Breaking Down the Symbolism and Meaning in Kendrick Lamar's "The Heart Part 5"

Kendrick Lamar dropped a new song and music video "The Heart Part 5" and there's a lot to unpack. Here's a breakdown of the symbolism and deeper meaning.

Kendrick Lamar "The Heart Part 5" breakdown

Image via YouTube/Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick Lamar "The Heart Part 5" breakdown

On the rare occasions that Kendrick Lamar drops new music, the music world always stops and pays (very close) attention. His music is so densely packed with symbolism and deeper meaning that it demands detailed analysis. 

Kendrick’s new song “The Heart Part 5” gives us a lot of new material to dissect. The five-minute track was released on Sunday evening, alongside a music video in which his face morphs into O.J. Simpson, Kanye West, Jussie Smollett, Kobe Bryant, Will Smith, and Nipsey Hussle, as he raps from each of their perspectives. Like the other entries in Kendrick’s long-running “The Heart” series, this new song ushers in a new era for the Compton artist, as he prepares to release his fifth studio album Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers on May 13.

Between the lyrics, the production, the music video, and the broader context of his career, there’s plenty to unpack, so the Complex Music team broke it all down. Here’s a detailed analysis of Kendrick Lamar’s new song and video “The Heart Part 5.”

The career context

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“The Heart” series: This is the fifth installment of Kendrick’s “The Heart” series. Throughout his career, he’s released these songs before big albums, often using them to signify the beginning of new eras. All five songs feature long, intricate verses, in which Kendrick takes stock of the world around him and reveals what issues have been occupying his mind. (Based on the themes in “The Heart Part 5,” it seems he’s focused on the ideas of “perspective” and “the culture” right now.)

The series has been going for over a decade. “The Heart Part 1” was released in April 2010 before his Overly Dedicated mixtape. “The Heart Part 2” served as the opening track on Overly Dedicated. “The Heart Part 3” was recorded three days before the arrival of good kid, m.A.A.d city (and released just a day after he made it). And “The Heart Part 4” dropped three weeks before DAMN, helping to announce the impending project. These songs usually don’t end up on actual albums, but Kendrick uses them to introduce each project that they precede.

A transitional era: “The Heart Part 5” arrives at a pivotal moment for Kendrick. He’s about to drop his final album while under contract with longtime label Top Dawg Entertainment, and he’s already transitioning to his new venture: pgLang. “Part 5” was released by TDE, but Kendrick also tapped pgLang to help execute the video. PgLang is listed as one of the production companies who made the video, and pgLang co-founder Dave Free is credited as the executive producer and co-director.

Oklama: At the beginning of the “Part 5” music video, there’s a note (“I am. All of us”) that’s signed with the name “Oklama.” Kendrick has used the same alias to sign both of his recent letters about leaving TDE and dropping a new album, and it’s also the name of his new website. We won’t know for sure until the album actually drops, but it seems Oklama is the name of the persona Kendrick will be adopting throughout the Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers cycle. —Eric

The lyrics

Kendrick Lamar "The Heart Part 5" breakdown

The music video

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The symbolism: The music video centers around the idea of perspective. Using deepfake technology, Kendrick embodies the perspectives of O.J. Simpson, Kanye West, Jussie Smollett, Will Smith, Kobe Bryant, and Nipsey Hussle. In the first verse, Kendrick appears as himself, as he raps from his own perspective. But then he opens the second verse by morphing into O.J. Simpson’s face, while interloping Jay-Z’s iconic opening line from “Izzo (H.O.V.A.).” Beyond the symbolism of O.J.’s rise to fame and fall from grace, there’s also a subtle nod to Hov rapping about O.J. on “The Story of OJ.” Kendrick’s face morphs into Kanye next, as he raps about a bipolar friend who is surrounded by opportunists that might be taking advantage of him. Then he morphs to Jussie Smollett, hinting at the hypocrisy surrounding the controversy of staging a racist and homophobic attack. Kendrick closes the second verse by rapping, “In a land where hurt people hurt more people/ Fuck callin’ it culture,” from the perspective of Will Smith, who recently faced backlash when he slapped Chris Rock at the Oscars after the comedian made a joke about his wife Jada Pinkett Smith’s alopecia. When he’s rapping from Kobe’s perspective, Kendrick’s lyrics hint at how they’ve both changed their respective games thanks to hard work and dedication. And as he closes the track, Dot channels the spirit of Nipsey Hussle, leaving a message to his loved ones about being in heaven, forgiving the man that murdered the late rapper, and how he hopes his legacy is being carried on. 

“The culture” lies at the crux of all of these portrayals, as Kendrick conveys these influential (and polarizing) Black figures who are all a part of the same whole. This point about fractured perspectives is driven home by the opening title card that says: “I am. All of us.” It could be interpreted that Kendrick chose figures like O.J. and Smollett to highlight how even their unfortunate decisions are a part of “the culture,” for better or for worse.

The aesthetics: The video utilizes a simple aesthetic, encouraging viewers to focus on Kendrick’s face and what he’s saying, rather than what’s going on around him. The camera zooms in on Kendrick from the shoulders up, with a solid backdrop behind him, forcing our attention on his words (and morphing face). This prioritizes the lyrics, and enhances the stripped-down sound of the second half of the song.

The South Park connection: South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker are given special thanks in the credits of the video, along with their deepfake studio DEEP VOODOO, which helped with the face morphing aspect of the video. In 2020, Parker and Stone launched the deepfake studio when they made their viral video, “Sassy Justice.” This isn’t the first time Kendrick has been linked with Parker and Stone. Earlier this year, it was revealed that Kendrick and Dave Free are co-producing a live-action comedy film for Paramount Pictures with Parker and Stone. The title and release date of the film has yet to be announced, but it will reportedly be about a Black man who works as a slave re-enactor at a living museum. In the film, the man learns that he is a descendant of slaves who were once owned by the ancestors of his white girlfriend.

The single artwork: The cover artwork for “The Heart Part 5” depicts six photoshopped hands being held up. Upon closer inspection, each of these hands represents the perspectives that Kendrick is rapping from in the video. The gloved hand on the right is taken from the infamous picture of O.J. Simpson in his 1995 murder trial, and the hand with a band-aid on it is Kobe’s after he won his fifth championship. Jussie Smollett’s hand is taken from a photo of him walking to trial, while another is from a photo of Kanye shunning paparazzi. “The Heart Part 5” is all about fractured perspectives living within the same culture, and the cover art extends those themes even further. —Jordan

The production

Kendrick Lamar "The Heart Part 5" music video

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