Kendrick Lamar jumpstarted his 2017 campaign with “The Heart Part 4,” yhe latest in a series of poignant songs dating back to his pre-stardom rap days in 2010. The songs collectively serve as perfect benchmarks for one of the greatest careers in rap history, showing how his mindset, his musical approach, and his voice have matured over the years. Each "The Heart" song is powerful in its own right, but read below to see where we rank each of the four installments.
No. 1 | “The Heart Pt. 3 (Will You Let It Die?)”
“The Heart Part 3 (Will You Let It Die?)” is the best of the series because it shows Kendrick doing exactly what we love him for: honesty and vulnerability. In what now sounds like a prologue to his 2012 good kid, m.A.A.d city debut, Kendrick raps about his Compton upbringing and the pressure of representing his neighborhood and telling his story. “My biggest fear is not feeling accomplished, or turning back to that same accomplice,” he rapped. “My past life was a child with no act right / trying to smile in a room of killers, turn into a crash site / influenced by niggas that spoke the gang culture fluent / assuring that some blossom early, and some truant.”
This also arguably has the most poignant lines from any of the four songs in the series. “Truthfully, I just started rapping to get away / I never thought that your favorite rapper would want a verse / my nigga got hit 25 times with a K / make the decision, ride a beat or ride in a hearse.” After brief guest spots from Ab-Soul and Jay Rock, Kendrick asks the listener to support GKMC when it drops three days later. “Will you let hip-hop die on October 22?” He had been rapping for years before, but it plays perfectly as a bookend to his legacy.
No.2 | “The Heart Part 2”
As the intro of Kendrick Lamar’s indie 2010 release O(verly) D(edicated), “The Heart Part 2” saw Kendrick spitting a flow hungrier than many would associate with hearing him now. The emotion is palpable: he was happy about the buzz he had built so far with projects like the Kendrick Lamar EP, but he desperately wants a chance to tell his story on a wider platform. His flow wasn’t as refined as it would become over the years, but his story was still crystal clear as he speaks about how the life-and-death stakes in his violent neighborhood outweigh any disputes that would come up in rap. “We used to beefing over turf, f--k beefing over a verse / niggas dying, motherf--k a double entendre,” he fumed. But despite such surroundings, he knew he was destined for greatness. “I got a big fear of flying / my future so bright I’d probably go blind for I blink twice, I ain’t lying,” he rhymed. Even before becoming a star, he knew he had the glow.
No.3 | “The Heart Pt. 1”
Kendrick Lamar released “The Heart Pt. 1” before the release of his 2010 album O(verly) D(edicated) and the track just shows him, well, rapping his heart out. Over the beat of Mos Def’s “Umi Says,” K. Dot uses a stream-of-consciousness approach of braggadocio and self-affirmation. He remembers being at the photo shoot for the 2010 XXL Freshman cover, which listed labelmate Jay Rock as an artist to watch. “J. Cole runnin’ late / if he don’t show up, think I can take his place? / Ladies start laughing / No pun intended, I ain’t being sarcastic,” Kendrick remembered. Nothing to worry about: he’d get plenty of magazine covers in the years ahead.
No.4 | “The Heart Pt. 4”
We’re used to seeing Kendrick Lamar speak thoughtfully and introspectively, but every once in a while King Kendrick comes out and destroy all challengers. In that sense, “The Heart Part 4” adheres more to the original “The Heart Pt. 1” than any of the others. He does the same on “Part 4” but instead of hoping and striving to be the best, he confidently proclaims himself as the best rapper alive and stares down anyone who dares question his kingship. While “The Heart Pt. 3” used an album release date at the end to plea for support, “Part 4” lists April 7 as a deadline for his opponents to gather their things. Kendrick has earned his place with rap’s elite, and he’s not afraid to let anyone know.