HUMBLE. is a Terrible Song

I’m venturing into music criticism today. To be honest, I don’t listen to a lot of hip hop. But that doesn’t matter. I know a good hip hop song when I hear one. I also know a trashy hip hop song when I hear one. HUMBLE. by Kendrick Lamar is decidedly of the latter category. In addition to being gratuitously profane, it’s virtually incomprehensible and some of the lines are so lacking in rhythm that they make me cringe.

Here’s a link to the song.

The gratuitous profanity continues throughout, but that’s not that big a deal, since gratuitous profanity is a staple of hip hop. It would be excusable if it weren’t for the song’s other weaknesses.

As far as the meaning of the song goes, I can’t tell much beyond the fact that Lamar is exhorting someone to “be humble.” How the verses connect to this message, I am not sure. Is he parodying himself by bragging about his greatness and then saying “be humble”? That seems to me to be the most charitable, but not the most likely, interpretation. Or is he telling everyone else to be humble in the face of his greatness? That sounds somewhat more likely. In any case, it’s difficult to make heads or tails of anything he says.

The first verse seems to be run-of-the-mill hip hop bragging. Kendrick’s got lots of money and pussy. He’s also famous and everybody knows him. Nothing much of note here. It’s not terrible. But it’s also not good.

Then we get the chorus, which consists of the words, “Be humble, sit down” repeated ad nauseam. In the background, you hear “Hol’ up, hol’ up bitch, hol’ up, hol’ up, hol’ up, bitch” also repeated ad nauseam. Brilliant.

The second verse is where things fall apart for me. We hear the worst line in the song: “Get the fuck off my dick, that ain’t right.” Up until this point, the flow has been all right, but this line totally ruins it for no good reason. It makes me cringe. A couple lines down, we get another awful one: “Show me somethin’ natural like afro on Richard Pryor.” “Richard Pryor” is rhymed with “photoshop.” Not only do the words not rhyme, but the rhythm is totally different, too. The first syllable of “photoshop” is emphasized, but the third syllable of “Richard Pryor” is emphasized. Lamar pronounces “Pryor” like “prar” in order to make up for the different number of syllables, and also emphasizes the first syllable in “Richard” to make the line work, and it ends up sounding awkward.

For whatever reason, he’s criticizing societal beauty standards, it seems. I don’t see how these lines fit into the rest of the song, but whatever:

I’m so fuckin’ sick and tired of the Photoshop
Show me somethin’ natural like afro on Richard Pryor
Show me somethin’ natural like ass with some stretchmarks
Still will take you down right on your mama’s couch in Polo socks, ay

This is the only time that the song ceases being about Lamar’s unrivaled awesomeness. Immediately afterwards he brags about how he’s in contact with Obama. Incoherent.

Somehow, this song hit number 1 on the Billboard Top 100. Smh.

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