Kendrick Lamar had been starving his fans. Since the excitement of untitled unmastered.’s release last March, his work has been uneven: Every showstopping guest verse, like his turn on Isaiah Rashad’s “Wat’s Wrong,” was countered by questionable decisions (that odious Maroon 5 track, for example). On “The Heart Part 4,” he acknowledges that he’s been away. Its brief first verse finds him in a meditative mode, reflecting on the money and legacy he’s made—but something’s irking him, and his mood shifts quickly. “I ain’t sanctified enough to say that I won’t shoot ya,” he raps.
All this is a prelude. Syk Sense, AxlFolie, Alchemist and DJ Dahi’s production takes a turn for the spaghetti-western as Kendrick launches into his most wrathful verse since “Control.” He targets an eclectic group of villains—Big Sean, Donald Trump, Lee Baca, Drake, and perhaps ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. For each, Kendrick rattles off blistering combinations in blurry doubletime, like this salvo: “More bars, no peers, no scars, no fear, fuck y’all, sincere.”
The vindictiveness may shock those who thought Kendrick was no longer animated by everyday rap-world pettiness, but “Part 4” serves primarily as a reminder of his force behind the mic, his striking ability to do anything he wants in rhyme. Short sections of blunt staccato delivery, like the one in which he coronates himself again as the best rapper alive, alternate with winding parables, one of which grants Kevin Durant’s treachery the status of Greek myth (“Go celebrate with your team and let victory vouch you/Just know the next game played, I might slap the shit out you”). The beat writhes and changes to fit Kendrick’s mood: first laden with pianos, then a sole scornful bass, and finally, a victory march of tinkling minor keys.
In past entries of “The Heart” series—Kendrick’s version of OutKast’s “Da Art of Storytellin’”—he has wandered in deep contemplation. Part four signals a reversal. The man had been thinking quietly for far too long, and now he’s ready for action, reappearing as a victor who doesn’t recognize any worthy challengers. “My spot is solidified, if you ask me,” he raps near the end of the song. It’s tough to disagree.