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‘i’ is for Isley in Kendrick Lamar’s Surprisingly Sunny New Single

The good kid rides a '70s funk sample and declares "I love myself!"

If you tried to guess which rapper would build a highly anticipated new track over the Isley Brothers’ classic ’70s funk leer “That Lady,” Kendrick Lamar’s would be nowhere near first name to come up. It’s a little big, a little obvious, and more than a little off-brand for the good kid, m.A.A.d city rapper. But for those expecting street nihilism and despair out of Kendrick’s latest, here comes that huge phase-shifted guitar sound and Santana-inspired latin shuffle — along with K-Dot’s own RuPaul-like self-affirmation of a hook — to make a jaw-droppingly positive-sounding comeback single. 

Nah, don’t get too worried — the former SPIN cover star didn’t turn into PM Dawn all of a sudden. The positivity of “i,” keyed around Kendrick’s much-repeated declaration of “I love myself!,” is built explicitly to contrast with what we’ve come to expect of the rapper’s bleak worldview and recurring fear of succumbing to the darkness. And that darkness even creeps into the song itself by the final verse, in which the sample goes minor and Kendrick admits, “I’ve been dealing with depression since I was an adolescent.” By the time of his final “I LOVE MYSELF!” — this time a terrified shriek instead of a proud testimony — it reveals itself to be more out of self-defense than anything.

Still, the song is a blast — nothing over that sample could ever not be, really — and more importantly, even without the half-minute hypeman intro (“WE GOT A YOUNG BROTHER THAT STAAAANDS FOR SOMETHING!”) it sounds like the triumphant return to the game that we’d all expected and hoped for. Get excited, everyone.