Kendrick Lamar, deservedly hailed as the god MC of his generation, made a peculiar pronouncement from on high (i.e., high-speed Internet) today that has fans genuflecting in collective anticipation.
The rapper's Instagram account was wiped clean Thursday morning, replaced with one cryptic post added around sunrise. The simple white-on-black image of the Roman numeral "IV," with no caption provided, has led to a near-universal interpretation: Prepare ye the way for the impending release of Lamar's fourth studio album.
Of course, it's a move meant to provoke wild conjecture. It is standard practice now for artists — or even presidents — to use social media to make major announcements. But nothing has been confirmed.
DJBooth's editorial site The Plug speculates Lamar's post could be an allusion to a forthcoming single, potentially produced by The Alchemist, who tweeted the same image hours later. Either way, the timing is telling, as it comes not even a full week after Drake, streaming king, released his More Life playlist.
Yet, the bigger question is not when, or if, but how Lamar's next LP will make a connection between God and gangsta rap.
In a New York Times' T Magazine interview published earlier this month, Lamar hinted that his next album would explore themes around God even more explicitly than he has in past projects. "I think now, how wayward things have gone within the past few months, my focus is ultimately going back to my community and the other communities around the world where they're doing the groundwork," he told Times contributor Wyatt Mason. "To Pimp a Butterfly was addressing the problem. I'm in a space now where I'm not addressing the problem anymore. We're in a time where we exclude one major component out of this whole thing called life: God. Nobody speaks on it because it's almost in conflict with what's going on in the world when you talk about politics and government and the system."
But the gospel according to Kendrick Lamar — and the suggestion that his next album would focus on that theme — spawned widespread disapprovalonline after the Times piece went viral.
"If I wanted to hear about God I'd listen to gospel," read one choice tweet. "Pls just go back to rapping about Compton bruh," another response read. Others implied Lamar was attempting to ride a wave, following the tremendous success of Chance the Rapper's Grammy-winning mixtape Coloring Book.
While Chance's release was perhaps the strongest example yet of gospel rap gone mainstream, Lamar has flirted with overt themes of Christianity in past works. The climax to Lamar's 2012 major-label debut Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City features a skit with Lamar and his friends accepting Christ in a neighborhood parking lot following a gang tragedy. Both Lamar and Chance have emerged as spiritually-attuned artists in an increasingly unchurched generation. Both hail from cities with notorious gang problems and gun violence. And both are using mainstream rap to promote a relationship with God as part of the solution to these problems.
Yet it's Lamar's sober approach that's considered the more radical of the two. Unlike Chance, whose Coloring Book is just that — a bright sonic display of his faith in the face of reality — Lamar tends toward much darker, near-cataclysmic territory in his masterful works. Even his personal displays of faith have drawn raised eyebrows. A 2015 BuzzFeed story, "The Radical Christianity of Kendrick Lamar," recounts his unusual Halloween costume in 2014, the year he dressed as Jesus Christ. "If I want to idolize somebody, I'm not going to do a scary monster, I'm not gonna do another artist or a human being — I'm gonna idolize the Master, who I feel is the Master, and try to walk in His light," he told The FADER the same year. "It's hard, it's something I probably could never do, but I'm gonna try. Not just with the outfit but with everyday life. The outfit is just the imagery, but what's inside me will display longer."
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