A head shouts his dreams into the void hoping for divine reciprocity.
“Y’all got ’til April the 7th to get y’all shit together” — And with that, Kendrick Lamar sounded the alarm, beating his chest for nearly five-minutes straight over three instrumentals on the new single “The Heart Part 4.” The date, though it’s yet to be confirmed, seems to signal that a new album is en route. That alone should be a drool-worthy cause. Then, quite naturally, the internet had to go and spoil the surprise by leaking what is potentially the rap game equivalent to the Pentagon Papers; a track list that revealed a mind-blowing guest list for what would be the Compton rapper’s fourth studio album. It included To Pimp a Butterfly collaborators Thundercat, Anna Wise, Flying Lotus, Kamasi Washington, Bilal and Robert Glasper; usual suspects in Lamar’s consistently intricate heists. Scroll on and you find Kanye West, Q-Tip, Andre 3000, D’Angelo and Anderson .Paak also tucked into the most severe tease in modern music history.
You wouldn’t be out of line assuming it to be a farce. Just some Reddit thread that got a little too accurate a little too quick. Whistleblowers stepped in immediately, questioning the validity of a track list that seemed so impossibly feasible. But this “leak” is so finely crafted, so air-tight in its assumptions of what this record could be, that it doesn’t immediately wreak of fraudulence. And to be fair, it’s not a confirmed hoax yet. At the point of publication, no one from Top Dawg (Top, Sounwave, Ali) has addressed the legitimacy of the track list. So until that happens, we should absolutely let our minds race over what otherworldly sounds a Kendrick, Bilal, D’Angelo, Kamasi Washington and Thundercat record might hold within. True, measurable good can be found in precisely these sorts of kush-kissed stan sessions. Let’s not forget that. If this thing does turn out to be another fake news leak, it’s a thing of fabricated fanboy beauty. I mean whoever put that Pastebin document up even swung at ISRC codes, which is just the nerdiest fucking detail to consider, but sharp nonetheless.
I am in no way conceding that this track list is legitimate or likely. But consider this an exercise in restrained optimism. A place devoted to underscoring the silver linings in these tectonic theoretical link-ups and seeing if we have any real standing to support a dreams-really-do-come-true track list scenario. Allow me to trace some of these threads and decipher whether there’s weight or merely much ado with a little playful and, yeah, mostly hopeful, analysis of the five heavyweights (.Paak, Yeezy, 3 Stacks, D and Tip) alleged to be tapped for whatever might be on the other side of April 7th. And we’e done the math (4/7 — 4+7=11, amount of Grammys To Pimp a Butterfly was nominated for, 1+1= 2, number of times he was snubbed for “Album of the Year” — equation for God-level pettiness exhibited on “The Heart Part 4” ) there’s something to this shit.
By far the most likely appearance of any name on the list on any potential Kendrick release is that of fellow Aftermath signee, Anderson .Paak. In the months following the multi-hyphenate joining Dr. Dre’s camp, Kendrick not only sent his regards to .Paak, but also joined The Free Nationals at last year’s Coachella to perform “Backseat Freestyle” to an audience choking on elation. The next time they’d be within an arm’s length would come with the release of A Tribe Called Quest’s Thank You 4 Your Service, an album that lays flush across the web we’re weaving with these theories. The jarringly-timely release gathered nearly every one of these coveted co-stars (except D’Angelo, of course) and put them all in proximity of one another for the first time ever. .Paak and Kendrick getting the nod from yet another generation-defining talent only cemented what we already knew; that somehow each represents the best of both coast’s ethos, that a cross-the-streams moment was not only necessary, but imminent.
We might not need to look any farther than “The Heart Part 4” for some of our first clues. A reference to “Devil’s Pie” sent me tunneling into wildly hypothetical Black Messiah collaboration possibilities before there was any track list to contemplate. Their shared reverence for one another’s catalog is well-documented, and can be seen as early as 2013 in a video released by producer Terrace Martin that captures a woozy end-of-the-night Lamar belting out the chorus to D’Angelo’s “Untitled.” Years later, the singer would speak on the power of Kendrick’s critically-adored To Pimp a Butterfly in an interview with Rolling Stone. So if there’s potential for a collaboration in any way, shape or form, it’s grounded in demonstrated real-life admiration and respect. Their albums are intrinsically connected not only in timing and subject, but velocity and impact. Bilal having a long history with both artists only deepens the speculation/possibility of bringing this thing to life.
Kanye and K Dot have been a particularly potent pairing in recent years with Lamar lending writing credits to “All Day” in 2015 (along with like, literally 120 others,) crystallizing their creative connection on The Life of Pablo’s “No More Parties in LA.” In the wake of the album’s messy release, West took to Twitter that he and Kendrick had 40 tracks stashed away. A pair landing on a surprise Kendrick release could be more likely than we’d like to admit and K Dot’s known to dig deep into a producer’s archive for the right suite (ie. Knxwledge‘s “So(Rt)” for TPAB‘s “Momma.”) With West’s apparent return to production, standalone or by committee, few things would bring the Chicago dynamo back from Trump-gate notoriety like a well-placed cut with a fellow once-in-a-generation artist. Throw in the fact that each stands to be an equal benefactors in disrupting Drake’s climb to the all-time top of the pops, and you’ve got some good footing for collusion.
Andre 3000 and Kendrick can be seen working together as recently as A Tribe Called Quest’s final transmission, We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service. According to Q-Tip, each recorded their contributions to the album at his New Jersey studio in the months following Phife Dawg’s death. Both were featured on Frank Ocean’s Blond(e)d last summer and have contributed to a grip of the same projects without ever having actually traded bars on a track. Closest we came was a clip of the duo nodding heads to the tune of “Don’t Kill My Vibe” in the studio. Would Kendrick’s war cry at the game be a solid starting ground? Absolutely. Is it overdue? No question. Do we see it manifesting in the form of a real-life on-record moment? Why not. 3 Stacks has proven to be a prolific feature artist in the last few years and if anything, lining up with K Dot would be perfect punctuation.
I imagine that when it finally became clear that a new Tribe album was not only realistic but actually taking form, the only person capable (read: holding the appropriately-deep rolodex and favors to cash-in) of delivering the tributary piece it need to be was Q-Tip. No question in my mind, really. I mean, we’re talking about an icon that commands unflinching deference of his peers (mostly fellow legends, go figure.) A man that understands “Money Trees” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” belong in the same conversations. Naturally, Kendrick was summoned to hold down his generation (leader of the pack, no question here) on their latest and presumably last outing. A fitting honor for a dude that just gassed the industry and, once again, declared himself the indisputable “greatest rapper alive.” Not here to argue. There’s a compelling case, though. Either way, there’s evidence that Kendrick and Tip hit the studio for at least one historic moment. Safe to say there might be a few more in the chamber.