs to be forgotten quickly. I did not approve.
Then he morphed into Will Smith and I understood the theme, but it wasn’t until the second time I watched the video that it came together for me. Somehow I had missed the most important quote in the entire visual; “I am. All of us.” The video is a highly stylized drone attack against cancel culture, especially when it’s levied out disproportionately against Black men.
The last cameo is that of Nipsey Hustle. Kendrick, a man from a Blood neighborhood, speaks from the perspective of Nipsey, a member of the Rolling Sixties Crips. Through Nipsey he speaks to Nipsey’s children andNipsey’s brother Sam. I became emotional as I saw this rendering of the deceased prophet. The man who literally bought his own block, and spent his entire brief career showing young black rappers the extreme importance of ownership. Nipsey has also been the recent subject of sex tape rumors and other salacious allegations by a Los Angeles gang member turned music manager named Wack 100. Perhaps one could argue, as tough as it may be, that Nipsey Hussle could have been on the brink of cancellation. Kendrick is a man who doesn’t go out of his way to stay hot in between albums. He doesn’t do a lot of features. He isn’t trying his hand at acting. He’s never hosted Saturday Night Live. He just makes really good music then disappears. He escapes into being a normal black man with exceedingly high intelligence and a deep devotion to his people.
Kendrick is an empath who expresses the pain of the world through classic albums. What Kendrick is saying in The Heart Part 5 is that he is not capable of letting his brothers and fellow entertainers be destroyed by a savage system run by sociopaths. He will not surrender Black men who have made mistakes to a justice system controlled by Europeans that have committed the most egregious transgressions in the history of the world. Kendrick will not leave his people to be eaten by wolves on social media because they made mistakes. For he is all of us. When we are cut, he bleeds. He places himself on the cross for us while everyone else celebrates when we are publicly humiliated, snatched out of our mansions, and made to crawl through town square on broken glass.
People recently cheered when Kevin Samuels was rumored to be dead. Then they celebrated when his death was confirmed. Black folks quickly removed the same R. Kelly songs from their music collections that were played at their weddings and senior proms because everything that he created was deemed to be toxic by the media. A few years ago The Cosby show was taken out of syndication because of the alleged misdeeds of Bill Cosby. When it comes to Black male creatives, society seems to be unwilling to separate their failings from their masterpieces. We aren’t given the same grace as Paul Gauguin, Woody Allen, or Roman Polanski. We are discarded. We are shamed. Our art becomes radioactive. Our legacies are forced into disrepute. And we are given to white people so that they may abuse us until the day that we die.
Kendrick is here to remind us that this is a practice engaged in by the weak. Strong civilizations don’t allow their enemies to discipline their criminals.For they understand the adage “I can talk about my brother like a dog, but if you ever disrespect him then we’ll have to fight.” Kendrick is saying that I am the greatest black man but I am also the worst. I am all of them and they are all of me. You can not come for them without coming for me. When you hurt them I cry. When you kill them then I die. You will not separate us. I am. All of us.